ELMO…feeling a little left out

December 1, 2009

In seasons past, ELMO is the toy we get all the calls for -someone in desperate need for the latest version of the original Tickle Me Elmo Doll.  We have particular fondness for the original – Joanne brought Elmo on the TODAY Show – Bryant Gumbel loved it–and played with it for the entire show.

This season, ELMO is being completely ignored.  A smaller, perhaps cuter critter has grabbed the imagination of children and media outlets everywhere -even though ELMO  tells jokes this year as well as any Borscht Belt comedian. Oh and yes,  he’s  still throwing kisses…it could break your heart.  Watch our video.

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Toy Wars and George Costanza’s shrinkage factor

October 8, 2009

Even though most of us haven’t even contemplated buying our Halloween candy yet (ok, I’ve contemplated but I haven’t bought any yet), the major box retailers want you to think holiday toy shopping TODAY!  Walmart has expanded its offer of  toys for $10 to 100 items…KB Toys saw that and raised it to 200, and Target is  trying to match prices.  There’s free shipping to be had…and if you’re really sharp, you can find certain Barbie dolls for as little as $5.

So what’s a toy consumer to think?

1. Toy prices are getting a much needed adjustment. All of that toy safety testing costs a lot –and if you’ve bought a toy recently you’ll know that the added expense has been passed on to consumers.  While we don’t rate toys based on price, we have had sticker shock here as we’ve watched the prices just continue to climb for the past two years. So from this point of view toy wars are good, very good.

2. Less Inventory. If there’s something your child wants for the holidays, buy it early.  Tight inventories is another way retailers have protected themselves this year.

3. Shrinkage…

One of the trends we’ve watched this season is shrinkage…which always makes me thing of Seinfeld’s infamous shrinkage episode with George in the Hamptons.

Toy makers are making many of the same type of toys they used to…but smaller…much smaller…and much less expensive.

For example, last year we featured Playskool’s $300 Kota My Triceratops Dinosaur. This high tech dino-wonder was big enough for your child to sit on! Rec_kota

This year, the same manufacturer is offering Kota & Pals  Stompers – TriceratopsRec_tristompHe walks on my desk. Watch the video. He’s very cute and he actually walks (something the big guy can’t do)…but still, this is what the price wars mean.

So does this mean you should buy only $10 toys this holiday season?

There are in fact lots of toys for $10 and under that are really great. We have many award winners that fit the bill, but buying lots of “stuff” seems like a mistake in the long run. Keep in mind that 60% of our toy dollars are spent this time of year…so bringing home toys that will have lasting play value makes more sense in terms of having toys your kids will play with after the holidays are over.

Open-ended toys and supplies are a better bet. I love novelty toys as much as the next guy…and there are some on our list this year.  The holidays are about making dreams come true, but if you’re looking to make your dollar stretch…buying more open-ended toys is the way to go.  Art supplies, games (that are played again and again), blocks, pretend props (toy kitchens, dollhouses), and toys for active play (ride-ons, sporting equipment)…all will be enjoyed  for a long time and played with differently as your child grows.

Pool your resources. If there’s a toy that your child really wants that costs a little more, have your family chip in. Much more fun to get the present you wanted, then lots of little token gifts from aunts and uncles.

The olden days. There was a time when we didn’t go to the toy store with a shopping cart.  We got fewer toys…not necessarily a bad thing.

Get Your Screwdriver Ready. One way to keep prices down…toy makers leave more for parents to do. Many toys don’t even come with the pre-drilled holes.  If you’re handy with a power drill/screwdriver, you’ll be fine. If you’re not, we warned you.

Make it count. We started the toyportfolio with the tag..we test all the toys so that “you don’t waste your money or your child’s time.”  So  no matter what your budget, we’ve tried to take the mystery of finding a great toy.   So take a look at our Platinum List!


The latest Elmo: Elmo Live!

November 14, 2008

41c1gxpv7hl_sl500_aa280_ We have a long history with Elmo. When my mother was doing the TODAY Show the year Tickle Me Elmo first arrived on the scene we were in the green room as Bryant Gumbel was examining Elmo. We could see him on the screen–he was making faces at Elmo — until he heard the giggle–and then Bryant just starting laughing. He played with Elmo at almost every break–helping to fuel the Tickle Me Elmo craze that year.

