Puzzling Out Your Product Mix

11/19/20

The old rules don’t apply

The disruption of the last nine months has forced retailers in our industry to re-examine and change multiple aspects of their previously successful businesses. It’s been an ongoing challenge for everyone involved.

by Sandy Ruben

One of the biggest discussions during this process has focused on what types of products to carry, since the old rules no longer apply. It seems that some great pre-COVID categories are floundering while others are simply exploding. Puzzles – 1,000-piece jigsaw puzzles in particular – became a major breakout category in early spring, followed quickly by games. When warm weather arrived in May, retailers went hunting for anything new and fun that kids and their families could do while they played outside. Everyone was looking for inflatable pools.

Since then, I haven’t seen any new, dramatic changes, but here we are in the homestretch to the holidays. To find out what’s selling, I turned to the experts. I sent a list of 61 different toy categories to a number of retailers and reps in October, and asked them to rank each one based on a scale of “best” (“hot, great and fantastic”) to “worst” (“insignificant”). Here are some of the highlights.

 


 

I thought I would be writing this article about products by category, but the insight I received makes it more about products by age range. Across the board, items for older kids are vastly outperforming items for younger children, I discovered. “This is an opportunity for us to expand our customer base,” noted one retailer.

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Jigsaw puzzles for older kids and adults continue to be huge sellers. In fact, my retailer and rep experts indicate that 1,000-piece jigsaw puzzles, as a category, are their second-best sellers overall. I will be the first to admit that when retailers were scrambling to get their hands on these puzzles back in April, I considered it just a phase. It would last three or four months at the most, I thought. It’s true that the demand is a little less crazy right now, but it is likely that the jigsaw-puzzle trend will continue into 2021. 

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“Games for Teenagers and Adults” was the number-one category by votes. It speaks to the idea that not only are families spending more time together, but also that tweens and teenagers are engaging in fun and challenging activities with their parents! 

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Building toys for 8-to-12-year-olds were the 13th best-selling category out of the list of 61. Craft kits for 8-to-12-year-olds were 12th, and science kits for 8-to-12-year-olds came in 7th – a big surprise!

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The lowest end of the spectrum can be summed up by this statement by a retailer respondent “Novelty has really taken a hit this year.” It’s probably due to fewer customers browsing in stores right now, but impulse and novelty items have not performed well online either – even as many retailers report healthy sales from their websites.

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The overall category of Pretend Play has also dropped off. It surprised me – I would have thought younger children would need that outlet, now more than ever. Within this broad range, puppets, dress-up, dramatic play, dolls, animals/figurines, and play sets have all experienced sales declines.

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Compounds have taken a hit, too, including putty, slime, and other types of molding products. Not being able to display demo samples has dramatically impacted sales, say retailers.

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Magnetic building toys are an up-and-coming category. Actually, stay on the lookout for all types of building toys. There may be an opportunity for a couple of new companies to have a building-toy breakthrough in 2021 since the category has been strong throughout 2020.

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The crafts category is another up-and-comer. Crafts are appealing to kids ranging in age from 3 to 12. 2021 may be the year to expand your current craft-activity offerings.

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This fall, outdoor toys continued at a strong pace, and we expect that they’ll be more popular than ever next spring.

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Kites, a subcategory of outdoor toys, did very well in our survey. When the weather starts to warm up a little, it may be time for you to either bring back kites, or expand your kite section.

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A category our survey referred to as “Sensory, Tactile, and Fidget-type Toys” was ranked 9th. Toys that are manipulated and played with to release nervous energy are still very much in demand, so they’re worth exploring. They just need a new name. No one even wants to hear the word “fidget,” as in “fidget spinners and the oversaturation of our market with them.”

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Many retailers have told me that while traffic is down, the average dollar amount per sale up, considerably. Parents, and especially grandparents, are buying more-expensive items than they have in the past. Traditionally, the sweet spot for many stores has been $14.99 to $19.99, retail. Now we are seeing a new appreciation for items in the $29.99 to $34.99 range.

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The challenges this year have been many, but we’ve discovered untapped opportunities as well. They include the opportunity to increase the variety of products in certain categories you’re carrying, and branching out into categories that you’ve never tried before. Parents and grandparents will keep buying toys in 2021. We just have to make sure that we have what they need.

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