November 12th, 2008Toy stores expect to overcome safety scares and economic downturn
This time last year, customers at the specialty toy store Playthings Etc. in Clay, Butler County, were full of questions about which toys were safe. Not this year. “They don’t ask anymore,” said co-owner Nadine Shingleton. The staff at S.W. Randall Toyes & Giftes, which has three Pittsburgh locations, reported a similar experience.
“Nobody even talks about it,” said owner Jack Cohen.
Headed into this year’s holiday shopping season, toy retailers and manufacturers have been able to play the kind of games they’re more familiar with: Marketing dolls and trains and puzzles while firing off a few shots in the price wars. Even in a difficult economy, that’s more fun than coping with toy recalls and trying to calm worried parents.
If nothing comes along to upset consumers’ confidence in the toy department, the sector could be among the few retail areas to see decent sales results in what is expected to be a generally gloomy holiday for merchants. Research firm NPD Group, in Port Washington, N.Y., is predicting that, after showing a decline last year, U.S. toy sales should return to sales growth.
“Toys are seen as somewhat recession-proof since even in — and maybe especially in — difficult times, parents want to make their children happy, and toys are always one of the top wish-list items come holiday time,” wrote Anita Frazier, an NPD analyst who tracks toy and video game trends, in an e-mail.
Back in 2007, it seemed as if even Elmo could hardly get a word in edgewise. Problems with lead paint and tiny magnets and even an item that produced a drug associated with date-rape forced recalls of millions of toys.
Toy manufacturers, retailers and regulators responded aggressively. Although new product safety requirements that President Bush signed into law this summer are still in the process of going into effect, the industry couldn’t afford to dally.
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