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Kennedy: Plenty of retailers selling toys

Kennedy: Plenty of retailers selling toys

Little impact expected from demise of Toys R Us

Fear not, parents, there still are plenty of places to buy toys for the kids this holiday season.

With the loss of Toys R Us earlier in the year, some analysts feared the worst: that the toy industry would decline by as much as 20 percent in 2018. Others shrugged that off, noting that if Toys R Us represented some 12 percent of U.S. toy sales last year, the drop couldn’t be as high as 20 percent if all those sales just vanished (which was unlikely anyway).

But here’s a more telling number: 11.5 billion. That was the dollar value of worldwide sales at Toys R Us for its last complete fiscal year. What retailer worth its salt wouldn’t clamber for a piece of that?

So Walmart and Target both announced initiatives to add more space and assortment to their toy departments for the holidays. Best Buy said it would expand beyond kids’ electronics to stock the likes of Barbie and Lego.

Party City launched 50 “Toy City” stores, either co-located with its Halloween City or taking over the goblins’ space for the season. (The closest Toy City to us is in Middletown, according to a list of stores in New York.)

Kohl’s made room for visits by Santa, with parents encouraged to take their own jolly-man photos, although to my eyes the back-corner toy department is still dwarfed by housewares and shoes.

And then there’s Geoffrey’s Toy Box, a remnant of Toys R Us, which signed a deal with grocer Kroger to put some of the late retailer’s branded toys (Imaginarium, Journey Girls, Animal Zone) in 600 supermarkets.

Kroger said the stores (none of its regional chains operates in the Northeast) will carry a limited selection of toys, identified in a display featuring Geoffrey, the Toys R Us giraffe mascot.

While Toys R Us decided in March to liquidate and close stores rather than reorganize in bankruptcy, it held on to intellectual property like Geoffrey and the branded toys. In October, those assets were acquired by a group of investors that included the company’s secured lenders, who said they were looking to “develop ideas” to bring back the iconic toy-seller.

The Thanksgiving-to-Christmas period is important to toy retailers, with nearly 50 percent of sales occurring then, says Juli Lennett, senior vice president and industry adviser/toys at NPD Group, a consumer analytics firm.

Through the third quarter, U.S. toy sales were up 2 percent over the same period last year, according to NPD.

Lennett thinks the closing of Toys R Us stores “has re-energized the toy industry,” she wrote on the NPD blog.

Existing retailers are making bigger investments in toys and new sellers are popping up, she says. (And let’s not forget all the local, independent mom-and-pop stores.)

Those sky-is-falling reports from earlier in the year? “Well, that didn’t happen,” she wrote.

Marlene Kennedy is a freelance columnist. Opinions expressed in her column are her own and not necessarily the newspaper’s. Reach her at [email protected]

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