Toy sales swell across U.S.; Reno no different

A look inside Learning Express Toys & Gifts in South Reno, which has seen the effect of toy sales soaring across the U.S. during the pandemic.

A look inside Learning Express Toys & Gifts in South Reno, which has seen the effect of toy sales soaring across the U.S. during the pandemic. Courtesy Photo

Sometimes when sisters Jenny Frederito and Erin Seipel answer the phone at Learning Express Toys & Gifts in South Reno, the caller isn’t even from the area.

And if they are a local caller, oftentimes they’re a consumer who keeps their money in a piggy bank.

“We take phone calls every day from people out of state looking for a certain toy,” Frederito said. “And we have little kids calling our phone a couple times a day asking, do you have ‘Bop Its’? Kids are seeing things trending on TikTok and then they’re looking for them in their local stores. All of a sudden we have an entire section of that toy and they’re flying off the shelf.”

From TikTok trends to parents trying to entertain their kids during school closures and work-from-home shifts, several factors have led to toys flying off the shelves in Northern Nevada and beyond.

U.S. toy sales swelled to $25.1 billion in 2020, a 16% increase from 2019, according to a recent report from market research firm NDP Group. Toy sales were flat in the first quarter last year, but after stay-at-home orders took effect and schools closed in mid-March, consumer habits quickly changed.

“Kids have been missing out on a lot,” said Frederito, a mother of three children. “They may be staying inside and seeing their friends less, and as a parent, you have to rely on finding options for them to still make the days fun and educational.”

Seipel, a mother of two, added: “It’s a whole new dynamic where parents are trying to maintain careers from home and you have kids running around.”

As a result, disposable income once used on Disneyland, movies and dining out is being splurged on toys. The spending shift was further escalated after the first round of federal stimulus checks were distributed, resulting in toy sales spiking 38% in May 2020, the largest monthly gain last year, per NDP Group.

Frederito and Seipel purchased Learning Express Toys & Gifts, located at the South Towne Crossing shopping center, last August, a month after the previous owners closed the store,
and reopened its doors on October 1.

It didn’t take long for them to witness firsthand the demand for toys was still strong amid the COVID crisis.

The store’s November revenue was up about 16% compared to 2019, said Seipel, crediting the store’s “shop early” campaign heading into the holiday season.

In all, the business surpassed its fourth quarter projections by 15%, said Seipel, noting their goals were tempered by COVID capacity limits, supply chain issues and shipping delays.

To adapt, Learning Express offered curbside pick-up and launched an online store to appease customers’ needs. During the holiday season, the store offered free gift-wrapping and personal shopping appointments before store hours for immunocompromised shoppers, Frederito noted.

“We as owners in the retail business really had to get creative and make sure that we had a variety of ways for people to shop,” she continued. “And sales have been really steady. The biggest hurdle was that there were a couple weekends (during the holidays) we had to start a line.”


Another toy store that opened in the fourth quarter of 2020 is Toys N More, located in the Firecreek Crossing shopping center in Reno.

Owners John and Stefanie Forgie, parents of three children, opened the 8,500-square-foot store in mid-November. Buoyed by holiday shoppers, Toys N More rang up $85,000 in sales in its first month of business, John Forgie told the NNBW.

And he wasn’t surprised. Notably, total retail sales nationwide rose 8.3% during the holiday season, according to the National Retail Federation.

“With Christmas, that was kind of to be expected,” he said. “All things equal, we’ll double that next year, because we had a great number of people who came in after Christmas who said, ‘I wish I knew you guys were here before Christmas.’”

Forgie said the store saw significant demand for indoor/outdoor activity toys like mini Frisbees and remote control cars and helicopters. Board games and educational toys were popular items, too, he said.

“I think we have 15 different versions of Monopoly in the store,” Forgie said. “And some of them just don’t stick around long (in the store). We’ve had to order ‘Mario’ Monopoly three times.”

To that end, Forgie said parents spending more time at home with their kids is making them realize “you can’t just give them an iPad or stick them in front of the TV too much — that’s just not healthy for them.”

Forgie said Toys N More is in the process of building an e-commerce store to accommodate consumers’ accelerated shift to online shopping. He expects it to be live sometime in Q2.

A major theme in 2020 was the growth of online shopping. In all, retailers saw 75% growth in overall online toy sales year-over-year, according to NPD Group.

While many toy stores in Reno and beyond are seeing enough foot traffic to warrant a brick-and-mortar presence, some stores are closing their physical locations. Case in point: iconic retailer Toys R Us recently closed the only two stores it had left open in the U.S.

Meanwhile, Learning Express Toys & Gifts in Reno has already started 2021 strong despite the expected post-holidays dip in business.

Seipel said the store ended January up 10% from 2020 and 16% from 2019, pointing to toys trending on social media and loyal community support as the primary drivers.

“We have a great community base and we’re just excited to see what 2021 is going to look like,” Frederito said. “As our community grows, we hope our business grows.”


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