Rethinking the whole shopping thing? Hardly a day goes by without a newspaper headline trumpeting America’s purported shift away from rampant consumerism in the face of the economic downturn. Turn the page, and there’s a story encouraging us to help jumpstart the economy by spending more. What to do? One solution is to join the many families nationwide who are claiming independents, so to speak, in their shopping habits.
Maybe the best impact of our nonstop newsfest about what makes the economy tick is that so many families are reconsidering not just what they spend, but also where they spend it, and why they make the choices they do. Now we understand that plopping down our credit card means more than simply bringing home a new toy or two. That transaction launches a flow of dollars that end up in…well, that depends on exactly where you have plopped down your credit card in the first place.
Introducing your independents
And that’s why, when it comes to toys, the American Specialty Toy Retailing Association (ASTRA) wants you to know about your locally-owned neighborhood toy store—known in the industry as “independent” toy stores.
“Here’s how I think about it,” offers Kate Tanner, owner and operator of Kidstop Toys & Book Store in Scottsdale, Arizona and volunteer chair of ASTRA’s Board of Directors. “If you live here, and you buy that birthday gift for your granddaughter in my store, you are helping me create jobs right here in Scottsdale. Your sales tax stays here, which isn’t the case if you buy online. The money I pay for my store’s lease, and most of the various taxes and fees I pay as a business owner stay here or in the state of Arizona. If more of us choose to do our shopping at locally-owned stores like mine, all of that profit goes back into this community and we all do better.”
It boils down to this: each of us has some say about whether the money we spend stays in our local economies—re-circulating to help create jobs and prosperity in the communities where we live—or whether those dollars leave town immediately, headed to corporate headquarters somewhere distant, as soon as you walk out the door of the big box chain store.
Expect a difference
And that’s not all. If you embrace shopping independents, you can expect an entirely different retail experience. For example:
Commitment to customers. “As a parent, one thing I love about our local toy store is that I can find the owner on site almost any time I walk through the door. That tells me my business is valued, and I will walk out a satisfied customer.” says Chris Baker, a Phoenix businessman with three young children whose family shops frequently at Tanner’s Kidstop store. “The hands-on involvement and commitment to customers that a small owner-operated business can deliver is just plain tough to duplicate in large chains.”
Toy buying is about your kids.
Nothing matters more than knowing what you put in their hands is completely safe and will hold up no matter how your child uses it. “One of the things you’ll find at locally-owned stores—especially those that are ASTRA members—is that the products are generally more innovative and much better made,” says Tanner. “And ASTRA members are committed to products made by manufacturers who have met or exceeded all safety standards. Check it out for yourself—over 70 manufacturers who make products for our stores have posted their safety practices and test results on the ASTRA website at www.astratoy.org
Chris Baker’s family can testify to quality. “Take it from a dad who just spent a weekend helping to clear out several years of accumulated toys from my children’s rooms. I was amazed at how many were broken, not in shape for hand-me-downs, or barely used because my kids lost interest quickly,” says Baker. “When we got it all sorted out, most of the toys that were worth keeping came from Kate Tanner’s toy store.”
Great service. It is through the natural activity of play that children explore, build social skills, learn to solve problems, and develop in a myriad of other ways. Some of this can happen without toys or with makeshift playthings like a cardboard box or a good, old-fashioned mud puddle. But sooner or later, most parents will buy a toy—and many may not know what type of toy is best for their child’s developmental level. “Oh, we can solve that,” promises Tanner. “Our store and other ASTRA member stores are known for their understanding of how to match toys to where kids are developmentally. We take great pride in that, and it’s one reason you walk out with a toy your child will play with over and over and over. If not, bring it back and we’ll take care of you.”
Top value for your dollar. If the toys are better at independent stores, don’t they cost more? Not so fast, says Tanner. “Let’s say a $10 dinosaur at a chain is a great birthday present for that brontosaurus-besotted boy in your daughter’s class. So you buy it. And you buy gift wrap and ribbon and a bow. Also the card. When you add it all up, walking into that birthday party has just cost you $15. For the same $15 at most independent toy stores, you can buy a better bronty—one with more realistic detail and able to survive everyday travel from breakfast to backpack to back yard to bath tub to bed—and get this: free gift wrapping, compliments of your locally-owned store. The real story,” concludes Tanner, “is about value, not price. And the good news is that independent stores usually look good on price even before you run through this kind of arithmetic.”
Check out how independents work for you
So if you are ready to approach your shopping with more independents, where do you find locally-owned independent stores like Tanner’s? Easy. Just visit www.astratoy.org , click on “Find a Toy Store” and you are on your way. About 500 locally-owned and managed toy stores around the country are ASTRA members—and shopping at them uses your dollars to demonstrate new priorities in these roller coaster economic times.