Barbie, Hot Wheels and Care Bears: This Year’s Best Holiday Toys Are Classics

The pandemic ushered in a fundamental shift in toy buying habits; instead of browsing the toy aisle or exchanging notes during playdates, parents look to their own childhoods for inspiration. Classic toys also have strong appeal for adults who want their children to participate in open-ended play for long periods of time.

“These are proven toys,” said Jay Foreman, general manager of Basic Fun, the Florida-based company behind classics like Tonka, Lincoln Logs, Lite-Brite and Care Bears. “Parents and grandparents don’t watch Nickelodeon or YouTube to see what’s new. They buy toys they know: Barbie Dreamhouse, Tonka Mighty Dump Trucks.”

Analysts expect toy sales to be a bright spot in a holiday season mired in recession and high unemployment. According to the National Retail Federation, consumers are expected to spend an average of $650 on gifts this holiday season, down slightly from $659 a year ago. And although nearly 2 in 5 adults say they will buy less this year, analysts say parents tend to prioritize children on their gift lists. Plus, they note, families at the higher end of the income scale are spending less on movies, ball games, travel and other entertainment during the pandemic, freeing up more money for vacations.

Toy sales have soared 18% so far this year, according to market research firm NPD Group, a stark contrast to double-digit declines reported by department stores and other retailers that sell furniture. and electronic devices. Much of the toy industry’s growth has been fueled by board games, puzzles and outdoor toys like bikes, scooters and inflatable pools, as families seek ways to disconnect after a day full of Zoom calls and virtual learning. Among the most popular toys of the season, according to NPD: Little Tikes, Barbies and Hot Wheels. Lego, the world’s largest and most profitable toymaker, has also carved out a niche for itself in the coveted adult market.

“It’s really hard to find a flagship this year, and one of the reasons is that kids aren’t social with each other,” said toy industry consultant Chris Byrne. “You can post all the hot toy lists you want, but it’s child-to-child interaction that tends to determine if a toy is cool and in demand.”

Although novelties abound – like Present Pets, an interactive puppy that unboxes itself, and Vango glasses that turn the world upside down – industry analysts say retailers and manufacturers have done full of classic toys. Mattel and Hasbro said strong demand for long-standing brands boosted third quarter results: Barbie sales rose 30%, Hot Wheels 9% and family games such as Monopoly and Jenga 21%. .

“It’s all about classic play this year,” Byrne said. “People are anxious, and those nurturing games that we remember from childhood are like comfort food.”

Basic Fun’s Jay Foreman is gearing up for what could be his most profitable holiday season in years. He expects to sell 1.5 million Care Bears, three times more than he originally planned. Overall sales, he says, are on track to increase 10% from last year.

But the pandemic has created its share of challenges: unpredictable demand, supply chain hiccups, and a trucking shortage that’s preventing some toys from reaching stores. This has forced companies of all sizes, from niche board game makers to large manufacturers, to rethink every aspect of their approach.

“I don’t think any of us expected to see this type of demand this year,” Foreman said. “It was a story of two angst: the pandemic hit and we panicked that people would stop buying toys. But then we realized, wait a minute, sales exploded. Now we are working hard to get the latest demands out of our warehouses and factories.”

Parents, he said, are forgoing cheaper impulse buys — the $3 or $5 item a child might toss in the cart or grab on the way to the checkout.

“The magic price of a toy has always been $20 to $30, but all of a sudden, vendors are calling us and saying, ‘What do you get for $50?'” a- he declared. “A lot of parents with disposable income don’t go to ball games or Disney World or on vacation – and they want to entertain their kids.

Exploding Kittens, a family-friendly card game that debuted on Kickstarter five years ago, features goat wizards, taco cats, and magic enchiladas. This year, its sales are exploding.

Demand for the game has steadily increased since stay-at-home orders took off in March, according to Carly McGinnis, the company’s chief operating officer. Year-over-year sales have doubled, and the company is printing nearly 5 million games this year, about triple what it did in 2019.

“This year there has been a shift towards family games – things that moms and dads can buy to entertain their kids at home,” McGinnis said, adding that sales of the adult-only version of the game decreased by about 10% during the pandemic. . “Honestly, it’s been really difficult because we just weren’t expecting this.”

According to the NPD Group, a 94% increase in sales of games and puzzles between March and May drove much of the toy industry’s growth during the pandemic. While some of that growth leveled off over the summer when families spent more time outdoors, analysts said they expect board games and other activities to interior resume during the holidays.

McGinnis has spent the past eight months preparing for another sales rush. She was caught off guard in March, she said, when one of the warehouses the business relies on closed as demand soared. Leaders rushed to find alternatives. The company now has five warehouses, in different parts of the country and in Canada, increasing the likelihood that it can continue to ship toys even if a resurgence of the coronavirus shuts down parts of the country.

“We realized we needed to put more stopgap measures in place in case there were more closures,” said McGinnis, who now has 40 full-time staff, up from 25 before the pandemic.

There were also other obstacles. The company’s games are made in China, where factories have lagged and shipping options have become limited.

“Getting cargo out of China has been difficult and expensive – it’s almost impossible to get on a plane right now,” McGinnis said. “There are fewer boats this year, fewer dockers unloading goods. Most ports are open but they close in the event of an outbreak, so we have to be prepared for anything. »

Shipping delays and truck shortages have also complicated things for MGA Entertainment, the toy giant behind popular brands like LOL Surprise and Little Tikes. Chief executive Isaac Larian said more than 400 containers of holiday toys — including his new LOL Remix dolls and children’s smartwatch Tobi — had been stuck at the Port of Los Angeles for weeks.

“We can’t get trucks, so these hot products are literally sitting at the port,” he said. “Every day they’re sitting there, there’s another day they’re not on the shelf.”

Conquering children is one thing. Convincing their parents and grandparents to buy more toys – well, that takes a different kind of effort.

According to Laura Henderson, the company’s executive vice president of marketing and e-commerce, Spin Master, the creator of Etch A Sketch, Hatchimals and Paw Patrol, has been looking for new ways to appeal to adults during the pandemic. The company recently integrated its advertising department and is spending more on eye-catching displays to entice shoppers on “mission-based trips.” It also promotes ads on Facebook and Instagram that broadcast toy rewards and other accolades that might appeal to caregivers.

“What parents and grandparents are looking for is confirmation that they’re buying something the kids will enjoy,” Henderson said. “The biggest driver is always what the child wants, but we also see a yearning for longing.”

Lindsay Maines has spent her quarantine stocking up on Matchbox cars, 200-piece puzzles and canisters of Play-Doh for her kids. Her 5-year-old spends hours playing with Legos and Lincoln Logs, she says, while her teenagers take more bike rides and crafts when they’re not taking virtual classes or scrolling Tik Tok.

The whole family uses board games a lot more than before. Her son and husband, she said, recently spent five days playing a single game of Monopoly on the family room floor.

“I kept saying, ‘Hey, are we going to clean this up? We all want to go back to the toys of our youth and share them with our children, especially now.”

This holiday season, she says, instead of buying presents, she’ll focus on family traditions like baking cookies and chopping down a Christmas tree together. But she has a few items on her shopping list: a new Etch A Sketch and more Play-Doh.