Toy retailers and manufacturers may be looking at a lean holiday season, but experts say parents still are going to see to it that their kids are happy.
The stock market is down the drain, and most people are looking at 401(k)s that have lost more than a third of their value since last Christmas.
But folks who know say that even during times such as the Great Depression, parents don’t completely deny their children playthings.
“Everything is slower,” because of the economy, said Robin Ellerman, co-owner of Trains-N-Toys in North Canton, Ohio. But “it’s starting to get busy.”
It may or may not be the economy that has delayed things.
“I think people don’t realize that you have one less week to buy, because Thanksgiving is so late,” Ellerman said.
“I think the economy is affecting everybody,” said Wendy Smolen, editorial director of the trade magazine Play Wishes. “The last people it will affect is children, because parents would rather forego things for themselves than not have gifts for their children,” she said.
“There may not be as many gifts under the tree.”
Instead, parents may be looking for a certain quality in their gifts this year.
“The operational word is play value -- gifts that last,” Smolen said. “Not just a flash in the pan that only lasts for 10 minutes.”
Ellerman knows about toys that have lasting value. “Lionel is always hot,” she said.
Toys such as Lego blocks are the ultimate play value toy, Smolen said. “You know your kid is always going to play with it. I think play value is the big point. Parents are looking for value, plus ‘How long are you going to play with it?’”
There is no Tickle Me Elmo or Cabbage Patch Kid driving sales this year; “no one toy that’s popping off the charts,” Smolen said.
She does see some definite trends. There’s a triceratops that children can ride on, a Wall-E robot that responds to voice commands and a dance game that eliminates wires and mats.
“There’s a lot of innovation this year. We see technology being used in new ways,” Smolen said. “In the past, there have been a lot of copycats.”
Ellerman is seeing interest in an innovative new toy called Fun’Fly’Stick, a magic levitation wand by Unitech Toys.
It comes with five flying toys that children can control with the wand and has won a number of awards from toy experts. It can be viewed at www.unitechtoys.com.
Get them up and moving
The trends Smolen sees this year:
“It started with the Wii. Then came Wii Fit and Dancing with the Stars,” she said. Now there’s U-Dance from Hasbro and others.
The trend “is getting kids up and moving again. It may be the (concern over) obesity. It really promotes motion and activity.”
Leading the list is Bakugan. “It’s cheap. It starts at $4.99 and the arena is $29.99,” Smolen said. This is a great gift for boys.”
Spin Master’s Bakugan game includes marbles that morph into figures and magnetic cards. It combines the features of trading cards and playing old fashioned marbles. There are still Pokemon and others, plus there are cards for girls such as Bella Sara, an interactive trading card for collecting horses.
“They’re big right now.”
Virtual world and social networking
Webkins are a good example.
“Webkins is always steady,” because it has qualities that are constant with children, Ellerman said. It’s a plush toy that has interactive capabilities online.
Club Penguin started online, doing things such as decorating igloos, then created plush toys such as a Webkins, Smolen said. And then there’s Kota, “a huge dinosaur” that children can ride on. “It’s amazing,” Smolen said.
There also are toys such as Struxx and Robot Galaxy that can be operated after building. “What they can do with robotics and animatronics is amazing.”
“A lot of people are really interested in buying green,” Smolen said. When chains Toys ‘R’ Us are doing their own line of green toys -- that kind of mass merchandising -- “You know it’s a trend,” Smolen said.
Toy Wishes ‘Hot Dozen’ picks for this holiday season
Animal Scramble (Wild Planet; ages 3 and up; $20-$30). Features an electronic hand-held tagger shaped like a giraffe and four fist-sized animal friends. The giraffe calls out which animal kids should run to and tracks the time taken to complete each course.
Bakugan (Spinmaster Ltd.; 5 and up; $5 and up). Combines the strategy and skill of marbles, trading cards and action figures in one hands-on game.
Bratz Girls Really Rock (MGA; 6 and up; $20). Jade, Sasha, Yasmin and Cloe each come with outfits, guitar and keyboard or drum set.
Crayola Glow Station (Crayola; 6 and up; $30). By moving the light wand across a glowing canvas, kids can create glow-in-the-dark art with strokes of light.
Disney Fairies Clickables (Techno Source; 7 and up; charms, $5; friendship bracelets, $10; starter set, $30). Clickable charms let girls collect, share and play in Disney’s virtual Pixie Hollow.
Girl Gourmet Cupcake Maker (Jakks Pacific; 8 and up; $30). Kids can make homemade, gluten-free microwaveable cupcakes in 30 seconds, then frost and decorate.
Kota the Triceratops (Playskool; 3 and up; $300). Featuring sophisticated electronics, this “life-size” baby dinosaur comes to life when kids climb on his back.
Mobile Command Center (Lego; 8 and up; $90). Kids can prevent Dr. Inferno’s escape by building an intelligence center, weapons bay, tool shop, jet boat and more.
Sit to Stand Alphabet Train (Vtech; 12 months and up; $50). Grow-with-me design lets kids use it alone for floor play, push it along as a walker, or attach the two cars together as a ride-on toy.
“This Is Serious!” Ming-Ming (WonderPets; 18 months and up; $35). Plush doll brings to life the signature phrases, songs and dance moves from Nickelodeon’s “Wonder Pets” heroic duck, Ming-Ming.
U-Dance (Hasbro; 8 and up; $75). Plug the console into your TV, attach the wireless Motion Tags to your feet, and dance away, using your body as the game controller.
Ultimate Wall-E (Thinkway Toys; 6 and up; $250). The movie character comes to life with 10 motors, voice and motion sensors and an easy-to-program remote control.
The (Canton, Ohio) Repository