Turner Toys is not sheltered from the effects of an exorbitant rise in online shopping.
Some patrons peruse the Essex shop with their smartphones in hand, comparing owner Peter Sloan’s prices to a web retailer’s in real time. The phenomenon is so prevalent at brick and mortar stores, it’s earned a name: showrooming.
Yet, Turner Toys has one major factor working in its favor during the frequent head-to-head evaluations: Kids are all about instant gratification.
Take a dreaded trip to the dentist, for example. A parent hoping to coax their child through the appointment will have much better luck promising a subsequent trip to the toy store, Sloan said, than offering the chance to scroll through an online carousel of toys and wait patiently for the package to arrive.
“[Even] two days is kind of an eternity when you’re 8,” Sloan said, breaking into a laugh.
Sloan, who co-owns the store with his wife, Elizabeth Skinner, said they’ve started using popular sites to their advantage. The slew of reviews can offer a unique peek into what shoppers like and just how much they’re willing to pay for it.
The arsenal of strategies doesn’t end there. Turner’s has an expert gamer on staff to answer questions about card play and “birthday bins” that function like a wedding registry for tots with an upcoming celebration. The half dozen employees also offer their own expert guidance to uncertain patrons — they’ve seen what kids of all ages gravitate to most inside the shop.
Turner Toys is placing more of an emphasis on on-site social events, hosting (non-alcoholic) paint and sip parties, local mascot appearances and daylong card tournaments. At a recent Magic: The Gathering matchup, Sloan observed a 40- and 15-year-old playing together.
Sloan sets aside the vast majority of shelf space for simple toys like those, shying away from battery-based and heavily branded objects.
“People tend to come to them with a preconceived notion of how to play with it,” Sloan explained. “They mimic what they’ve seen in the movies or cartoons. Whereas, if something is not licensed, it can be a more open-ended experience for the children.”
“Normally, they could have nothing in common,” Sloan said. “But here they are, and they’re playing a card game together.”
The shop has bounced around a bit in its six years of business, spending a year on Pearl Street and two years in Pinewood Plaza before landing in the outlets. Even with a relatively short tenure, Sloan has seen toy popularity ebb and flow with the times.
Crazy Aaron’s Thinking Putty was flying off the shelves within minutes of restocking a few months ago. Early in 2017, fidget spinners were all the rage. Through it all, a few mainstays, like Pokémon cards and Lego blocks, hold their ground.
Sloan doesn’t think kids will lose interest in classic toys, contrary to popular belief, but said flashing electronic screens are threatening to lure kids away at an increasingly younger age.
The very first product Sloan purchased for the shop, a wooden baby rattle made in Morrisville, still graces a small corner. The toy is turned on a lathe from one block of wood and inspired the name of the store.
“There’s no Mr. Turner, and there’s never been a Mr. Turner,” Sloan said. That discovery devastated one little shopper who frequented the shop for years believing Sloan bore the name on the door.
Unlike the baby rattles, much of Sloan’s stock rotates regularly. Often, the employees watch with fascination as children pick up — or pass by — new inventory. The study mimics the advanced analytics web dealers use on a much smaller scale, Sloan observed.
That will be especially interesting in the coming weeks, when Turner’s sees a massive holiday influx. Sloan hopes his customers can check off a specific item on their shopping list but also find things they’ve never heard of. That type of discovery is tough to make on an online site, he said.
“This is the time of year you don’t have to convince anyone to buy toys,” Sloan said. “The thrust now is to convince them to buy here.”