Toys seen as hardware store opportunity

E-Blox executive shares tips for success in a growing category.
E-Blox glowing toys
The growth of toys in retail outlets, especially hardware stores, draws kids and their parents – and glowing toys point the way. (All photos by Tim Burke.)

The glow is bright.

And that’s not only from light-up toys.

It’s also from hardware store owners who are taking advantage of the growing opportunity to stock toys. With Toys R Us having gone out of business, hardware stores are becoming a go-to for toy purchases.

At several recent hardware shows, like Ace and Do it Best, many of the aisles were full of toy company booths – and those aisles overflowed with hardware dealers checking out all the toys.

HBSDealer caught up with one of those toy company executives to talk about toys in hardware stores.

In between the two of us playing with the cool LED toys, Jim Seymour, VP and CTO of E-Blox toy company, based in Buffalo Grove, Illinois, chatted about hardware and toyware.

HBSDealer: First, tell us a little about you guys and the markets you serve?

Jim: “E-Blox is an emerging leader in educational electronic toys and products that engage children to Learn by Building. We launched E-Blox in 2016. We are a family business led by Art Seymour and sons James and Joseph with more than 90+ years of combined experience as entrepreneurs, inventors, and designers in the educational toys and wireless industries.

“A whole new generation of educational toys give children of all ages the building blocks of a STREAM education – Science, Technology, Reading and writing, Engineering, the Arts, and Math – through the joy of play and discovery.

“E-Blox products are both fun and educational as they embed electronics into brick-based parts so that as you build, you create 3D circuits that add lights, sounds and motion to your brick structures; great for teaching STEM and STEAM in schools and after-school clubs.”

HBSDealer: Let’s talk about toys and their place in the hardware business, when did you find out there is a market there and how has the growth been?

Jim: “We had been selling to a handful of hardware stores over the years, and these stores were generally very successful. We attended a Do It Best trade show in Indianapolis where we found that there are many, many more hardware stores out there looking for products like E-Blox.

“They make perfect toys for hardware stores where people are in the mindset of building. In addition, we have found that more and more hardware stores are starting to sell toys because there are no longer Toys R Us stores in every city, so people are looking for places to buy toys. So, this year we have seen huge growth in the number of hardware stores that sell E-Blox.”

HBSDealer: What toy products of yours – and in general – are popular sellers at hardware stores and why do you think those toys are big sellers?

Jim: “Our Circuit Blox and Power Blox lines are very popular with hardware stores because they are electronic building sets. Kids love products like Build Your Own (BYO) Flying Saucer, BYO Bubble Making Machine, BYO DJ Set and BYO Burp ‘N Fart Machine.

“Parents love buying their kids E-Blox because they must build the product the right way to make it work, so they are learning about electronics as they build.

“It makes perfect sense that parents are going to hardware stores to buy things that teach their kids the fundamentals of STEM to prepare them for their own house projects in the future.

“And many times, I think it’s the parents who are equally as excited to get home and start playing with their kids.”

Toy aisle at Do it Best fall market 2022
The toy aisle brought many dealer owners browsing and buying at the recent Do it Best fall market.

HBSDealer: Can you share a humorous or interesting story from your dealings with hardware owners selling the toys?

Jim: “One of the things we offer to all stores is a floor standing video Point of Purchase display. We ship the display unassembled, so stores are required to build the display themselves when they receive it.

“We have found it quite interesting that while we receive a lot of calls from toy stores asking for help to assemble the frame, we receive zero calls for help from hardware stores.

“In fact, one hardware store called because they were missing a couple screws for the display. When we told them we would ship them the missing screws they said, ‘don’t bother, just give me the dimensions of the screw; I have plenty of them in the store.’”

HBSDealer: Do you see a growing trend in hardware stores carrying toys?

Jim: “We do see a growing trend in hardware stores carrying toys. Between the Toys R Us issue and COVID forcing a lot of private toy stores to close, there are fewer places that consumers can go to buy toys. I see hardware stores jumping on this opportunity to be an option for their customers to buy toys.

“Here’s an example from Timothy F. Gaul, operations manager at Kroegers Ace Hardware in Durango, Colorado, who said, ‘We have added a wide variety of toys to our hardware selection. We have noticed a large increase and demand as our customers are enjoying not only the one stop shopping, but their kids can browse and shop for toys while our associates can help figure out the parents’ needs for the projects they are working on.’”

HBSDealer: What tips can you pass along to readers who might be thinking of bringing toys into their business?

Jim: “The best tip we can give is to be familiar with the toys you bring in so that you can explain why it’s such a great gift toy your customers.

“I think part of the reason hardware stores have had such success with E-Blox is because, as both hardware store owners and employees, they love to build and love the way it teaches STEM and electronics through building.

“This understanding and excitement by the store owners and employees is definitely recognized by customers and significantly helps sell the product.”

HBSDealer: Anything else you’d like to add about toys in hardware stores today?

Jim: “We believe toys in hardware stores is a fantastic growing trend. Most young kids may not be that excited about being taken to the hardware store by their parents, but if the hardware store carries toys, this changes the game.

“That’s a great thing. Kids have fun learning STEM, so they are building a great foundation to be future engineers in a world where STEM jobs are growing faster than any other occupations.

“Children will be asking their parents to take them to the hardware store.”

Star Wars Lego in aisle at Ace show fall 2022
R2D2, made of Legos, attracts the eyes, and smiles, of attendees and their families at the Ace Hardware show earlier this fall.

Toys, Toys, Toys

The NPD Group, a Port Washington, New York-based global market information company that offers data, industry expertise, and prescriptive analytics, recently reported that as of September 2022, global toy sales have increased 30% compared to pre-pandemic sales in 2019.

“The three fastest growing subclasses during the year to date,” said NPD, “were non-strategic cards and stickers, followed by traditional plush toys, and action figures and collectibles. Growth in all three subclasses were driven by kids and adult collectors.”

Looking at the five best-selling toy properties this year through September, Pokémon was the largest, followed by Star Wars, Barbie, Marvel Universe, and Hot Wheels, said the company.

“Unlike many other categories which grew tremendously during the pandemic and then saw sales drop dramatically post-COVID, the global toy market continues to perform and maintain an elevated level of sales,” said Frederique Tutt, global toys industry analyst for NPD.