Crazy for Kids’ Collectibles
Squishables. Fidget Spinners. Beanie Babies. Garbage Pail Kid Cards. What do they all have in common? At one point, they have become wildly popular as collectibles.
In each case, what started out as a regular old toy suddenly hit the mark of must-have craveability that is any retailer and vendor’s dream. Today’s collectibles share many characteristics, said Jackie Breyer, Editor-in-Chief at The Toy Insider. “They must be affordable (think allowance money); they are tactile and keep kids’ hands busy and there is a wide variety to collect.”
The frustrating aspect of collectibles is that it’s hard to tell what exactly sets off the craze. There’s a certain je ne sais quoi when it comes to collectible toys. And toy manufacturers, Breyer said, introduce thousands of products on the market each year hoping that a few will stick and become the next must-have.
Wholesalers are also packaging and designing toys to make them easier to collect. By tossing in a dash of mystery, they hope customers will pick up more of them just so they can have complete sets. The Whiffer Sniffers from The Bearington Collection, for example, are plush character backpack clips that kids have grown to love and collect. To spur collectibility, Bearington packages them in Mystery Packs. Jon Bailey, vice president, said kids “enjoy the thrill of the hunt to find retired or rare Whiffer Sniffers to add to the collection or trade.” The Whiffer Sniffers line also offers collectors’ books which includes character profiles, retirement dates and a whole assortment of other fun facts. Bailey said that the toys have become such collectibles that rare ones have sold for up to $100 on eBay.
Blind boxes from Gund and Fiesta Toy have also become extremely popular. The concept is similar to a mystery pack, in that a few assorted toys are packed together for maximum excitement. Gund offers Blind Boxes under various licenses as well and there are eight different styles, added in different combinations. Fiesta Toy introduced Blind Box lines recently called Cutie Beans, which is a plush blind box that encourages the collection of 18 different styles. “Making a toy a collectible is not an easy task,” said Coral Lauber, vice president of sales at Fiesta, “not only do you have to be on the cutting edge of what is hot right now but also determine what will continue to keep the interest and add on.”
Questions about what makes a toy a collectible are what intrigue Judi Clark, director of operations at Wishpets. She believes she is on to something with the newly introduced Stretchies Shadowpets, a toy that Clark describes as, “both new and nostalgic at the same time.”
Spurred on by social media
In an age of superfandoms where geeks of one stripe can band together on social media, collectibles are finding new fans on social media platforms such as Facebook, Instagram and YouTube.
Michael Keaton, president of Schleich, North America, attributes social media to being one of the big reasons why the company is seeing an increased demand for Schleich collectible figurines. “Kids and adults are constantly posting their collections and proudly showing what they’ve made themselves,” Keaton said. “They create clever stories using our figurines as characters. Social media provides the perfect outlet for sharing their fun with others.”
Bailey said the Whiffer Sniffers use Instagram and Facebook to post news of upcoming, highly anticipated arrivals and retirements as well, which fuels continued interested in the collecting aspect of the equation.
Adults are in too
Not surprisingly social media has also helped bring more adult collectors into the fold. According to the NPD Group, sales of collectible toys grew up 33 percent in 2016, pointed out Anita Winsor, founder and managing director of Starpath Dolls. “I suspect much of this demand is created by social media where people can share their affinity for particular collectible toys and create a virtual community around it,” Winsor said. Adult collectors of Starpath Dolls have expressed a growing interest in the African American and Asian dolls, Winsor added.
Whether or not they’re collectibles, the classics are always appreciated and in demand. Kem Clark, president, founder and CEO of Omnicor Inc. aka The Wikki Stix Company, said Wikki Stix are classics always favored by generations of kids. “They offer a timeless kind of play, creativity, imagination and fun,” Clark said, adding that the biggest appeal of the toy is that there is no right or wrong way to play with Wikki Stix.
“Many of our toys are as timeless as the stories they tell, such as Preston the Storytelling Pig,” said Mye Hoang, marketing director at Cuddle Barn. “It recites the complete story while being soft and huggable so that it’s a wonderful bedtime companion. But it also comes with finger puppets that kids can use to play-act the story, making Preston a very interactive toy that promotes imagination.”
Toying with sales
Figuring out just the right amount of inventory can be a challenge, said Breyer, especially when the toys are popular collectibles and the amount of space a gift retailer can dedicate to product lines is limited. “Being first to market does involve a certain amount of gambling, but it can pay off handsomely when a toy turns into a craze,” she said, adding that small retailers tend to have a knack for recognizing the potential in a product, but no one has a crystal ball.
As for how to spur sales, “Sell all the animals in a collection, our experience said that when it comes to cute, the store’s theme is not as important to the young buyer,” Judi Clark advised. Wishpets also has a line of Plush Pops which can be strategically placed at the cashwrap to spur impulse purchases.
Kem Clark suggests retailers offer hands-on activities in the store using Wikki Stix to let kids see how much fun they are. Once parents see that there is no preparation and cleanup with Wikki Stix, they are delighted to buy them, he added.
“The best way to sell our product is to make sure it’s reachable for people to touch and feel the softness,” Lauber said. “It’s all about the immediate attachment that plush creates.”
Sally Drewes, senior vice president, U.S. Marketing at Gund, agreed. “Our culture is that plush isn’t about just a toy,” Drewes said, “it becomes a child’s friend. We try to make product that has that emotional connection.”
And if it becomes a collectible in the process, that’s even better.
— Poornima Apte is an award-winning writer who is happiest when her bedside stash of books resembles a Jenga pile. Fine her at wordcumulus.com.