Thinking about toy recalls

There’s been a rash of toy recalls this year (“Really,” you say, “you noticed that?”) and most parents are understandably antsy when it comes to shopping for safe items for their kids, now. No one purposely buys something for Junior that could potentially choke or poison him. (Um, no one I know, anyway.) The assumption used to be that anything you found in the store, certified safe for children, really was. Recent events have shaken that belief.

There’s no shortage of information on the ‘net about what’s happened, what’s being done, what you should do, etc. If you’re concerned—and I’m not going to minimize this; if you’re a toy-buying consumer, you should be concerned—avail yourself of these resources. If you’re shopping here at Ty’s Toy Box, they now have a Frequently Asked Question area addressing toy recall concerns, which encourages consumers to check out the Toy Industry Association’s dedicated site, ToyInfo.org, to stay informed.

My children are past the put-everything-in-their-mouths stage of life, so I have not personally been touched by any of the recent toy recalls. But as a parent I do want to stay abreast of the issue, lest I unwittingly bring an unsafe product into my home. (But then, I feel that way about all sorts of products. I still think I’m more likely to burn the house down with our toaster than my kids are to decide to eat pieces of a craft kit. Maybe I’m naive.) And I know that sometimes the information we want and the information we actually get are not one and the same.

So here’s something to think about: Recently Liz over at Mom-101 was contacted by someone doing PR for ToyInfo.org. You should read her whole post to get the backstory, but the end result was that Liz has been given the opportunity to ask Toy Safety Industry VP Joan Lawrence whatever burning question she feels best represents parents’ current toy safety concerns. Liz is soliciting suggestions over on her entry. It’s good reading even if you don’t have a burning question, but if there’s something that really on your mind, go visit Liz and tell her about it. Your question might end up being answered by The Powers That Be.

In the meantime—use common sense about the toys you bring into your home. Pay attention to the age ratings, and pay attention to your kids when they play. Send in product registration cards and take away broken toys and all those other things you already do. You need to be aware of these things, but you don’t need to buy into the hype that nothing’s safe anymore, because that’s an overstatement of reality.

There’s a difference between being vigilant and being scared. Which, if you think about it, is probably a good motto for parenting as a whole.

So-so name, great deal… and your chance to win

In the couple of years since I first starting serving here at Ty’s Toy Box as your intrepid Toy Box Mommy, the powers that be have asked me several times what moms want out the kinds of retailers who offer the toys and licensed goods that our kids want.

“More deals,” I always answer. “We want it cheaper. How about free? Free would be good.”

“Mmmmm,” they usually respond. And then they stop asking me. I have no idea why. I mean, I think free is a totally viable retail strategy. Which is possibly why I am a blogger and not a CEO. Details.

But guess what. Go on, guess! They finally did it! Well, not free, but darn close to it. Ty’s has decided to regularly feature one unbelievably low-priced item every single day. Each and every day you’ll have the chance to grab one fabulous item for a ridiculously low price, which is pretty much my idea of bargain nirvana, right there.

To find it, just go to the Ty’s Toy Box home page and look for the above Treasure Hunt picture in the right-hand column, there. Click on the graphic to see the featured rock-bottom item of the day.

There’s just one teensy, itty-bitty little problem. It’s hardly even a problem, really. But… well, right now they’re calling it “Ty’s Treasure Hunt.” And while we all sort of agree that that’s pretty lame, another—cooler, hipper, enticing—name is not yet forthcoming. We may have used up all our coolness just getting this deal in place. And that’s where you come in.

Now through 11:59 pm on Friday, November 16th, 2007, you are invited to leave a comment on this post suggesting a better name for this one-discount-a-day feature here at Ty’s. The winning suggestion will be turned into the new feature title, and the brilliant person who suggested it will be gifted with her choice of any single DVD carried at Ty’s Toy Box.

You have nothing to lose, and possible a free DVD to gain. So put on your thinking cap and start those creative juices flowing. Hit us with your ideas. Go!

Toy pundits start talking holiday toys

I suppose after yesterday—and sitting around talking about a movie not due out until mid-2009—a nice little discussion about hot holiday toys should seem positively timely. I mean, hey, Christmas is right around the corner, right?

(Let’s just pretend that it wasn’t 90 degrees here today….)

Anyway, it’s about time for the people in the know to start talking about what’s hot this year, and what people will be scrambling to get for their little darlings when it’s time for holiday gift-giving. The verdict? Power Rangers, Pokemon, Transformers… and a new take on the old Rubik’s Cube, say experts.

“I don’t see any one huge thing coming along that’s going to take all the attention like T.M.X (Elmo) did last year,” said independent toy industry consultant Christopher Byrne.

“Whenever there’s not one big hit, it’s really good for classic toys across the board and that means people have to — heaven help us — pay attention to what their kids really want.”

(You can always count on our friend The Toy Guy to come through with the money quote. Nice work, Chris!)

I myself have never understood the “one big hit” phenomenon, so I’m relieved to hear that this year may be free of any form of Elmo-mania. Or insert-item-here-mania. Reading that things may be calmer and more varied this year almost alleviated my annoyance over the dire importance of discussing this in September.

The piece goes on to discuss why Pokemon is so hot right now (though it does manage to leave out the most pivotal reason, which is that my son is on a mission to own every piece of Pokemon paraphernalia available in the free world), as well as other recent trends in toy development.

