Tuesday, November 27, 2007

The Little Little Little Toy Company

As we look forward to 2008, we're wondering where the issue of Chinese-made toys is going. Will the toy industry and the government institute meaningful reforms, or will this string of recalled toys continue?

Supposing that toy companies will continue to seek higher profits and less expensive toys, it seems likely that most toys will continue to be made in China. Given that, what should a responsible Chinese-based toy maker look like? We offer the example of the Little Little Little Toy Company.

Little3 is headed by Peter Reynolds, who ran the American branch of Brio Toys from 1977 to 2002, working with specialty toy stores across the country. When Brio decided to pursue mass market stores like KMart, Peter left to found Little3. Little3 seeks to be

"a little toy company for little retailers who sell to little people."

Little3 toys are made in China, but Little3 emphasizes how their approach is different. In a recent email, Peter wrote that most companies manufacturing in China are concerned only with cost. "US importers spend a great deal of time arguing with providers over price and comparatively little over safety standards. Hardly surprising, and this reality is the underpinning for our current safety crisis...Too many companies are willing to take the long-term risk for our children in order to sustain their short-term market share and profit margins. "

He calls for higher standards and mandatory proactive screening of all toys by third-party labs to ensure that they continue to meet those standards. This is what Brio has always done and what Little3 does now.

Also, toy companies innovate mostly by offering "endless additions to basic toys even when they have nothing to do with any recognized child-rearing ideal". Thus, we have computer-chip driven pounding benches with blinking lights, blaring sounds, and claims of educational qualities.

So, Little3's statement of purpose is "that toys should be viewed as the 'tools of childhood,' not possessions to be acquired. Further....that less is more, that parents can choose fewer toys, better matched to challenge and engage their children. We need more companies to adopt a philosophy where the child comes first, not the income statement."

We have always argued that it's the toy companies who have created this safety crisis. And, if the toy companies are going to get us out of it, we think Peter Reynolds' Little Little Little Toy Company offers the right blueprint.

You'll find several Little3 toys in our store, including their new line of simple wooden trains (like Brio circa 1980) called Nuchi.

Saturday, November 24, 2007

Local Toy Makers Story on MPR

We were very pleased to to be featured on Minnesota Public Radio's Midmorning show on "Black Friday", the day after Thanksgiving. The story featured two of our long-time partners, BEKA toys and Fairy Finery, both of whom make toys here in the Twin Cities. Each of us has also been featured on the WCCO Morning Show, which ran a series on alternatives to Chinese-made toys.

It's exciting to see many of our manufacturers getting so much attention now, after years where we were all struggling uphill, trying to sell higher-quality toys against cheap imports. Most have dramatically ramped up production and we should be able to maintain inventory. (It makes it easier that they don't have to load containers and cross an ocean to get to us.) Some, however, are totally swamped. It's a good problem to have, really.

Saturday, November 17, 2007

Do you have more of this?

So--as Dan said, it was a very busy good day today.
Our store, and a lot of our vendors, have gotten some very good, positive attention with all the toy recalls. So our store, and a lot of our vendors, are getting a lot more business than we projected for this year.
I hate to say this, because it seems like such a hard sell technique. But we are running out of some things. And in many cases, we can't get more because our vendors are already out. US made toys don't have to cross an ocean to get to us, which speeds things up. But many of our US suppliers are one or two people puttering away in the wood shop, and they are thrilled but also blown away by the sudden demand for their toys.
Of course we have lots of wonderful toys, and we will have lots of toys through Christmas Eve. But if you or your child have your heart set on a specific toy, please shop early.
Thank you to all the happy and patient people in today.
Happy Thanksgiving!


Today we had our busiest day ever. The day went really well for us--we had plenty of staff and plenty of inventory and the computers worked all day. It was a really smooth day. I think more and more people are looking for better quality toys and it was great to meet so many new folks today.

In past years, our busiest days have been the two Saturdays just before Christmas. So, we're wondering about where we're going from here....

Wherever we're headed, let us take a moment in this week of Thanksgiving to say thank you to all of our customers. Our family appreciates your business and all the positive energy you bring into the store everyday. We look forward to celebrating this holiday season with you. Best wishes, Millie and Dan.

Tuesday, November 13, 2007

Chemistry + Toys = ???

OK, we were a bit taken aback by the Aquadots recall. We hadn't heard of this toy before all this, but it's apparently a popular craft toy where chemically-coated beads are arranged in a predetermined design and then sprayed with water, causing the beads to stick together. Apparently, the chemical formula was changed by the Chinese factory into something that metabolizes into a compound similar to the drug ecstasy. Not good.

So, what to give crafty kids who want to make mosaics this holiday season instead? We suggest lentils and elmer's glue.

On a related note, we've been hit with our first lead paint recall on Schylling's wind-up Duck Family Toy, which we sold 6 units of last spring. This was actually labeled as a collector's item, not a toy, if that makes any difference. If you have this toy, call Schylling at (800) 767-8697 to get an exchange or refund.

Also, a related recall was issued on Schylling's Dizzy Duck Music Box, which we have sold for several years. This recall, however, did not affect the batches of toys we sold. If you bought Dizzy Ducks from us, they are not being recalled. Full details on both toys are on our website.

Saturday, November 3, 2007

This week at the CPSC

Monday: CPSC Director Nancy Nord, a former industry lawyer, testified before a Senate committee that her agency did not need more funding or greater capabilities or greater penalties for manufacturers who make unsafe products.

Tuesday: The Senate Committee passed legislation beefing up the CPSC and banning lead in toys over the objections of Nord and the Bush Administration.

Wednesday: In the late afternoon of Halloween, when parents weren't likely be watching the news or checking the CPSC website, the CPSC quietly recalled 380,000 "Ugly Teeth" for lead paint violations. These toys were intended to be put in the mouth as part of a Halloween costume. A few hours before trick or treating time seemed like a good time for the CPSC to recall this cheap, poisonous crap.

Friday: the Washington Post reported that "Nancy Nord and her predecessor, Hal Stratton, took nearly 30 trips since 2002 that were partially or fully paid for by trade associations, manufacturers or corporate lawyers, at a cost of nearly $60,000". These included a $11,000 trip to China sponsored by fireworks manufacturers and trips to New York and San Francisco paid for by the Toy Industry Association.

All this adds up to what we've been saying here: The CPSC is nothing more that a PR firm for manufacturers. The agency has been imbued by the Bush Administration with weakness and conflicting interests. And their lack of oversight in the past 7 years has enabled greedy toy manufacturers seeking to reduce costs and outsource oversight.