Another White Sox Fan
Being from Chicago and a long time baseball fan of the same team as Barack Obama, I knew a bit about the 1919 Black Sox featured in Kevin Costner’s movie, Field of Dreams. As you likely know, the movie focused on players banished to an Iowa north forty cornfield only to magically appear once a ball diamond was built.
It occurred to me there is a similarity between that movie, major mass-market retailers, and mall developers. When mall developers see an open field, it is not a baseball diamond they build, but rather huge mega-malls. Their hopes must be, “if I build it (a mall), they (shoppers) will come”. However, in these hard times of economic meltdown and changing shopping habits, shoppers are not coming. In fact, there are dire projections about retailers in 2009. Michael Burden, principal with industry adviser Excess Space Retail Services, expects as many as 14,000 stores will close in 2009. "We could see the highest ever number of closures," he said. And the International Council of Shopping Centers estimates that chain store closings could exceed 3,100 in just the first half of the year.
Such troublesome forecasts can only have a rippling effect on the toy and game industry., Anne D’Innocenzo in a recent AP article cites a number of reactions retailers may have to the economic climate, saying “ retailers will cut marginal suppliers, keep inventory lean, hold special buying events, and provide an array of products at lower prices.” I ask, “haven’t Walmart and Target been doing this already to industry marketers for years”? When we attend Toy Fair and witness the sea of products, hear the optimism and see the carnival that is Javits, it is astonishing that only a trickle of those products will reach the shelves of the two reigning retail giants. Those two retailers, in particular, have already cut suppliers, kept inventories lean, and pressured marketers for incredibly low prices. The result at big box stores is a sameness of limited selection of toys and games.
What might be the answer to the retail malaise? Re-emergence of TRU where there was always great selection? Increased traffic at “specialty” stores where there hasn’t been an inordinate mix of laundry detergents and bed and bath linens at the sacrifice of toys and games? More dot -com sales without the need of consumers in mall store aisles?
I must admit that as a “product” guy, I was never satisfied with “sales” guys’ explanations of why products couldn’t be offered at places more convenient to consumers as a way to increase sales. With travel games to sell, why couldn’t they be placed next to Coke and Pepsi at all those gas station mini-markets? Why weren’t those games with movie characters licenses placed in video stores or in the lobbies of movie houses next to the $8 popcorn barrels and $5 soda cups tempting consumers to buy?
Maybe now more than ever when consumers are reducing trips to the mall, products need to get closer to a potential buying event. Maybe if the temptation is heightened, the consumer may break out of buying restraint and make an impulse purchase. And maybe in desperation, we will have to go back to methods vacuums and hairbrushes were sold during past hard times. Would you believe?... Knock, knock. “Who’s there?” Ahhh, “toys and games”. (Can you see all those silhouettes in red suits with big, big bags going door-to-door all across America in search of consumers? Any unemployed Santa’s out there?)
Knock, knock, toys for sale!