The year: 1964. Bob Dylan’s hit, “The Times They Are A-Changin,’” is released on January 13. It became a hit as a ballad for a call to action. Here are parts of the first verse:

Come gather ‘round people
Wherever you roam
And admit that the waters
Around you have grown

….you better start swimmin’
Or you’ll sink like a stone
For the times they are a-changin

The year: 2016.  I hear of stores closing, concerns about the future of the independent retailer, the ever-growing options for buying. At the same time, I hear of new stores opening, rising sales within our toy community, and excitement at the local level as word spreads of the great experiences that moms, dads, aunts, uncles, grandparents and friends have at their neighborhood toy store.  Totally opposite commentaries, not defined by regions of the country.  Within each area of our country there are those who are sharing success stories and those that seem to have thrown in the towel.

So, what is the difference?  Undoubtedly, in some cases there are extenuating circumstances that have led to a loss of business – road construction, re-routing of a main thoroughfare, a drastic change in the population. However, overall, the difference in the successes vs. closures is attitude, perspective and action (or lack thereof). In an interview on CBS’ Sunday Morning show this past week, the interviewer asked Ken Powell, Chairman and CEO of General Mills: “This company [General Mills] has been around for a century and a half.  How do you make sure you’re around for another 150 years?”  Ken’s answer, short and sweet:  “By adapting.”

“Business as usual” is no longer a phrase for companies that want to continue to thrive.  There is no “usual.” If you wait until something is “broken” to fix it, it may already be too late.   If the times were changing in 1964, they’ve been racing even faster since we hit the year 2000 mark.

The good news is that as a small business owner, you can adapt and you can do it more quickly than the big box stores. Use it to your advantage. While it’s true that in the retail landscape shopping habits have changed, one thing that shoppers still crave is connection – it just might look different now than it did 20 years ago. Be proactive and take a step back from your day-to-day and learn what meaningful, powerful connections – whether to products, people or your community – looks like to your target market. Evaluate how your offerings foster those connections and if you need to adapt, adapt.

“The times they are a-changin'” …and they will continue to change. How will we change with it?


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