Soft Sell: Getting Your Soft Toy Into Distribution Stores

Anybody who's committed themselves to developing a soft toy product will know that it's a challenging but rewarding process.  Few products bring as much joy to their final recipients as soft toys - and as the person who has seen that toy through from design, material selections, production and marketing, that's a very satisfying thing indeed.  However, actually getting your toys to those end customers is not always easy, especially for first-time inventors and product designers.  Getting your product onto shelves can seem like the most daunting part of the process.  After all, until that point, it's all been about the decisions you need to make and costs you incur.  Now, a buyer has to see the same market that you do, and take a chance on you and your business.  It can be scary - but there are ways to make the whole process easier.

Know the Standards and Details

Your toy will, of course, need to conform to any safety standards for your state, and Australia as a whole.  However, it's not good enough to meet these standards and then forget about them.  When you meet with buyers and store owners, they're going to have questions about these standards, and it won't feel good to say 'I don't remember what they are, but we definitely met them'.  Just as you should be able to reel off the materials used in your product and the figures - cost price, recommended retail price and so on - you should know what age your product is suitable for, and why.  Be prepared!

Prove Your Market

However sweet your toy looks, it will be one one of a thousand that the soft toy distributor has seen.  Don't just rely on appearances.  Be ready with market research, and prove to the buyer that your product has legs.  Which age ranges did it test well with?  Does it appeal to parents as a purchase, as well as children?  Is your product taking advantage of a trend, such as the recent market interest in owls and penguin motifs across the board?  Even if it feels obvious, don't be afraid to make your point.  Any evidence you have to help the buyer mentally place your product on their shelves - whether that's a consumer or business-facing store - is an advantage.

Contact the Right People, the Right Way

Some first-time designers and businesspeople feel it's good to take initiative and offer their product indiscriminately to stores.  Don't!  Turning up at the counter and asking to speak to a manager looks unprofessional - and that's important.  Soft toys may be friendly-faced and aimed at children, but it's still not an emotional purchase.  You should still expect the store to treat it like any other business decision.  Even if you simply call on the morning you want to visit and make an appointment a few hours in advance, it will look much more professional, and put that buyer in the right mindset to make a purchase.

It's a big hurdle to get past, and it may be intimidating - but once you have your foot in the door and make the right first impression, the battle is almost won.  Good luck!