Not just for kids: Toymakers aim more products at grown-ups

Not just for kids: Toymakers aim more products at grown-ups thumbnail

NEW York — Elizabeth Hulanick turned to toys from her childhood as a way to relieve stress since the pandemic. She, her co-workers and others contribute to buying Legos at Target so they can play at their desks. Silly Putty was also a favorite toy. She said she felt at ease with the rubbery, bouncy stuff that changes colors.

She keeps her American Girl doll Samantha in her china cabinet. She says that she has been resonating with it more recently than she did when she was a child. Her mother waited one year to get her that doll and she now believes it serves as a reminder to be patient.

“(This will probably be with me forever. I always need something to be tinkering with, and that’s probably the safest bet for me to stick with a toy versus keep trying to figure out how to fix cars or something like that,” the 37-year-old Piscataway, New Jersey resident said.

Many adults used toys, from Legos to collectibles, to relive their childhoods. But all the stresses from the health crisis accelerated and solidified the trend, according to Jim Silver, editor-in-chief of TTPM, a toy review site.

And even though the pandemic threat is looming, toy manufacturers from Mattel’s American Girl and Build-a-Bear workshop Inc. see the long-lasting interest of adults in playthings and are creating new products and services aimed at this age group. This so-called “kids-adult” market is important. Ages 18 and older represented 14% of U.S. toy industry sales, or $5.7 billion for the 12 months ending September 2022. It grew 19% since the 12 months ending September 2021, according to the NPD Group Inc., a market research firm. This group also enjoyed the second-fastest increase after customers ages 12 to 17. Mattel’s American Girl Cafe introduced more adult food, including beet and goat cheese sandwiches and cocktails like Aperol shots and Bloody Marys. It did this after seeing parents without children. Last year, Build-a-Bear launched a website called Bear Cave for the 18-year-old and over, highlighting items like stuffed rabbits holding a bottle of wine. And Basic Fun took a high-tech spin on the traditional Lite Brite toy from the 1960s and recreated it as wall art with thousands of pegs and 45 LED lights aimed at the adults in time for the holidays — with a $99 price tag.

Lego A/S is steadily increasing its adult products since 2020; and now has 100 sets that include intrepid space exploration, luxury cars, and more.

” The pandemic was certainly a catalyst for this trend, as adults were left at home with little to do and very little time to spare,” Genevieve Cruz, senior manager at Lego, said. Lego sees adults of all ages embrace the colorful building blocks. “But we believe that the trend extends beyond the pandemic.

Executives say what makes this time different is that consumers are really getting into the role-playing. Build-a Bear says that adults are actually putting their stuffed animals to sleep. American Girl’s general manager Jaime Cygielman said that women dress up in doll-inspired outfits and bring their dolls to the cafes. She noted that they also bring their dolls to the doll hospital and the hair salon to have their hair cut or repaired.

Such role-playing could be seen at a recent visit to the American Girl Cafe in Manhattan, where Marisa Dragos, 23, along with her childhood friend Lisa Costantino, 24, were eating lunch, with two of the dolls they borrowed from the store. They visited from Los Angeles.

“( My mom is sad that I’m still living in my childhood bedroom. It’s too expensive right now,” Dragos stated. “I find it funny. The dolls are still there, just sitting in my room. But, I feel like they have grown with me. They are my little friend that I spend time with. “

According to NPD, the most popular items for adults are Lego sets with Star Wars and Harry Potter themes, plush toys like Squishmallows, plush toys like Squishmallows, and whimsical stuffed animals from Jazzwares.

McDonald’s is also tapping into this group, releasing adult Happy Meals in October with nostalgic figurines designed by the fashion brand Cactus Plant Flea Market. Chris Kempczinski, McDonald’s President and CEO, stated that the company sold half of its collectibles within the first four days.

The toy industry, which generated annual sales of roughly $38 billion last year, could use some help from adults. In the first nine months this year, toys were sold at a 3% decline while spending increased by the same percentage due to higher prices. This is a significant change from the previous two years of the pandemic, when toys sales rose as parents bought more toys to entertain their children.

Sharon Price John is the CEO of Build-a Bear. She said that she noticed adults buying stuffed animals five years ago and it has only grown in the past five years. The company has refocused its online business to cater to the adult market. 2019, launched the “After Dark” collection, which includes edgy bears that an adult Valentine can give to another. John stated that there are many more adults and teens in our stores, and they enjoy the experience together.

Now, 40% of its total sales at Build-a-Bear comes from adults and teens, up from 20% in 2012.

Finding that inner youth through toys is not just being embraced by consumers in their 20s to 40s.

Loren Brereton, 61, was recently visiting the American Girl store with her granddaughter Alana, 7. She shared that she found comfort in looking at her daughter’s dolls during the pandemic. She also pulled out the Lego’s and other toys from her son and played with them. She is now considering buying some playthings for her own use.

” All of these games have brought me comfort as a child, but they also changed my life when I needed them,” she said. “And you needed it.”


This story has been corrected to show that the name of the Build-a-Bear CEO is Sharon Price John.


AP Business Writer Dee-Ann Durbin in Detroit contributed to this article.


Follow Anne D’Innocenzio:

Read More