Room to Grow

Step by step success with a Florida children’s retailer
By Jessica Harlan

When Kelly Leigh couldn’t find the clothing styles she wanted for her son, she did what any entrepreneurial-minded mom might only dream of doing: she opened her own children’s clothing store.

Getting started
She opened Kelly and Kayden in Windermere, Fla., in fall 2015, and quickly discovered that running her own store was far different than managing others. “Working for other industries, I knew my customer and I knew what our brand and focus was,” says Leigh. “But when I started this new adventure, it was unknown.”

But not entirely unfamiliar: she’d been dressing her niece, now 12, as well as friends’ kids for years, and as a new mom herself, she had a specific idea of what design aesthetic she wanted in her shop. “My approach is fashion forward and sophisticated,” she says. “Nothing too frilly, no cartoon characters and no visible branding. It’s clothes that you could buy for great family photos.”

She also has to take into account Florida’s unique climate and customer base. “We have so many people from all different backgrounds,” says Leigh. Plus, she has to choose comfortable fabrics for the hot, humid Florida weather: cotton or other soft fabrics and sleeveless styles are an emphasis. Because she likes to be able to touch and personally inspect everything she carries, most items are bought at AmericasMart and other gift markets.

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Finding the right mix
Leigh has worked hard to finesse her assortment of merchandise. Her layette department is 10 percent; baby products such as toiletries, towels and diaper bags is 5 percent; boys’ and girls’ clothing is 50 percent; jewelry and accessories is 20 percent; shoes is 5 percent; and toys is 10 percent.

Originally her vision was to stock clothes in sizes from newborn to size ten. “Kids have such an opinion around the age of 10, and I didn’t want to address that.” But her big girls’ area has already doubled, and she’s buying sizes up to 16 at the request of her customers, who are looking for cute age-appropriate clothing.

Another area that has grown was hair bows. As a mom to a boy, Leigh was skeptical when her sales rep extorted her to carry them. “She told me that stores can pay their rent just on hair bow sales.” But she listened and now her famous “hair bow bar” stretches seven feet.

Planning for the future
As far as pricing goes, Leigh describes her range as “fairly priced.” Merchandise starts at around $5 and goes up to several hundred dollars for higher-end items like formal wear or communion dresses. “I think if you have a wide range of prices, you don’t single out a particular buyer,” she says.

While toys only comprise about a tenth of her merchandise assortment, they’re an important component. “Toys are easy gifts, and they complement the buying people do here,” says Leigh. She carries educational and high quality brands, such as Melissa & Doug and Jellycat plush animals. And the toys make for fun cross merchandising.

Currently Leigh is her store’s sole employee, but she has big plans for the future. “I see our store becoming one of the leading children’s stores in central Florida,” she says. She’s hoping to have an online shopping platform up and running this summer. Other than that, she plans to “perfect what we have” before taking any more steps to grow.

Read more about Kelly and Kayden in the July 2016 Market Magazine.

For information visit or call 407.217.6902.
Photography by Forever Wild Images.

10 Tips for Selling Toys from Dr. Toy

Stevanne Auerbach, Dr. Toy offers her top tips for retailers. New York Puzzle Company

