Toyland tradition: Picking this year's favorites

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Catherine W. Idzerda
Saturday, October 19, 2013

JANESVILLE—At 7:07 a.m. Saturday, shoppers were already wheeling carts out of Blain's Farm & Fleet.

That's some seriously organized shopping, especially if you consider that the doors opened at 7 a.m.

But that's part of the point of arriving first thing on the opening day of Toyland, Blain's Farm & Fleet's annual Christmas toy display/shopping extravaganza. Get in, get this year's hot toys, and get out, more than two months before Christmas day.

It's not just about sale prices, it's about tradition.

Linda Monaghan, Janesville, has been at Toyland's opening day for almost 32 years, and she was first in line on Saturday.

How early did she have to get there?

“That's a trade secret,” Monaghan said.

Judy and Gary Sullivan have been shopping at Toyland for 25 years, and by 7:15 a.m. they had a cart full of toys for their two grandchildren.

Toyland is a tradition for Vickie Larson, too, but of a much different sort.

Larson has been toy buyer for Blain's for 18 years.

Her Toyland buying extravaganza began in fall 2012 when she and her assistants visited such major toy manufacturers as Mattel, Fisher Price and Hasbro. That's right, Larson was picking many of this season's toys a year ago.

Then, in February of this year, the Blain's buyers attend the Toy Fair in New York City.

Finally, staff spend several, intensive weeks of work reviewing their options.

Buyers have to fill all the traditional categories: pretend play, musical activities, science, craft and creative toys, farm toys, dolls, board games, building toys such as Legos and blocks, toys for very young children, trucks and cars of all sorts and sizes, and books and puzzles.

Then, there's the nature of the toy itself.

“We consider the functionality of the toy, how many times a child will come back to play with it, and will the toy grow with the child through expansions and updates,” Larson said in an interview a few days before Toyland opened.

Finally, buyers try to develop some sense of “play patterns” and consider what brands and licenses are expected to be popular.

This year, Sofia's the First is expected to be strong, Larson said. Sofia is Disney's newest princess, a little girl who teaches positive character qualities such as kindness and honesty.

Thomas and Friends continues to be a strong license, as do such Sesame Street characters as Elmo.

This season, “Big Hugs Elmo,” “My Giggly Monkey,” “Battroborg Battling Robots,” “Klip-Klop Stables” and the “Laugh and Learn Crawl Around Car” also are expected to be popular.

But toy buying isn't an exact science.

Larson has been surprised by the success of such toys as the Monster High line, the doll line inspired by monster movies and thriller/vampire popular fiction.

She planned to spend Saturday visiting stores to see what toys were moving.

“It's kind of our report card,” Larson said.

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