Entropy’s elves are gearing-up to travel to Sydney later this week and to Melbourne soon after to have a sneak peek at the latest and greatest toys and games for the year. After making these pilgrimages for almost seven years, Entropy’s Chief Poobah Deborah Latouf offers an insight into the sea of amazing toys, the treasures we hope to find, and the importance of wearing comfortable footwear…
Entropy's Deborah Latouf
Can you paint us a picture of what the trade shows are like? The fairs are all similar, but – at the same time – quite different. On a similarity level; it is all about suppliers showcasing their products. But of course, how they do this varies considerably, and the fairs have a different ‘feel’ to them. The gift fairs that we’re going to at the end of this week can be overwhelming, as there is just SO much there. Children’s products are only one section of the gift fairs and, while the organisers try to place these booths around each other, inevitably there are some in what appear to be obscure places. So you do end-up walking a lot. Flat shoes are a must – you learn that after your first fair!
What is the most exciting aspect for you about attending these annual events? The single most exciting thing I look forward to at these shows is what I call ‘wow’ moments. When you see something new and just know it is going to be a hit. I always judge a show by how many wow moments there are in it. Even just one ‘wow’ is enough to make a show worthwhile. Sometimes it’s a product, a range, a stand (that is beautifully merchandised), or an exchange with a colleague. There are hidden gems at trade shows in the most unlikely of places. That is why you need to walk each and every one of the aisles.
Is it great being one of the first to see the latest and greatest toys, craft and games for the year ahead? Absolutely! You can do lots of research online about new products, but there is still nothing that replaces being able to see a product first-hand. We are always trying to bring our customers the very best, so it is essential for us to invest in attendance at these shows.
Do you have your eye on anything in particular this time? I am always on the lookout for fab products for the tween market. One of our points of difference to other stores is that we work right across the age range and do not stop at age eight or 10. Children at this age may have grown out of what we traditionally think of as toys, so I am looking for science kits, craft kits, accessories, funky sports and activity gear and family games. I also really like to find toys and ranges with a ‘story’ to them. Where are they made? What inspired them? What is their carbon footprint?
It is also at the trade shows that we negotiate some of the special offers we bring you throughout the year, so that is important. Believe it or not; some of our Christmas orders are also placed at this time so that we can make sure stock is secured for our customers.
What top three things do you look for when choosing whether to stock a new product, product range or brand? Play value is always the number one thing I look for. This is a combination of things – how well the toy is made, its value for money, and how long it can be played with. Some items may cost a customer more initially, but if they can be played with for 10 years, then the play value is exceptionally high. I look at it as ‘cost per play’ and I rate the products accordingly. Haba blocks and ball track marble runs are a good example of this. They really can be played with for life and then handed on to the next generation, so the play value is extremely high.
Do you talk to parents in the lead-up to get their feedback about what they’d love to see at their favourite toy store? Yes, we are always chasing parent feedback about products that we would like to see in store. That is why we have decided to take three staff members to each of the trade shows this year. This way we can focus on looking at new products, but also have one staff member dedicated to reporting back to our customers through the blog and social media, so we get your feedback. When we started we weren’t in a position to do this, so it’s nice that we are large enough now to be able to invest in this for our customers.
Is your radar/gut feeling getting more finely tuned about what will work and what won’t as the years and shows go on? Absolutely – you definitely get a feel for what will work and what will not. I still make mistakes, but nothing like I used to. Plus, I always say it is OK to make mistakes, so long as you learn from them. You only make the same mistake once. Also it’s important to remember that what works for one store may not work for another, and who knows why. That is the nice thing about retail – it’s always a challenge and you constantly need to be on top of your game.
What’s something that may surprise people that have never attended these momentous events? That no children are allowed! There is some irony in the fact that you have the latest and greatest toys to play with at Toy Fair, yet you will not see a single child in there (other than the very big kids playing!).