Back in the days when the words "educational" and "toy store" never shared the same sentence, opening a retail toy outlet was a formula. A toy store was a toy store was a toy store. These days, however, toy stores that feature learning-based playthings are all the rage.
Why is this market so hot right now? "Today's more educated parents are much more involved in their children's lives," says Katie Malone-Cordell, co-owner of Skokie, Illinois-based Brainstorms Inc. In addition, they often have less faith that the school system will supply all the education a child needs.
Despite the presence of monolithic chains such as Noodle Kidoodle and Zany Brainy, experts agree there's still room in this industry for savvy entrepreneurs. It's not child's play, however: "You need capital, competence and luck to make it," says Howard Davidowitz, chairman of Davidowitz & Associates Inc. in New York City, a national retail consulting firm.
So how can you ensure success? For one thing, choose a plum location, far from the upscale urban areas that large chains favor. But the key, says Sue Edelman, editor of Big Blue Box, a publication that reports on the children's market, is setting yourself apart from the pack: "Be sure you have something unique to offer."