On Friday, March 11, ASTRA hosted our first Meet, Greet and Learn at kiddywampus, an ASTRA member retailer in Hopkins, Minn. A big THANK YOU goes out to Amy Saldanha, owner of kiddywampus, for opening up her store to host the event and to the five panelists — Mike Acerra, Roger Bildsten, Cordelia Blake, Jim Henry, Michael Levins –as well as to all who attended.
In addition to offering our members an additional face-to-face opportunity to gather and network, we also wanted to address a very current issue of concern: Amazon.
Our goal for the night was to openly listen to the many perspectives from all sides of the Amazon topic in order to address positive ways we can work through the issues to the benefit of all in the specialty toy industry. Though many may think this is impossible, we at ASTRA believe in always working towards positive outcomes through open and honest dialogue and learning from one another. Amazon and the internet are not going away. Learning more about all sides is the best way to determine a positive course of action, regardless of where you fall in the retail sales chain. Each of our panelists was asked a specific question related to their experience. Below is a recap of the overall answers – both pros and cons.
- Competing with Amazon directly (price, delivery, variety of all items) just won’t work. Instead, focus on what you do best and create a unique experience for the customer. Be it classed with energy, engaging parents, grandparents, kids and all that enter.
- As a manufacturer, choose your policy and how you sell. Keep in mind your brand and what unlimited selling on the internet can do to lessen your product and company image.
- Work with companies that support your philosophy whether a retailer, rep or manufacturer.
- Amazon itself is not the enemy. It is how you deal with it.
- Manufacturers often do need a place to sell their returned or damaged inventory. Amazon offers them an outlet.
- Many products need a hands on approach to selling them. This can only be offered face to face and in person. Stores provide this, the internet does not.
- Amazon definitely has an impact on retail, but it can also be used as a resource to discover what cannot be found on the internet. This information can be used by stores to put together bundles of products, offer items not readily available and plan events around these things.
- The customer experience is what can make the difference in any business. There are greater opportunities for real connections in a retail environment.
- Nothing has really changed as far as pricing issues. Years ago it was a catalog company, then specialty in the big box stores, and now Amazon. The biggest change has been in convenience and speed that is offered by Amazon.
- There are fewer “crazes” that stores can capitalize on as the internet steals them before they even hit the stores..
Jim Henry, owner of retail store Air Traffic Kites and Games, summed it up: “You’ll never get rid of those that only care about price. Our best weapon is to engage our customers and make them feel the same passion for our products that we do.”
Amazon is not necessarily good or bad. What our session in Minneapolis proved is that we are a community. We listen, we question, and we learn. After the panel, many stayed to continue conversations and without exception, everyone left with a new perspective to consider.
What are your thoughts? Share in the comments below.
Sue Warfield is the Director of Member Relations at ASTRA. With more than 30 years of experience in the retail and toy business, Sue offers insight into industry trends and tips and works to connect the retailers, sales representatives, manufacturers and affiliates in the specialty toy retailing arena. Contact Sue at email@example.com.