PERSPECTIVES:  Toymakers, Industry Experts Optimistic About Outdoor Toy Sales

May 17, 2013 |  With the approaching Memorial Day holiday and the unofficial launch of summer, toymakers are optimistic that sunshine and warm weather will drive the annual sale of nearly $2.7 billion worth of bubbles, sidewalk chalk, scooters, wagons, and other outdoor playthings. The Toy News Tuesday editorial team recently spoke with industry experts to discuss the impact of rising temperatures on toy sales, the evergreen popularity of active play, and recent innovations in the outdoor toy category:

Christopher LeeChristopher Lee, Hedstrom Entertainment
Nancy Lombardi
Nancy Lombardi, Toys & Family Entertainment
Carlton Calvin
Carlton Calvin, Razor USA LLC
Michael Ritchie
Michael Ritchie, Hasbro
Jackie Breyer
Jackie Breyer, The Toy Book
Richard Barry
Richard Barry, Toys“R”Us
TNT: How are outdoor toy sales shaping up for 2013? 

“Sales have been challenging due to this spring’s colder, unfavorable weather,” said Christopher Lee, marketing coordinator at Hedstrom Entertainment. “We hope to see a strong increase in sales with summer on the way – in years past, outdoor toys tended to dominate at retail for this time of year.”

“It has been a very cold spring across the country,” remarked Nancy Lombardi, editorial director at aNb Media, publisher of Toys & Family Entertainment. “From what we are hearing from manufacturers that has negatively impacted sales thus far. The weather will obviously warm up so we have yet to see if those sales will recover.”

Carlton Calvin, founder & president at Razor USA LLC, also observed that sales this spring were slower than normal due to poor weather but said outdoor sales in general “seem to be steady or growing on an annual basis.” 

“Spring is generally when outdoor toy sales get their boost, gaining momentum through early summer, however this spring has been soft because of the weather,” said Calvin. “But we’re optimistic because we've recently seen sales pick up and as the warm weather continues, families will be headed to the store to buy some great active outdoor toys. We are also optimistic with the growth of the electric scooter and electric ride-on category which has become very strong for us.” 

TNT: Have you seen any new patterns or behaviors or do the classic outdoor play patterns continue to be hot?

“With the tough economy recently, families have been turning to alternative forms of entertainment. Games at home and outside have become the ‘go-to’ for families looking to save money.  Consumers have their favorite outdoor toys and games and they tend to stick with the classics,” said Lee.

“The outdoor toy category is one where ‘classic’ play patterns will always remain hot,” agreed Lombardi. “Outdoor toys encompass products that everyone is familiar with and enjoys playing with. Every season there is a child that learns to ride a bike or discovers bubble toys.”

Lombardi added that the outdoor toy category, which remains largely “tech-free,” is great for grandparents. “It’s something that grandparents can understand, get involved in, and make purchases,” she said.

Michael Ritchie, senior director of Nerf and Super Soaker, said that outdoor play is a childhood mainstay. “Classic play patterns are classic for a reason, and we see evidence of this year after year,” he said. “As the weather heats up, kids head outdoors and it’s all about active play ... Getting away from the screens, getting active with their friends – there’s a freedom and energy intrinsic to outdoor play that sets it apart from other play patterns.”

TNT: What are some examples of outdoor playthings that engage kids year after year?

According to Ritchie, Hasbro’s Super Soaker is a classic outdoor toy that promotes intergenerational play. “Even with all the awesome innovations and recent developments in the Nerf and Super Soaker lines, we’re talking about two brands that are over 40 and 20 years old, respectively,” said Ritchie. “In all that time, the basic principles of outdoor play – the running around, energetic, friendly competition – that parents and adults remember, still matter …They are great brands for kids and parents to play together.”

Jackie Breyer, editor in chief, The Toy Book and The Toy Insider, said that kids blowing bubbles will always be a sign of spring and summer. “Manufacturers continue to introduce new ways to make bubbles … but classic bubbles continue to sell and the category as a whole continues to thrive,” Breyer said. “Imperial Toy is one of the leaders in this category, with a variety of innovative licensed bubble toys.”

Calvin sees that scooters in particular have become an essential part of growing up. “Scooters are as hot as ever,” he said. “Kids and parents love how versatile scooters are – from preschool scooters for young riders, to the classic Razor scooter, and now the electric scooter for older kids who love the thrill of speed."

TNT:  Have you spotted any new trends or innovations in outdoor play?

“Every year ushers in a new way for kids to get around, from three-wheeled scooters, to balance bikes, to bikes and scooters that allow kids to leave a trail of chalk behind as they ride,” said Breyer, citing Yvolution’s Y Fliker, Razor’s Trikke E2 and Kixi Mixi, and Fat Brain’s Chalktrail as examples.

“Another trend I’m seeing is an increase in airborne R/C vehicles – from Spin Master’s ever-expanding Air Hogs line to the HeliQuad H4 and Helisphere from Interactive Toy Concepts, to the Avitron 2.0 bionic bird – flying R/Cs are becoming less expensive and easier for kids to fly,” added Breyer.

“Manufacturers continue to innovate in the outdoor space, whether it’s through advances in bubble solution and bubble machines, colored bubbles, sidewalk chalk, ride-ons, water blasters, sand-and-water tables, and so much more,” remarked Lombardi.

Richard Barry, EVP chief merchandising officer at Toys“R”Us remarked that he is always on the lookout for the latest trends, and sees both classic items and emerging categories being purchased at Toys“R”Us. 

“This year, we’ve seen a growing consumer interest in the scooter category, with items like YFliker by Yvolution and Razor Spark by Razor,” he said. “In addition, we’ve seen traditional outdoor toys maintaining their popularity, including family favorites like bicycles and trampolines. One category we are happy to see regaining momentum is wooden gym sets.  We expect growth in this category to further improve as the housing market continues its positive turnaround.”  

To participate in an upcoming “Perspectives” article about toy trends, contact the TNT Editorial Team. For round-the-clock information, articles and videos about toy trends and toy safety, visit the TIA’s consumer website, ToyInfo.org.