What Do Appliances and Toys Have in Common?

This may sound like the beginning of a joke, but it is far from it.  J.C. Penney, in an effort to bring customers back, added appliances into their store mix and have now added toy departments – not just for the 4th quarter – but year-round. In a recent article posted on fool.com, author Daniel B Kline notes: “J.C.Penney deserves credit for aggressively moving into open niches.”

While there is a consensus that the toy market is not an “open niche,” it is interesting that toys would be a chosen category to add into the mix year as a more permanent section.  What might be the underlying strategy?  Why toys?  It appears they are banking on toys attracting the demographic that will be buying all the other household and clothing offerings they can provide.

How will this impact the independently owned, neighborhood toy stores? While the real answer will come over time, it proves that the analysts believe what our independent toy store owners already know – toys sell all year, add fun for all ages and they make people smile.

With large chains and department stores shuttering locations, J.C. Penney is looking at what makes consumers come in to their stores, stay for a while and buy.  Toys are now one of their enticements.  But in the long run, there’s nothing like a store that specializes in toys. They can react and bring in new items quickly, curate their selection to fit their local community and provide a staff that can help each shopper fill individual wants and needs.

Are you an independent toy store?  Here’s what you can do to keep customers coming to you when other major retailers decide to add toys to their mix:

  • Focus on what you know you do best – knowing your customers and your community
  • Get involved in your community
  • Identify ways to build out your Buy Local messaging (Utilize some of the the turnkey resources offered by the American Independent Business Alliance)
  • Create experiences that are unique including playdays and special events for parent, grandparents and caregivers
  • Make every customer feel special and individual
  • Offer products that are unique and bring in new items frequently

With kids gravitating more and more to electronics, any added exposure to hands on, open ended toys can only help the entire toy industry, including the independent, local brick and mortar toy stores. For the best selection of toys and the personalized experience, there’s nothing like your neighborhood toy store.  There will be no appliances there, just fun that will make you smile all day long.


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 swarfield@astratoy.org.

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