Saturday, November 29, 2008

Turn off the TV!

There is a movement afoot to stop toy companies from advertising their toys directly to the kids. Many parents have written letters on behalf of the Campaign for a Commercial-Free Childhood to the leading toy manufacturers asking them to stop running ads aimed directly at children.

Unfortunately, I believe their efforts will be about as successful as asking McDonald's to stop putting special sauce on the Big Mac.

Why do toy manufacturers market to children? Because it works! And it works well. TV-advertised toys outsell their less-marketed brethren by astonishing rates. Without TV advertising for toys, Wal-Mart, K-Mart, Target and Toys R Us would probably get out of the toy business. (Hey, maybe banning ads is not a bad thing at all). The big stores only want toys with quick turnover. That's why most of the toys found in the national chains are either licensed with some TV or movie character or heavily advertised first on TV and then in their Sunday ads.

Of course, nowhere in that equation is there room for discussion on whether the toy is actually good or not. Nowhere in the math does any of those mass merchants consider things like play value, creativity, or imagination. Nope, the only question they have is, "How fast will this move?" And if it's on TV, the answer is fast enough.

Now, I believe it is fair of parents to be concerned about how these toy companies market to children. But asking them to change is pointless. If you don't want the fatty foods of McDonald's you eat elsewhere. The same is true with toys. If you don't want your children bombarded with toy ads, TURN OFF THE TV.

Yes, it's that simple. Be the parent, take charge, and limit your child's exposure.

Some people say that all those ads just help children learn to deal with the marketing realities of this world. I'm not fully in that camp. I do believe that there is a learning process, but I also believe that we, as parents, must control that learning process. We do that by controlling the exposure. We do that by setting limits. We do that by being proactive and explaining to our children how advertising works.

That's what my family has done these past 60 years while running a toy store. In fact, growing up we were taught that most TV-advertised toys were bad toys. The good toys didn't need TV ads to sell. My cousin took this lesson to heart so much that one Christmas he complained saying, "Santa screwed up. He brought me some bad TV toys."

If you are tired of hearing your kids yell, scream, beg and plead for the latest, hottest toy, don't write a letter to the company. Just turn off the TV and go find a toy store that specializes in non-advertised, fun-laden, high play value toys - a toy store like Toy House and Baby Too or any of the hundreds of independent specialty toy stores around the country.


Wednesday, November 26, 2008

Happy Black Friday?

Sometimes I wonder if we are taking Thursday off to celebrate Thanksgiving or the beginning of Christmas Shopping.

It seems that there is more talk about Black Friday in the news than the turkey celebrations on Thursday. In fact, the only time I see the word "Thanksgiving" is when they announce another store like K-Mart planning to be open that day.

Has it come to be that the thing for which we are most thankful is getting up at 3am to grab a doorbuster special?

I hate to be the mythbuster, but I'm going to let you in on some little retail secrets. My fellow retailers might not be happy that I'm sharing these. They might blackball me like those magicians that gave away their secrets on Fox TV. But here it goes...

Black Friday Myth #1: These are the best deals you will see this shopping season. Reality: Yes, there are some big bargains, but most of those were carefully orchestrated to make you think you are getting a bigger deal than you actually are. These "deals" are planned months in advance. The true deals are the "panic deals" that happen when stores panic because sales aren't as strong as they hoped. Usually these start the week before Christmas. This year, they'll start as early as December 1.

Black Friday Myth #2: This is the busiest day of the year. Reality: Although it is a busy shopping day, the two Saturdays before Christmas always outpace Black Friday in terms of actual dollars being spent. Don't ever underestimate the power of the procrastinators.

Black Friday Myth #3: This is the day that all retailers get back to profitability. Reality: Some retailers won't ever get back to being profitable this year. And with the price-slashing we are seeing, there may be some serious casualties after the dust settles. It's hard to make a profit when you give everything away below cost.

Black Friday Myth #4: The earlier a business opens, the more business it will do. Reality: Where you shop has less to do with the hours, than with the products. If Kohl's doesn't have what you want, you won't be there at midnight. This whole notion that K-Mart by being open Thursday, or some of the stores opening at 3am or even midnight will gain some big advantage over the competition is ridiculous. The stores that will have the best Black Fridays will be the stores with the best products, services and values. And service is hard to do when the staff is tired and grumpy at missing out on their own Thanksgiving festivities. Ever wonder why the stores that open the earliest have the highest staff turnover rate? I love my staff way too much to ever do something like that to them. We'll open at our regular hours and do plenty of business without any gimmicks or stunts, just smart products, good values, and great service.

