Independent toy stores kick off holiday shopping season with their own special day

In a year when perhaps the biggest news in toys was the filing for bankruptcy by the industry’s largest remaining brick-and-mortar retailer, independent stores are looking to generate buzz and spark a strong holiday sales season with a familiar method: hosting a special event to boost their profile.

Neighborhood Toy Store Day will be celebrated Saturday in hundreds of shops across the country. With shopper rewards, special events and specialty merchandise from manufacturers, participating shops are angling to provide a day that is almost as much about the experience as it is about the toys that patrons carry out.

Retail analysts and trade groups argue it is precisely that — providing a unique shopper experience with items that aren’t available in every big-box store — that will save small, local toy sellers from a fate such as the one that Toys “R” Us is now facing.

“I don’t see brick and mortar going away except when they have generic products,” said Jon Schallert, a Longmont-based, independent-business consultant who coaches business owners on how to make their shops into destinations. “With independent toy stores, first of all, they typically buy from different sales channels than larger chains. A lot of the toys they have are totally different from what you would see at those national chains.”

Take for instance the selection at Timbuk Toys. The independently owned chain of four metro-area stores carries between 7,000 and 9,000 items from 300 to 400 vendors, founder and owner Sallie Kashiwa said.

“It’s a highly, highly curated process,” the toy industry veteran said. “There is no perfect toy because the perfect toy depends on the age of the child, and the interests of the child.”

Timbuk has been participating in Neighborhood Toy Store Day for the roughly 10 years that the event has been around, according to American Specialty Toy Retailing Association, or ASTRA, the trade group that created it.

Special offers and events at Timbuk locations will include drawings for $50 gift cards for any customer who spends $50 or more Saturday, $1 “Timbuk buck” coupons redeemable in December for every $10 spent, and drawings at each store to win a giant stuffed bear. (Note: To enter the drawing, you must draw a picture of a bear.)

The business also will host board-game tournaments at its flagship store, 2526 S. Colorado Blvd. in University Hills, and special events at its other stores. All locations also will be offering 25 percent off popular Magformers and Clicformers magnet and building construction sets through Wednesday, a deal Kashiwa said is a huge bargain on kits that can cost more than $100.

“Especially these days, where online shopping is so very seductive and easy, I think it’s nice to remind people how much fun it is to come in and shop at a local toy store and support local business,” she said.

Kashiwa, in the toy business since 1993, said the holiday-sales season is “everything” for her business, so the next two months will determine a lot about how her 2017 turns out. While she has managed to grow and expand over the past quarter century, she said it is getting harder. Rising minimum wage, increased property taxes passed on to rental tenants and the rise of online competition that forces her to drop prices to compete are all contributing to what she says is a skyrocketing cost of doing business.

Despite, Toys “R” Us’ bankruptcy announcement — the chain has said it will not be closing any stores through the holiday season — recent market research provides some positive signs for physical stores. PwC’s 2017 Holiday Outlook survey, which polled 2,395 consumers this year, indicated that while 84 percent of respondents said they plan to shop online this holiday season, 88 percent said they plan to visit physical stores. Forty-three percent of shoppers said they plan to buy toys, the third largest category behind clothes and gift cards.

ASTRA, founded in 1992, has 1,643 member retailers, manufacturers and affiliates across the country, including 42 in Colorado. A full list of retailers participating in Neighborhood Toy Store Day is available at astratoy.org.

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