Fun is never out of style. It reaches across all geographic regions and every demographic, and people pay for it, regardless of the economy. It is arguably even more important when consumer confidence flounders and gas prices help keep people at home for entertainment.
That is the experience of numerous wholesalers of toys and novelties, who report healthy business throughout the summer and heading into fall, and that important fourth quarter. To capitalize on profits in toys and novelties, retailers have to stay abreast of trends, continuously refresh their merchandise mix with new items, and also mind prices and profit margins.
Even long running, enduring trends, such as remote control vehicles, extend their popularity with the addition of new models. Emirimage Corp. in Miami specializes in RC toys, and helicopters are the strongest sellers now, according to Eduardo Perl, President.
Emirimage supplies its own RC helicopter brands, including MicroXcopter, Air Patrol, Lama, D-Fly and Black Hawk. "Some retailers need just one or two models to merchandise these successfully," Perl says, "while others need a wider assortment. Never just show one, "he adds.
His staff queries retailers about their market and clientele before helping them determine what kind of selection will work best in their store. "We tell them what's the best combination for kiosks, chain stores, independents and so on," says Perl.
Regardless of selection, Perl says RC retailers should, "get the best quality units with the most competitive price. If the product is not reliable, the store will eventually lose the business," he warns.
Perl also says retailers should look for suppliers that offer merchandising support, such as posters and DVDs that show the units in action. "Demonstration attracts attention, and that's the best merchandising tactic," he says. "However, some stores and malls don't allow demonstrations. That's why we offer DVDs, so those retailers can draw shoppers' attention. Even when a dealer demonstrates one model, the DVD shows the action that comes from items in an expanded selection," according to Perl.
While helicopters are the current RC high flyers, cars and boats also continue to sell well. RC toys have created a market of collectors. Emirimage's StunerX and Ramper brand vehicles are among the coveted.
An advocate of demos, Perl notes that showing RC boats in water is very important to boosting sales turnover. A kiddie pool lets retailers show off these boats' abilities, while also keeping displays orderly.
Among the more than 1,000 items offered by Esco Import Toy Company in San Antonio are die cast cars, trains and airplanes. "These are 'pull and go' units," says Jack Steinfeld, president, "and they are very steady sellers." Like RC vehicles, die cast also appeals to collectors.
Esco is also a source for toy soldiers and accessories, time honored collectibles for kids of all ages, including adults. The company carries them packaged individually and in a display box. In all, wholesale prices range from as little as four cents a piece to $20 for a 31 inch aircraft carrier with a deck full of planes. The retail prices range from a dime to $39.95.
Vinyl animal figures, especially dinosaurs and horses, also do well, Steinfeld reports. Toy guns, swords and rifles are all-time good sellers, which he says are especially in demand for Halloween.
Esco is a family business that was founded in 1969, and it has gone through several transitions, according to Steinfeld. "When we started there was no Wal-Mart or Target. Retailers were regional and they didn't import products themselves. We have found our own niche, which is finding things the chains don't carry, and providing them primarily to independents," he says. It's similar to a transition many smaller retailers have also made in past decades: finding products that can't be found in large chain stores.
Sales of a new game, Rocket Pockets Water Sport, designed and supplied by Rocket Pockets International in Tampa, FL, "have definitely benefited by families that are looking for things they can do at home," says Gary Hoskins, the company's owner. "People are sticking closer to home, and this appeals to people of all ages."
The game, which consists of an inflatable circle with 25 pockets and four balls that bounce, can be played by people at all levels of ability and can also be adapted for different types of play. For example, prizes can be taped inside the pockets for parties and fun competitions. The game can be played by two, or as many as eight.
"It's safe; it teaches hand/eye coordination and colors," Hoskins points out. In addition to sales to families, other market segments have been identified by Rocket Pockets. They include day care centers and seniors. In addition, Hoskins says, "some people even told us they have put ice and beverages into the pockets and floated it on a riverside picnic."
Despite its full name, it can be used indoors and in backyards without water as well as in pools, rivers and lakes. When there is less air in the inflatable circle, which has a diameter of approximately three feet, the bounce is lower. When filled to solid, the bounce is higher.
The units come individually boxed and show, at a glance, the game's fun possibilities. Full instructions are included.
At a suggested retail price of about $25 to $30, Rocket Pockets Water Sport represents a bargain value for family fun, and still provides retailers with a hefty profit margin. Wholesale prices start at $15 and decrease with volume.
Novelties' sales volume relies on newness. The world of entertainment continues to supply new characters and themes, and, once they hit the stage, the better ones, "can stay on top for a year or more," says Jeff Sokoloff, owner of Novelty Poster in Rockville Center, NY, which has expanded well beyond its name.
It's not surprising that items identified with Hannah Montana are today's hottest sellers for girls. Sokoloff's company carries more than a dozen licensed Hannah Montana items, including diaries, planners, gift sets, stickers and activity books. There is even a Hannah Montana singing pen, the newest biggest hit in the collection, he reports.
