Something old, something new: Retail on tech vs traditional

With tech and traditional toys often competing for space on the shelves, Billy Langsworthy kicks off our look at the debate by asking independent retailers how they approach the two sectors.
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“There is a place for everything”: Jane Holtom, Cheshire Toy Shop

Cheshire Toy Shop has only been open six months and thus far, has avoided stocking tech toys. The reason being that with Tesco and Argos nearby, being a traditional toy shop helps it to stand out from the competiton.

Owner Jane Holtomexplains: “We’re not tech at all. Our main reason is because traditional is a good little niche for us really. We find that, so far, that’s the sort of thing our customers are looking for.

“We stock things that they can’t get in the multiples. There’s an awful lot of competition out there on the tech side of things.

“But I wouldn’t rule tech toys out as there is a place for everything.”

And although Holtom is still open to the idea of stocking tech-based toys, she admits she feels it’s good to see youngsters playing with the likes of trains and other traditional toys in one of the shop’s play areas.

Holtom tells ToyNews: “I’m not anti-tech but it is lovely to see children playing with traditional toys as straight away their imagination kicks in without any extra stimulus.”

“Which offers a greater learning experience – an iPad or a box of LEGO?”: Jonathan Elvidge, Red5

As a gift and gadget chain, RED5 is a champion of tech toys, with a mix of toys spanning figures to robots.

Red5’s managing director Jonathan Elvidge believes toy stores should take note of what tech has to offer them.

“Currently we have a balance of around 50:50 tech vs traditional toys,” Elvidge tells ToyNews.

“Toy shops shouldn’t ignore tech products as they can be really popular and innovative, but make sure you know the products well if you do increase this category as your customers will expect you to know the details inside out.

“Unless you are focused on being a ‘traditional toy shop’ then why not change with the times? If you don’t then you may be overtaken by your competitors.”

And while tech toys often get a hard time in some areas of the press, Elvidge believes its far too simple to paint one sector as ‘bad’ for children and the other as ‘good’ for children.

“It is too simple for people to say traditional toys equal wholesome fun, while tech toys get a negative deal,” adds Elvidge.

“Which offers a greater learning experience an iPad or a box of LEGO?

“Yes, an iPad is competing for toy spend, and I love LEGO, but the iPad can teach as well.”

“Children shouldn’t play with tech-based toys”: Susan Whyman, Childhood’s Dream

Childhood’s Dream is a Winchester-based traditional toy shop whose motto is ‘brilliant toys made to last.’

The closest thing to a tech toy on the shelves of Childhood’s Dream is a battery operated train and owner Susan Whyman believes children under ten shouldn’t be playing with tech-based toys.

“From an educational stand point, children shouldn’t play with tech-based toys until they are quite old because you need to learn the basics of how things work,” says Whyman.

“Children learn through toys, and if all you have to do is press a button and it beeps at you, you’re never going to learn anything. It seems like a really silly thing. They won’t understand the basic concepts.”

“The larger stores slash prices with tech toys so we find it difficult to compete”: Paula Leslie, Toy-Bocs-Teganau

Toy-Bocs-Teganau owner Paula Leslie largely avoids tech toys because she feels she can’t compete with the supermarkets on pricing.

“We tend to do traditional because on the tech side the market is so tight anyway,” Leslie tells ToyNews.

“The larger stores slash prices so the smaller independents find it difficult to compete.”

Despite the growing popularity of tech toys, Leslie has seen the recent Loom craze result in kids swapping their tablets for rubber bands.

“Because of the Loom craze, kids are ditching the electronic games and all playing with Looms,” adds Leslie.

“That’s what’s nice. People are saying it’s great that their children aren’t sat on their iPads, they are all playing with Looms.”

“But there is a place for both in toy stores because you’ve got to try and provide what the customer is looking for.”

“Traditional toys have a greater depth”: Paul Warner, When I Was A Kid

Paul Warner, owner of traditional store When I Was A Kid, believes classic toys offer children more than modern toys do.

“Traditional toys have a greater depth than many modern toys,” says Warner.

“They allow us to be more expressive in our marketing and more creative in the ways we can reach out and touch people on an emotional level.

“Technology has its place and it takes time, effort and a great deal of courage to stick with a niche and not get swept up in the latest trend or fad.”

Warner believes the influx of tech toys has led some children to grow up with no knowledge of classic toys and many parents to take the easy option when looking to occupy their kids.

“We have a little boy in the shop last week that pointed at a pogo stick and asked ‘what is that?’, when his mum told him, he then asked ‘does it plug into my Wii?’ Stories like that make me very sad about what we are doing to our kids.

“The use of tech toys has also made us lazy as a generation, it is all far to easy to hand a child a tablet with a game on that to get the paint pots out or take the frisbee down the park.”

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