In the Playroom

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Children's products trends to watch for at the JPMA show, May 23 to 25 in Orlando, FL.

The children's products arena is changing and for a variety of reasons. All aspects of consumer products have been affected by modern technology, and the toy industry is no exception. This has caused not only changes in actual toys but in the entire "playroom" landscape. Parents now make purchase decisions that include computers and computer software for children, music CDs, TVs, DVD players, DVDs, and video games designed specifically for newborns to preschool children. These are all in place to stimulate as well as entertain the very youngest of us all. Parents also continue to make purchases based on their child's favorite character(s). Licensing offers the ability to license in popular properties; Little Tikes, for example, has a Thomas & Friends Train Bed designed for children ages 15 months to 5 years.

While traditional toys are still important to consumers, it comes as no surprise that in this age of technology, toys have seen an onslaught of electronics incorporated into them. Along with the toy purchase, consumers need to make a battery(s) purchase, too. They also need to replace the batteries as the child uses the toys. Little Tikes toys are designed with an automatic shutoff based on a certain amount of time the toy is idle. Little Tikes believes electronics should be used to enhance play, so the child controls the toy and not the reverse. Electronics are put in place to stimulate a child's curiosity, imagination, and energy.

Many of today's traditional toys and children's products are items that offer more than one use and or change to suit the growing child, allowing parents to stretch their dollars. For example, the Little Tikes 5-in-1 Adjustable Gym transforms into five different play centers as a child grows.

There has been a major shift in color trends for seasonal and climbing equipment designed for outdoor use. Consumers' backyards have become part of their living space. They are selecting children's toys and climbing products that enhance this area both visually and spatially.

Children's furniture also has taken a more fashion-forward direction. Consumers are choosing a total "child's room" solution such as toy box, table and chairs, shelving units, desk, and easel that all color coordinate and "fit" with the home décor. They also are very conscious of the furniture's material, choosing plastic or natural or painted wood.

Lastly, the technology age offers today's consumers all the information they need to make a purchase via the Internet. They easily can research, price, and compare features right from their home or workplace. The Internet also enables that same consumer to voice opinions and comments about products, and access opinions and comments from other consumers. This forum influences purchases—or non-purchases, as the case may be. It is the responsibility of all manufacturers of children's products to produce high-quality and age-appropriate products. That's where the strength and reliability of the brand come into focus.

Laurie Yingling is director of marketing communications at The Little Tikes Company.

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