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The Kroll Report

Appeared in The Bloom Report  May 14, 2001 issue.

The most satisfaction I have enjoyed The most satisfaction I have enjoyed from writing these reports, as part of the Phil Bloom Report, has been receiving responses from readers. One of the most gratifying has been becoming a "pen pal" of Stevanne Auerbach of San Francisco, who is known as "Dr. Toy". Stevanne has published three wonderful books about toys, and is considered one of the real experts in evaluating toys and games. She is often a speaker at major conferences all over the world. This past week she was invited to participate at a meeting in Orlando, FL, sponsored by Kid Power X. Since Stevanne and her charming husband Ralph were only 3 hours from here, I invited them to be our houseguests Thursday night. Stevanne and I spent many hours discussing the state of the toy business, and what we both feel is right and wrong with many toys on the market.

She and I agree that the best toys are those which become established as standards, evergreen, and which last years and years. She abhors violent toys (as I do) and once ran a very successful program in San Francisco that urged school children to turn in realistic toy guns in exchange for Hula Hoops.

Stevanne is just about the most knowledgeable person I have ever met in all of my 62 years in this wonderful business. She seems to know EVERYBODY in the business, and has attended Toy Fairs in New York, Nurnberg and regional fairs as well.

She told me about being a guest at the showroom of Ravensburger (Europe's largest game and puzzle maker) in Nurnberg in February 2000 while this major company held a press conference. Although it was all in German, Stevanne was amazed that not one of the scores of reporters left before the meeting was over (In the U.S. most reporters spend little more than a few minutes to see and review lines and items) and that after the meeting, all of them went into the showroom and actually sat down and played the games with sales people. When asked why they spent so much time doing so, the reply was " In Germany and most European Countries, board games are considered to be a major way families stay together and spend quality time together". (Ed: In the U.S. Hasbro has promoted "Family Game Nights" but in my opinion and that of Stevanne Auerbach as well, many American kids spend too much time in front of their TV sets watching violent cartoons, or playing the same types of violent games on their game consoles, computers or game boys"). If more of these children spent their time reading or studying instead of wasting their time with games which have no real teaching value, school scores in many areas of the U.S. would be sky high instead of being in the cellar. Of course there are some valuable teaching games available for playing on computers, but the majority of interactive games sold in toy stores are violent in nature.

Some fine teaching toys such as those produced by Leap Frog, V-Tech, Team Concepts and Educational Insights are wonderful and very popular with parents who are looking for ways to have their children spend time learning and not wasting time.

Stevanne and I agree that too many toys rely on electronic devices, which speak for the child. Instead we both would like to see a return to the old fashioned idea of toys that do not talk, but that children talk to their toys and "imagine" conversations with them. This is why hand puppets from such quality makers as Folkmanis, Manhattan Toys, Applause and others have been so popular for so long. In the good old days, children seemed to have more fun in the world of fantasy than they do today with toys that talk, walk, and have the kids "watch or listen to them" instead of interacting with them.

Of course, in today's toy business, it is easy for toy manufacturers to buy licenses featuring favorite TV characters as a way of catching the eyes of consumers. However, I do not agree that the extra costs involved to pay for the expensive percentages paid to the licensors is worth it all of the time. Also, the close out bins and aisles are crammed with toys whose licensed characters are no longer popular. The demise of such as Pok-e-man and Star Wars action figures is proof that too many licensed toys have a very short shelf life, once the TV show or movie is passe. Adding a license to a poor item no longer insures success. Once again, I say, "stick to basics". (Comments from readers would be welcomed).

The hours I spent with Stevanne and Ralph have been too short a time to cover all of the topics we wanted to discuss. I have been invited to visit with them in San Francisco early in September, which I am now planning to do, so we can continue our discussions as to what is right and what is wrong with our business. Of course, daily e-mails back and forth will continue as we both love what we are doing so much and exchange ideas on a constant basis. (And we never miss reading the Phil Bloom Report, as both Stevanne and I were early subscribers).

We both agree that when possible, independent retail groups should try to band together and develop private label items so that they need not compete with the large discounters. Although I tried to present such a program to our readers a few weeks ago, the response was nil, and I gave up on it. Organizations such as ASTRA had better get going and emulate such as the Toymaster group in the U.K. or Vedes in Germany, or be left behind to carry much of the same merchandise as the major chains overlapping into previously non-discount merchandise.

Imaginarium stores now inside of many Toys R Us outlets do seek and carry exclusive merchandise, and as TRU converts more of their stores to this format, it portends more competition for the independents. I fear that more and more independent toy stores will be forced out of business, unless they band together and create their own exclusively packaged items on which they can make full mark-up. If Zany Brainy can work out its financing problems, they will continue to be a force in the market place, but if not, TRU will continue to capture more of the former customers of ZB and the independents. 2001 promises to be a year with major shake outs in not only the e-Commerce field but in the toy field as well.

When I asked Stevanne " How do you make money" her reply was, " By consulting with toy companies and helping them bring out good, safe toys and by writing and promoting my books". If you wish to contact her to arrange for such help, visit her web page at or I am sure that a few hours with her will save you and your company a lot of false starts and perhaps help you bring out more toys and games which will last for years and not just for one season.

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