Towards the end of the piece there’s a cursory discussion of recent toy recalls and what impact they may have on consumer buying behavior, moving forward. No discussion is devoted to whether any of this will prompt parents to, I don’t know, buy less or even start emphasizing non-toy or homemade gifts. (I guess that would just be going too far.)

Hey, at least they didn’t end it with “Only X more shopping days!” That would’ve made me want to hit someone with a Tickle-Me Elmo.

ToyFare’s action figure countdown

Long ago and far away, I was a young girl with a topsy-turvy doll. It was Little Red Riding Hood on one end, and flipped, it was Grandma on one side with the Big Bad Wolf dressed in her clothing on the other.

I thought it was the greatest toy ever.

This preface is to demonstrate that I am somewhat new to the world of what makes any given action figure “cool.” Thank goodness I have my son to show me the way. For example: He owns a Martian Manhunter figure which he assures me is the greatest thing ever, because his head comes off. I have to admit that that’s a fine feature, indeed.

Well, now I no longer have to rely only on my son (who—I have it on good authority—has a mean mother who refuses to buy him everything he wants) as my sole source of information on the coolness of action figures. Now I can consult ToyFare’s assessment of the 100 best action figures of the past decade.

Number 1 comes as no surprise to anyone, of course:

1. 20th Anniversary Optimus Prime
Hasbro, 2004 $95/$45 (Grey Gun) $90/$40 (Black Gun)
In the toy hierarchy, one figure stands alone. He can command the attention of any room. He’s a model of design. He’s even been known to sway a toy-apathetic girlfriend or two. We cried when he died in the animated movie. Hell, one random dude even changed his name after him.

To celebrate the 20th anniversary of the Transformers, Hasbro released the ne plus ultra (that’s French for “awesomest”) Optimus Prime, with enough detail to make even the most demanding fan gooey with lust. His appendages bend and contort with ease, while a switch on the back of his head allows his “mouth” to move. Flip open his chest plate and marvel at the Matrix of Leadership, a glowing blue ball of light that means he’s the boss. And did we mention he turns into a truck?

As the “Prime” example of the potential in toys, he’s the model to which all other playthings should aspire.

What did surprise me was some of the other entries. To name a few: “Adventure Kermit” comes in at number 15 (your favorite muppet frog goes all Indiana Jones), the Swedish Chef at number 25 and Fozzie Bear at number 38 (who knew muppet action figures were so cool?), The Simpsons Stephen Hawking figure at number 70 (his wheelchair comes with a boxing glove and helicopter rotors), and my personal favorite:

21. Super Grover
Sesame Street, Palisades Toys, 2005 (E: 2005 cons) $50/$15
If the sight of Grover dressed in a cape doesn’t give you the warm fuzzies, you might as well get a job euthanizing puppies, you monster. Bonus: a telephone booth and Clark Kent-esque nerd clothes!

Who knew there were so many cool figures out there? Not me. And I’m sure it was just an oversight that there aren’t any Ben 10 figures on the list. I mean, seriously. Even an old square like me knows that Kevin 11 about as cool as it gets. I mean, short of being Super Grover.

Pokémon still going strong

Yesterday the New York Times reported on a startling discovery: Water is wet!

Oh, wait. That’s not it. Hang on.

Ah, here we are. Right. Actually, they reported that Pokémon is still really popular. This is, of course, fascinating and breaking news…

… if you live in a cave.

More to the point, it’s news if you don’t have a child—and I do hate to stereotype, but preferably a boychild—between the ages of, say, five and twelve living in your house. For people like me, there’s never been any question of the popularity which all things Pokémon are enjoying.

Anyway, the article talks about the brand from a more scientific angle than “my kid is constantly pestering me for this stuff,” which I suppose is interesting. Get a load of this:

Pokémon began in Japan in 1996 and reached the United States two years later. By 1999, it had become such a cornerstone of pop culture that the characters were featured on the covers of Time, The New Yorker and TV Guide; in 2001 the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade added a Pikachu balloon.

But the attention led to overexposure. “One of the things about brands that enjoy enormous popularity is that they tend to also crash,” Ms. Rawlinson [VP of licensing for the brand] said.

Although the games and cards have always sold consistently to their core audience of boys, starting in about 2003 sales of licensed merchandise came to a standstill. “There was very little, if any, product on the shelves,” Ms. Rawlinson said. “It was a very tired time for us.”

See, now, I find this hard to believe, though I suppose it must be true. It certainly has always looked like a group of Pokémon threw up in my son’s room, but I can’t speak for general availability of product, obviously.

The article goes on to detail the rags-to-riches (ha!) story of Pokémon’s revival this past year. Pikachu needs a new pair of shoes, baby.

Sales of the trading cards this year have already exceeded sales for all of 2006, and by the end of the year are expected to triple last year’s total, according to Pokémon USA. The June 4 debut episode of “Pokémon Diamond and Pearl” on the Cartoon Network was the top-rated show that day for boys ages 6 to 11.

Total merchandise sales this year are expected to exceed $50 million, compared with less than $4 million last year, Ms. Rawlinson said.

After the overexposure issues of recent years, the company has learned to be more selective about licensing its name. “We get requests for all kinds of products, but now we turn a lot down,” Ms. Rawlinson said. Would-be Pokémon products that ended up on the reject list include diapers and gerbil cages.

Gerbil cages??? I… that’s just… well, now I’ve heard everything.

And I guess I’ll just have to buy that Dora the Explorer gerbil cage, instead.