At a time when specialty toy retailers are feeling the crunch from mass retailer encroachment (see ‘Turf wars!’ on page 55), offering consumers a unique product mix has never been more important. Although Learning Express buyers Clarisse Cowdery and Sandie Paradiso are on the lookout for standout product 365 days a year, kid and tween home décor is at the top of their wishlist right now.
Kids are spending more time in their rooms and exerting a lot more influence on interior design decisions that affect their personal space, says Cowdery. Last year, LE introduced non-branded décor items such as step stools, breakfast trays and lamps into its 112 stores.
Cowdery says it’s early days yet for the lines, but she remains confident. ‘This is an extension of the nesting phenomenon we’ve been seeing since 2001.’ People are spending money on their homes to create a warm environment, and that trickles down to kids rooms, she explains. But rather than maintaining a dedicated décor department, LE will be cross-merchandising the goods with other products – creating, for example, a well-rounded infants section that’s complete with toys, books, plush and room décor items.
Within the home décor category, Cowdery and Paradiso are after more personalizable SKUs. Giving kids the ability to paint their names or favorite designs on things like trash cans, mirrors and jewelry boxes is a really appealing selling point that could set the LE products apart from décor lines at other retailers.
Another up-and-coming market trend Learning Express would like to tap into this year is kid-centric pet products. ‘We’ve done research and found that Americans spend more on their pets than they do on their kids,’ says Cowdery. And since kids are often very involved in pet care and maintenance, why not involve them in related purchases as well?
This spring, LE plans to launch a pet products department that will stock personalizable dog and cat leashes, collars and bowls. The chain will also carry arts & crafts kits and books featuring activities that involve kids and pets. For example, Fun With Your Dog craft sets that instruct kids how to make bones for their dogs, will be in the first wave of merch.
As far as what’s working right now, big sellers in LE’s tween girls department are jewelry, charm and slider bracelets and ‘anything’ Hello Kitty, Care Bears or Strawberry Shortcake, especially small accessory items like shoelaces and wrist bands. The chain is focusing on stocking the section with goods priced under US$15 to promote tween self-purchasing. ‘You’d be surprised what a tween has in her pocket,’ says Paradiso.