Popular toys flying off shelves earlier this year

| Monday, Nov. 5, 2012, 9:35 p.m.

It's not as early as you think. If you want to land that hot toy for your favorite child, shop now, experts advise. The most sought-after toys may sell out weeks before Christmas and not be re-stocked. And put some careful thought into what toy you buy a kid, to make sure it's age-appropriate and appealing. Toys R Us predicts these will be at the top of wish lists.

We have almost two months until Christmas, but buying toys early saves you a hassle and headache. It guarantees that the toys you want will be available. With the economy struggling, toy manufacturers and sellers are cutting back on the supply of toys, industry experts say, so they don't risk losing money on unsold merchandise.

Jack Cohen — owner of S.W. Randall Toyes and Giftes, an independent, local, specialty store with locations Downtown and in Squirrel Hill and Shadyside — says he already can't re-order any of the popular wooden Thomas the Tank Engine toys from Learning Curve, which is out of them.

About half of the people who came in the last week of October were specifically shopping for holiday gifts, Cohen says.

People seem to be buying even earlier this year, he says, possibly because it will be easier to stick to a tight budget if they spread out their shopping over a few months.

“The woman who just left said she's done — she bought everything she needs,” he says of a customer who carried out two big bags full of toys. “I was shocked.”

Some parents were shopping in September and putting items on layaway, says Adrienne O'Hara, spokeswoman for Wayne, N.J.-based Toys R Us.

“We've given parents so many different opportunities to shop and save for those who don't want to get up early” on Black Friday, O'Hara says.

The sellout risk for popular toys is high for buyers who wait until the last minute, says Richard Gottlieb, owner and president of Global Toy Experts, because of decreased inventory in a weak economy.

“The biggest reason (for early shopping) is the chances of getting the toy you want are going to be much higher,” Gottlieb says. His New York City-based company provides consulting to toy companies that want to enter the North American marketplace. “In these days, you'd rather buy leaner.”

And with most toys being made in China, it's not easy to get a quick turnaround and re-stock the sold-out toys, he says.

Choosing a toy

Whether you buy toys early or procrastinate, what should you buy for the children in your life? A toy can either delight or bore kids, depending on their interests. Some toys, though — such as those with small parts — can be dangerous to younger children, which is one of the reasons gift-givers should heed age ranges printed on toy boxes.

If you are buying toys for someone else's children, asking the parents what the kids want is a good starting point, O'Hara says.

Parents can put together wish lists and take the lists shopping. For younger children, O'Hara recommends toys that stimulate creativity and imagination, including something simple like building blocks.

Gottlieb — whose company publishes the magazine “Global Toy News” — recommends that grandparents buy a toy that reflects the giver's personal interests. A history buff, for instance, can give a child a Civil War playset. The child may grow to share that same interest.

“Buy for your own passion. What do you care about?” Gottlieb says. “If you're really into a particular craft, science or character you loved as a kid, share your enthusiasm.

“Gift the child with your passion,” he says. “They may or may not pick up on it, but it's authentic, it's who you are. ... Let their parents get them what they want, and let Santa Claus get them what they want.”

Gottlieb recommends looking for “legacy toys” that will last a long time — perhaps a checkers or chess set — and provide good play value, rather than cheap “landfill toys.”

“A toy can really have a lifetime impact,” he says.

Kellie B. Gormly is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. She can be reached at kgormly@tribweb.com or 412-320-7824.

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