Novelties associated with two other Disney inspired hits, High School Musical and Camp Rock, are also on the best seller list from Novelty Poster. "The Jonas Brothers (who appear in Camp Rock) are for boys, what Hannah Montana is for girls," Sokoloff says. "They are the hottest male teen group now."
Action figures from Byakugun, a new TV show, join the sales hit parade list. There are booster packs, battle packs and other packs of multiple figures from the show.
To stay on top of trends, Sokoloff suggests that retailers, "keep up with movie and TV ratings and listen to what kids are asking for. The hottest items take off fast." It is difficult to keep Novelty Poster's website up to date, he confesses, "because new arrivals come in so often and so quickly."
Novelty Inc. Wholesale in Greefield, IN is the liquidation arm of its parent, Novelty Inc., which provides guaranteed novelty sales to convenience stores nationwide. These programs have a shelf life in C stores of two weeks, after which they are replaced, and the oversupply goes to the liquidation company.
The parent company, "seeks and/or creates new items all the time," says Bridget Potter in the liquidation company's sales division. "They both find the latest and greatest or development items on their own. We can turn 2,000 different stock keeping items a year," Potter says. "They are still highly popular, and, if we get an item that does extremely well, we can obtain more of them."
Novelty Inc. Wholesale primarily sells items that are in brand new condition in their original displays. In some instances, where a display is missing one or two units of a novelty, the company will sell them as open stock. "We can break up cases, so a retailer doesn't have to take items in large increments," she says.
At shows, the minimum order is $500, a minimum established to cover the costs of exhibiting. However, the minimum order from the company's office is $50, making it even easier for smaller retailers to buy in. The reorder minimum is also $50.
The magic price point, according to Potter, is $1 at retail. "That's what every dealer is looking for. So we try to keep wholesale costs at under 65 cents a unit." She acknowledges that with rising transportation and materials costs, that is becoming more difficult. "But we work on that. Often we can average out costs over an assortment of items, in order to keep that balance."
Some items stay on the best seller list for years. Potter says an item variously called, Rattle Snake Eyes or Singing Madness, "has been a staple for a couple of years now." Beyond that, "anything that makes noise; anything that flashes; anything that is gooey and slimy sells well.
"Moldable items are also hot, and so is a bouncing yo yo frog. It's of a jelly material, and when you throw it, it comes back," she explains.
Smart Blonde.net, which began as a seller of humorous license plates, has grown by leaps and bounds, according to Debra Carroll, an owner. The company is now manufacturing these metal plates in-house, along with signs, decals, license plate frames and motorcycle license plate frames.
"By bringing manufacturing in-house, we can add new messages quickly and turn product out fast, in order to keep the inventory fresh and stay ahead of trends," she says. For instance, the company has some witty John McCain and Barack Obama plates.
Beyond the news, country music is another source of inspiration, according to Carroll. "She thinks my tractor's sexy," is one top seller. Another is, "tequila makes her clothes fall off."
"We pay attention to trends, songs and the news," says Carroll, "and we add new items every day. We probably add about 25 new items every week." That keeps the company's retailer customers on the cutting edge.
These new items are posted on the website every day. While retailers can browse different categories, they can also check the "what's new" category daily, in order to see items that they haven't seen before. "The newest additions go to the top of that list daily," Carroll notes.
Because, "personalization is huge," she says, "we also provide plates that have scenic or decorated backgrounds. Retailers can then air brush personal messages on the plates on the spot, and this has been very popular with our retailer customers."
In addition, Smart Blonde.net also does custom work. "We can provide it in quantities as small as a single piece or up to thousands," Carroll says, "and it has become a very popular option."
A variety of display racks is available. One unit is a four sided floor stand that contains six displays per side and can hold up to two dozen license plates. Another holds a selection of the company's signs.
"Funny sells," Carroll concludes. It is a truth born out by many who supply retailers with toys and novelties that make consumers giggle, laugh, and enjoy.
The following were interviewed for this article:
Eduardo Perl, President
5269 Northwest 161st Street
Miami, FL 33014
Toll Free: 866-628-3090 and 877-858-4627
Jack Steinfeld, president
Esco Imports Toy Company
6055 Woodlake Center
San Antonio, TX 78244
Toll Free: 800-445-3836
Bridget Potter, sales person
Novelty Inc. Wholesale
351 West Muskegon
Greenfield, IN 46140
Toll Free: 800-968-7442
Jeff Sokoloff, owner
81 North Forest Avenue
Rockville Centre, NY 11570
Toll Free: 800-648-4818
Gary Hoskins, owner
Rocket Pockets International Inc.
10556 Windsor Lake Court
Tampa, FL 33626
Debra Carroll, an owner
20707 67th Avenue NE
Arlington, WA 98223
Toll Free: 866-425-6633
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