The DADS are Coming!

by Phil Wrzesinski

I was born into the life of toy retailing. My grandfather started Toy House 17 years before I entered the world.

At school, I wasn’t the cool kid but I got invited to all the cool kids’ birthday parties. I didn’t get the most toys at Christmas, but I got the best ones. I got Playmobil in 1975, the first year it was sold in the U.S. I got all the Johnny West action figures, including the hard-to-find and obscure characters. When the GI Joe Swamp Buggy was the hot toy, I had one waiting for me under the tree.

My two sons grew up in a similar way. They, too, made all the cool kids’ birthday party invite lists. They had stellar results on Christmas. Of course, we had to keep the TV off, and we made sure they only visited Toy House and wrote wish lists from our stock each year, but they scored each Christmas.

When my boys were in those peak years between ages 4 and 10, I realized something.

My mom had always talked about “Man Week” at the store – the final week or two before Christmas when the men would go shopping. It was fun because men were impulsive, wanted to make a splash, and didn’t care about the budget.

It turns out I was one of those men.

Sure, I owned a toy store so I felt the need to make sure my boys got the top items on their lists. If I couldn’t play Santa, well, who could?

I realized I was the epitome of the “final week male shopper.” I displayed all his characteristics … the same characteristics I had been teaching my staff about. Therefore, I feel I can speak with great authority about how to make your last two weeks before Christmas finish strong.

The Discovery Channel has Shark Week. The toy industry has Man Week. It starts unofficially two weekends before Christmas and ends about an hour after you were supposed to close Christmas Eve.

First, let’s start with a disclaimer: yes, these are generalizations, and as with any generalization, there are exceptions. No, not every man is like this. Yes, some women shop this way, too. But by the time you finish reading this article, you will have recognized the vast majority of male shoppers you’ve encountered, and will come away with the best plan for selling to them. You just have to remember that men are impulsive, want to make a splash, and don’t care about
the budget.


By nature, men don’t do as much research on shopping as women do. Our research is done at the store level. We are visual creatures so we need to see it. We also want to touch it and feel it. We will be swayed by great merchandising displays.

If you want to win dads over, give them something to demo, something to try. When we can play (and we want to play!), we’ll be far more willing to spend.

One of the best demos I ever put in our store was a NERF Shooting Gallery. Our NERF sales (and the sales of all other projectile shooting toys in the store) skyrocketed!

Men also communicate in a different way than women. Men speak vertically (Does what I say make you think higher of me or lower of me?) This is the reason men are less likely to ask for directions than women. To ask is to imply, “I don’t know,” which lowers me down a rung on the ladder.

For this reason, men don’t usually ask for help in a store. If we do ask, it is usually to say, “Point me in the direction of …” There’s also the lazy-dad shopper – your new best friend – who says, “I need gifts for two boys ages 6 and 9. Load me up.”

Since men are less likely to ask, the best way to get them to buy is through signage. Your demonstration stations and merchandising displays need simple, easy-to-read signs that provide these three facts –
• the price;
• the answer to the most frequently asked question about the product; and
• the most compelling benefit of owning the product.

Not only will those three things make a man more likely to buy, they will also give him the justification he’ll use when his wife balks at the purchase. (Please note: those signs work equally well on introverts.)

If you have to stay late the Friday night two weeks before Christmas to revamp your displays and signage just for the dads, do it. The time and effort will pay off in droves.


Men have an innate need to be the hero. We want to fix what is broken. We want to solve the problem. We want to be the provider and the protector, the strength and the rock of our family. And nothing says hero more than playing the ultimate role of Santa. We believe it is not only our duty but our right as the man to play this role. Therefore, Christmas morning is as big a deal to us as it is to the kids.

One of the obstacles I always faced with selling to men, however, was the debate between having a huge pile of cheap toys under the tree or one really big item. Many dads saw the huge pile as the win. They didn’t understand that the lack of play value in the cheap toys meant the excitement would be over for the kids before the new year even began. They would brag to me about the huge pile of crap they bought at Dollar General or Walmart. I would brag back how my sons were still playing with the toys they got for Christmas – and it is Valentine’s Day!

We used signage and advertising to educate our dads on Play Value, pointing out that the true cost of a toy was the cost-per-hour of play. We showed them that the true big splash was the big core item – the Playmobil Castle or Thomas the Tank Train Set – that they played with for hours and hours.

Show us dads the big stuff, the sets that have add-ons and accessories for future birthdays and good-grade gifts. Show us the biggest stuffed animals, the scooters (and helmets and knee pads), the mega-sets, the easels, the kitchens, and the trains.

Show us dads the value of buying the biggest and best, how the child will play with your toys for months on end, and how we dads can make it new again with a simple add-on item.

Build us up to feel like the hero for not only buying the big-splash item, but also doing something good for our children’s development. Play to that desire of all guys to be the Santa of his children’s dreams.


It isn’t that we dads don’t have a budget. It is just that we are far more willing to bust that budget if it makes our kids happy and makes us look like a hero.

You aren’t gouging or soaking your male customers when you show them the top ticket items in your store. You’re helping us do what we set out to do. You’re helping us be the Santas that we want to be.

Dads will let you know when you’ve gone beyond their budget. (Hint: it is almost always significantly higher than what we originally told you. This is our kids’ happiness we’re trying to buy!)

Start us at the top and work your way down from there. We’ll find that value point and make the leap.

Finally, remember that we want to feel good about our purchases. Men may be impulsive and willing to stretch the budget, but we do it to bring smiles to our kids’ faces. We do it to be the hero, the Santa, in our children’s lives. So make us feel smart about our purchases by reminding us (not telling us) the benefits of the items we are buying. It helps us justify these purchases to mom.

Make us feel good about our purchases by praising our choices. A little praise goes a long way not only toward this purchase, but also for getting us back into your store next year or sooner.

Make us look like the hero. If you have free gift-wrapping, extra bows, or anything else to take some of that extra work off our plate (or more importantly, our spouse’s plate), please provide it. Think of me as your Paul Revere riding through the night reminding you, “The DADS are coming! The DADS are coming!”

Merry Christmas my friends!

As the former owner of Toy House and Baby Too in Jackson, Michigan, Philip C. Wrzesinski understands the challenges faced by independent merchants. Today, the speaker, author, and retail educator uses the lessons he’s learned in a lifetime of retail to help others find their success. You can learn more about Phil at

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