For most toy store owners, the holidays are the busiest and most successful season to do business — but fourth quarter 2020 may prove difficult for a number of small, independent shops.
According to CNN Business, Pufferbellies Toys & Books in Staunton, Virginia, is one such store, facing tough numbers in a season that typically brings in roughly 25 percent of annual sales.
Store owner Erin Blanton recently told the outlet she is more concerned this holiday season than she has ever been in 15 years operating the shop alongside her mother and five employees.
With state-ordered public health protocol ramping back up in light of a viral transmission spike, Pufferbellies is no longer able to hold its highly lucrative holiday events, Blanton claims. And she is far from the only shop owner impacted.
“They just don’t have the room to have people in [stores] with six-foot social distancing,” said Sue Warfield, interim president of the American Specialty Toy Retailing Association. The organization represents more than 1,800 independent retailers and manufacturers within the toy industry.
Extra costs are also associated with the ongoing coronavirus pandemic, as many stores have been forced to buy extra hand sanitizers for guests and employees, install acrylic glass barriers at cash registers and hire an employee to enforce customer limits on-location.
Pufferbellies, for its part, has also seen a delay in merchandise reception, with suppliers unable to staff their warehouses to maximum capacity.
Throughout the pandemic, essential service providers like these were permitted to remain open and fully staffed due to their location sizes and big-box business model. Meanwhile, small toy stores were forced to close their doors indefinitely this past spring.
“I don’t have the technology resources that big stores do or Amazon,” said Blanton.
“I don’t have ability to make a super easy-to-use app. We don’t have an IT department. We don’t have a delivery company. Our website is a little clunky.”
While small toy businesses are struggling to keep their doors open, Amazon and its fellow big-box chains’ have seen sales climb dramatically in recent months as shoppers turn to the internet to make their purchases.
Retail analyst Stephanie Wissink, who covers the toy industry, said that young parents purchasing gifts for their kids in the current generation grew up “in a world where everything is available to them” online.
According to a recent report from small business software company Womply, the country’s toy, hobby and game stores saw a 26 percent decline in sales from the previous year between March and October.
Small business social networking organization Alignable recently reported that more than half of the 1,800 independent toy stores polled suggest they may not survive through the winter. An additional 36 percent suggested that they will barely live to see another year.
At Genuine Toy Company in Plymouth, Michigan, store owner Elle Dare said she is simply trying to ensure her retro-themed shop stays afloat long enough to have a go of turning profits post-pandemic.
Right now, the idea of turning a profit is certainly up in the air, with owners like Dare worried they may be ordering more product than they can truly sell this holiday.
“If we can just pay the bills, I think that we can get through this,” Dare said.
The shop owner also voiced concern that reintroduction of public health restrictions stemming from a recent nationwide spike in coronavirus cases will further damage company sales, making it nearly impossible to pay out vendors.
She is not without hope, however, telling CNN Business she believes that Americans are starting to understand the pressure mom-and-pop shops are under right now.
“People are realizing that if they want their local businesses around they are going to have to support them, especially during hard times.”
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