By Ronni Robinson
21st Century Media News Service
There are so many reasons why parents should check out the smaller, local toy stores.
“Service and selection are the main benefits of shopping at independent toy stores,” says Kathleen McHugh, ASTRA president. “Local owners know their customers and what they want or need, and are committed to making those products available.”
ASTRA is The American Specialty Toy Retailing Association. It was formed in 1992 when a group of small, local toy stores noticed there were other similar independent toy stores doing the same thing they were doing: promoting healthy play through the sale of creative, open-ended playthings.
“We know what kids love, and frankly, we are big kids — that’s why we do what do!” says Fran O’Donnell, owner of “O’Doodles!” on 8532 Germantown Avenue in Philadelphia. “I call it retail therapy — we LISTEN to you and cater the products we show you to those needs.”
Another great reason to shop at small, local toy stores is because the owners are truly experts about toys and playing.
“They have the expertise to make recommendations to parents and grandparents about specific toys for specific developmental periods in a child’s life,” McHugh explains. “Many of them are also trained in helping customers with children with special needs identify toys that will help in their development.”
Independent toy stores also often carry many of the high-quality, boutique and specialty products not typically found in large chain stores.
“People leave our store with more than a smile on their face,” O’Donnell says. “They leave secure, knowing that much thought and care has gone into the gift for that special child.”
At independent toy retailers, relationships are formed between store owners and their customers. They also often offer the extra services like free gift wrapping and gift registries. Moreover, small, independent toy stores offer a more diverse product selection and a wider range of specialty toys.
“Look, time is money and our busy customers seek value,” O’Donnell says. “They know we know our inventory and listen to their needs. We can match them up, gift wrap the present, offer the no hassle returns, and keep tabs on the next trend.”
Not only is shopping at small toy retailers great for parents who shop there, it is also great for the community in many ways.
“The dollars you spend at your local toy store are going back into the community through payroll and taxes, which ultimately support city services like police, fire departments and schools, and helps maintain the neighborhood’s economic stability,” McHugh explains.
Shopping locally ensures that the character of your town or city is preserved and not made to look like every other town. Additionally, when it comes to supporting local charities, the local store is your first stop and they are always likely to donate to your cause.”
The retailers who make up the trade association ASTRA “care more about what the child could do with a toy than what the toy itself could do, they understand that it is the quality of play that is important to the physical and emotional development of children,” McHugh says.
ASTRA started as a way for these retailers to support each other and to connect with the manufacturers who create the toys and games that served children’s best interests.”
The largest association for companies in the toy and children’s products arena, ASTRA, has more than 1,600 members nationwide. One of the most exciting results of this organization is its annual ASTRA Best Toys for Kids list.
“The Best Toys for Kids list is the result of the collective expertise of local and independent retailers and toy experts nationwide,” explains McHugh. “The recommended toys, which must be new or improved as of September of the previous year, need to promote open-ended or creative play, incorporate innovative design features and maintain exceptional safety standards.”
At their annual convention each June, ASTRA retailers get to feel, touch and play with each of the toy finalists before they cast their votes. The list of winners is a great resource for parents, grandparents and caregivers to use to help simplify their shopping experience. In addition, those who buy toys off the list can trust that each of the winning toys will provide extraordinary play value for the child who gets the toy.
Look for your local toy stores at http://www.yourneighborhoodtoystore.org/
To see this year’s winning toy list, go to http://www.yourneighborhoodtoystore.org/best-toys-for-kids.asp
A comprehensive list of the top 10 reasons to shop for toys locally is available on the ASTRA website at http://www.yourneighborhoodtoystore.org/shop-local.asp