Exclusive: Rick Derr’s April Letter from America

Published on: 7th April 2021

This month, Rick looks at how the latest crazes are driving sales for indies in the US.

Each month, in a regular column, Richard Derr shares his experiences as a specialist toy retailer in the US. After 20 years working at A.C. Nielsen/D&B Research Company, Rick opened the first Learning Express Toys franchise in 1996 in the Chicago area, and then became a sub-franchiser, opening nine more stores. Although leaving the corporate environment behind, he has combined his expertise in data and numbers with a passion for the toy retail space.

“We’ve now gone from normal times, to pandemic, to roaring times, all in less than a year,” says Rick. “Only the toy industry can experience this wide range of sales (and emotions) in the span of nine months.”

Learning Express and other American indie retailers were impacted by the pandemic in the same ways as stores this side of the pond; brick & mortar stores were forced to quickly pivot to kerbside delivery only, as well as fast-track development of their online strategies, while the big box stores that had been deemed essential were raking in the sales, especially on toys. As Rick notes though, things have certainly changed in recent months, with a fresh craze now taking indie retailers by storm – ‘squidgets’.

Rick explains: “It’s true that the current Squishmallow and Fidget Toy craze (dubbed the squidget craze here in America) is only gaining steam. Here at Learning Express, it started on January 14th – I specifically saw a spike in sales on smaller fidget items (under $10) like Tangle, Needoh balls, Popits (Foxmind “Last One Lost”) as well as fidget spinners – yes, fidget spinners, remember 2017?! Then add in the growing popularity and scarcity of Kelly Toys’ hit plush Squishmallows, and you have a full on roaring 20s feel.”

To find out more about this trend, including how schools are also fuelling sales, the secrets of success with this booming category and exactly how impressive Learning Express’ sales of squidgets have been, click here to read Rick’s full column in the April issue of Toy World.


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