The same year we were also invited on the Maury Povich show. Nothing against the show, but it wasn’t our regular type of gig. We were assured it would be a very wholesome show–a cooking segment, gadgets and us. So we went. We should have been tipped off to the fact that we weren’t in Kansas anymore — when the green room had plastic chairs, a window opened up to a creepy air vent and signs warning guest to be considerate of each other. We then went to the bathroom where we found a young woman washing her hair in the sink (really).

We then went up to hair and make up where the hair person told me that my hair color was the worst ever (it was my own natural color) — such a confidence builder before you go on national television. I looked at my mother – not happy but we pressed on. We were taken back stage where they put the mics on you and we meet the guests for the cooking segment. Two women who had written a book called something like “How to Cook for Your Man so He Looks Good Naked”…at this point my mother and I were both laughing and horrified. How to ruin our reputation in five minutes–but we were mic’d — we couldn’t really back out. Did I mention that both women were wearing the equivalent of tube dresses?

Maury made a kind of off color remark about how Elmo vibrates. And oh yes, the woman who washed her hair in the bathroom–she got a close up as an audience member. She was happy.

So over the years–we have eagerly waited for the new version of Elmo. The original Tickle Me Elmo did so well because it was also a very huggable doll–you could make him giggle–but he could also just be Elmo. Most later versions of him (the latest included) do more tricks and therefore have harder bodies–reducing dramatically the huggability factor. There is the wow-wee how does he do that factor–but again it’s more about watching and short lived novelty. Our favorite Elmo of recent years–Elmo Goes Potty–he was right on target about the whole potty training experiences (accidents happen). Check Up Elmo was also very polite and engaging.

The current Elmo Live talks alot, tells stories, jokes—can put his arm up in the air (that’s pretty cute). Our two year old testers were a bit overwhelmed by him and moved on pretty quickly.


Hot Toys- not this year

December 2, 2007

Perhaps one of the upsides to our collective focus on toy safety this year–the absence of a hot toy. With the news cycles focusing on the latest recalls, there really hasn’t been room for soft and fuzzier stories about the hot toy. As much as Elmo tried, he couldn’t giggle his way to center stage this season.

While we often have some hot toys on our list, most know that featuring the heavily promoted toy of the season isn’t our function. The reality is that a hot toy is not necessarily a great toy and certainly not a toy for everyone. A few years ago when Furby took off (in large part to a pre-market article in Wired Magazine) we were struck by the number of people trying to hunt Furby down for their kids–even though Furby’s gremlin like character would be frightening to most younger kids. Even though no child had played with the Furby when the article put the creature on the map. Quickly we learned that “hot” often has more to do with adult collectors on Ebay than a truly kid-driven craze. It can happen (Beanie babies, Cabbage Patch, the original Tickle Me Elmo!)– but they are few and far between (as most toy makers will tell you).

Now we’re left to wonder as we look around our homes—not whether we have the hot toy–but whether we have safe toys.


Elmo vs. Arnold the Snoring Pig

November 25, 2007

Elmo is back this season with new tricks in hopes of maintaining his dominance in the novelty doll category. The original Tickle Me Elmo was an Oppenheim Toy Portfolio Platinum Award winner. In fact Joanne’s appearance on the Today Show helped fan the Elmo craze when Bryant Gumbel was so taken by Elmo that he played with it during several segments of the show.

More recent variations of Elmo have lost the appeal of the original Tickle Me Elmo for one very simple reason. The original was also very huggable–true it had that extra novelty–but at the end of the day you were left with a soft doll. The new versions have a hard body (to make the new tricks possible)– but gone is the huggability factor.

My favorite novelty doll is Arnold the Snoring Pig from Gund. Squeeze him and he really does snore–complete with one ear shaking — it’s hard not to hug him and, you guessed it, he’s extremely huggable. Visit http://www.toyportfolio.com for more info on Arnold.