Speaking of early hours...

Black Friday Myth #5: The early hours are always worth it. Reality: If you like waiting in long lines, fighting huge crowds, getting pushed and shoved only to be one person too late to get the item you wanted, then more power to you. I like to calculate the cost of my time versus the price of an item.

I hope I haven't burst anyone's bubbles. It's not like I'm trying to convince you that Santa Claus isn't real. (He is real. Want proof ? Click here!) Despite what I have said above, I love Black Friday. It is a fun day filled with wonderful customers and experiences and, oh yeah, a whole lot of business. But there is so much more for which we should be thankful.

So as I tuck in for the night this Thanksgiving day, I will tip my hat to those of you who plan to confront the cold, blustery pre-dawn darkness to fight the coffee-starved crowds for deals, contrived or otherwise. Many of you brave soldiers tell me that it is the thrill of the conquest that drags you out of bed while others slumber peacefully. To you, I say go forth and conquer.

My staff and I will be well-rested and waiting here at the Toy House at 9:30am with a fresh pot of coffee brewing just for you.

Happy Black Friday and Thanksgiving, too!


Saturday, November 22, 2008

Happy America Unchained Day!

Austin, Texas started it with "Austin Unchained", a day in which all Austinians were encouraged to "Keep Austin Weird" by shopping only in local stores for one day.

The American Independent Business Alliance (AMIBA) latched on to the concept and began promoting it nationwide.

Now America Unchained is happening all over, including right here in Jackson. Many downtown businesses are having events today to encourage you to Shop Local. But the question still remains...

Why should you shop local? What advantage does is bring you?

Here are five reasons why you should consider shopping local this Christmas season.

#1 Building Community: The casual encounters you enjoy at neighborhood businesses and the public spaces around them build relationships and local cohesiveness. They’re the ultimate social networking sites! Have you ever been to Jackson Coffee Company and didn't see someone you knew?

#2 Economic Vitality: Each dollar you spend at a local independent business returns 3.5 times more money to our local economy than one spent at a chain—both a short and long-term solution to our local economy. Just a 10% shift in your buying habits from chain to local stores could have millions of dollars of impact on Jackson.

#3 Character: Why did you choose to live here? What keeps you? Independent businesses help give Jackson County its one-of-a-kind personality. Plus, the owners of these businesses are more rooted in the community, more involved in its growth, more passionate about what makes Jackson great.

#4 A Healthier Environment: Independent, community-serving businesses are people-sized. They consume less land, carry more locally-made products, and locate closer to residents—creating less traffic and pollution. With all the talk this election about energy, one of the easiest ways to go green is to shop local.

#5 Lower Taxes: Local businesses put less demand on our roads, sewers, and safety services than most chains and generate more tax revenue per sales dollar, helping keep your taxes lower. Again, another hot topic from this past election could easily be solved by shopping local.

And if those five reasons aren't enough, go to to find out more.

Enjoy the freedom of becoming unchained!

Happy Shopping!


Friday, November 7, 2008

Shop Local, Create Jobs

A new study in Grand Rapids confirms what the JXN Local First campaign has been saying. Shop local and you will CREATE JOBS.

According to Civic Economics, an economic research firm, just a 10% shift in shopping from national chains to local businesses would create 1600 jobs in Grand Rapids and an economic impact of $137 million. (see the whole story at

Often, I hear the complaint, "but Phil, shopping local is expensive."

Let's look at it another way.

If shifting your dollars from big chains to local stores creates jobs, then the opposite must be true. The more you spend at the national chains, the more jobs are lost. Now that would be expensive. (More unemployment, more welfare, more tax dollars used up, etc., etc.)

There is a high price to low cost - it's called jobs. Your friends' jobs, your family's jobs, maybe even your own job.

Yet, by shopping local just one more time out of the next ten times you shop can make a significant impact on your local economy. If it can create 1600 jobs for Grand Rapids, what would it do for Jackson, or wherever you live?

Will it be more expensive? Maybe not. Many people tell me we are quite comparably priced on many items. I find the same is true with some of the other local businesses where I shop. More importantly, I find more unique items that make the gifts I give more special.

And as my previous post mentions, it isn't about price - it's about value.

Think about it next time you're in the market for something. Give your local store a try and we'll see if we can change this economy on our own. (For a list of JXN Local First members - go to