Indie toy stores hoping to attract the Toys R Us kids

Toys R Us announced it would be leaving the toy market and its departure will leave a huge void. While logic will tell you the Amazons and Walmarts of the world are the ones to benefit, they aren’t the only ones. Independent toy shops want to make sure you know they are still around. They are alive and well and even growing.

The American Specialty Toy Retailing Association says small stores like these offer owner expertise and customer service second to none.
“We’re projecting a 20% increase in revenue between now and the end of the year,” says ASTRA president Kimberly Mosley.

In Hyde Park, Nancy Stanek, owner of Toys ETC, has seen it all in her 40 years of selling specialty gifts. She admits-saying goodbye to longtime market leader Toys R Us marks the passing of an era.

“The toy industry has been suffering for years from a shrinking market,” she says. “It’s like another dagger in the heart.”

Yet the mighty, though small, hope to survive another turbulent chapter.

Ann Kienzle, the owner of Play in Logan Square, has been at it for eight years.

“What Toys R Us couldn’t do was be personable to you and your family and kids. That’s what the neighborhood toy store offers,” she says.

All of them plan to keep catering to their local customers. But they’re worried Toys R Us is leaving toy deserts in low economic and underserved communities.

“We are concerned about toy deserts and we know that it is local that is more able to fill those deserts more quickly,” Mosley says.

Toy entrepreneurs can do it with a certified master retailer program that helps with merchandising, marketing, inventory management and more. They can also become a certified “play expert,” a program focusing on how the brain works while a child plays. Both are for ASTRA members, who’s seeing a steady 5% growth each year. And while revenue projections for mom and pop shops are healthy, smaller toy manufacturers could take a hit too now that Toys R Us is no longer a player.

“When I look at the entire industry, my worry is for the small manufacturer who really counted on an order from Toys R Us to make their year,” Kienzle says.
Meanwhile, ASTRA predicts that as many as half of all Toys R Us shoppers will visit their neighborhood toy store in 2018. And for those who don’t, market insiders wonder if party stores could soon play a bigger role when it comes to selling toys.

Still, the independent stores remind shoppers that bigger isn’t always better.

When big shifts in the marketplace happen, it can be harder for the big boxes to react. The independent specialty shops say they are nimble enough to respond to changes better.