  1. Understand the power of play. Be as expert as possible about play and toys, and select products that fit a wide range of children’s growth and developmental needs. Select items that can be enjoyed by the whole family, including seniors who also mentally ans socially benefit from games and puzzles.
  2. Tailor the best mix of products. Your products should represent the entire range of ages, community, and diversity. Toys sell to a broad range of customers who look for the best they can find and afford. You want your customers to feel confident they made the right choices of gifts that will be enjoyed by the recipients.
  3. Know your customers. Welcome them, and ask them to register as a “valued customer.” Email a monthly or quarterly newsletter, birthday club, and gift “wish lists” including birthdays, holidays, and vacation travel. You can find out what they want, and then do your best to provide those products. Your customers will appreciate this personalized approach.
  4. Enliven in-store experiences. Create a table or counter offering games and demos. Run special events to get customers more engaged in the store. They will keep returning if what you offer is unique, and not found anywhere else.
  5. Brand your store. Make your store more special by creating drawings for prizes, special sales, and promote monthly themes such as holidays, seasons, back-to-school, STEM learning, fantasy play, and nature.
  6. AuroraTrust your expertise. Grow your knowledge of play. Play is vital to everyone’s health and well-being, and more people understand its importance. Expand upon your skills in business, marketing, and enriching everyday experiences.
  7. Contemplate community outreach. Your sponsorship of local charities, services, groups, or offering prizes for events, provides benefits and increases your store’s name recognition.
  8. Participate. As an essential member of the toy industry, join organizations like ASTRA, TIA and WIT. Read trade magazines, and sign up for the free, long-standing source of industry news, The Bloom Report.
  9. Train your staff. You want your staff to be welcoming, knowledgeable and helpful as they are your store’s best representatives to your customers and they reflect your personal and business values. Train your personnel about age-appropriate toys; stock your store with good choices; and be sure your staff understands developmental milestones, toy appropriateness, and can easily and courteously assist your customers.
  10. Offer a range of playthings. Include variety of toys for all ages and reasons such as active toys like balls, and cars, Frisbee and hula hoops; Creative toys like art kits, Colorforms, coloring books, crayons, Etch a Sketch, sketch pads, pens and puppets; Educational toys and games like books, science kits, STEM products, tech toys, Monopoly, Scrabble and various puzzles.


Dr. Toy, Stevanne Auerbach, PhD, is one of the world’s leading experts on play, toys, and children’s products. With 30 years of direct experience, Dr. Auerbach includes educationally oriented, developmental and skill building products from the best large and small companies in her four annual award programs. Many parents, teachers and toy buyers use Dr. Toy’s guidance in making selections.

2016 Best Toys are at AmericasMart Atlanta

The American Specialty Toy Retailing Association (ASTRA) recently announced its 2016 Best Toys for Kids award winners. We’re honored to have nearly all of the winners represented here at AmericasMart this week. Check out the list below and click the links to see where to find them at Market.

Diverse Marketing

Diverse Marketing at AmericasMart Atlanta

Looking to add toys to your product mix, but not sure where to start? Click here to see 10 tips from Stevanne Auerbach, a.k.a. Dr. Toy.

The 2016 Best Toys for Kids award winners are:

Active Play
Kidoozie Counting Pogo Jumper –  International Playthings
Slackers Ninjaline Intro Kit b4Adventure – Brand 44 LLC

Choose Your Own Category
Rock and Roll It! Piano – MukikiM Toys
Sneaky Cards – Gamewright, a division of Ceaco

Classic Play 0-7 Years
Rat-A-Tat Cat – Gamewright
WOW Flip ‘n’ Tip Fred – Reeves International, Inc.

Classic Play 8+ Years
Snap Circuits Jr. – Elenco Electronics
Rubik Cube 3×3 – Winning Moves 

Constructive Play 0-7 Years
Robot Engineer – Thames & Kosmos

Constructive Play 8+ Years
Geckobot – Thames & Kosmos

Creative Arts Play 3-7 Years
Craft-tastic Kindness Kit – Ann Williams
Fuzzeez Husky – The Orb Factory 

Creative Arts Play 8+ Years
Peacock Silk Painting – Hotaling/Djeco
Sew Mini Treats – Klutz

Early Play
SpinAgain – Fat Brain Toy Co.

Game Play 3-5 Years
Little Red Riding Hood – SmartGames
Balance Beans – ThinkFun 

Game Play 6+ Years
Happy Salmon – North Star Games 

Game Play 8+ Years
Dr. Eureka – Blue Orange Games

Learning Play
Code & Go Robot Mouse Activity Set – Learning Resources

Pretend – Doll Play
Folkmanis French Bulldog Puppet – Folkmanis Puppets

Pretend – Fantasy Play
The Irish Fairy Door – The Irish Fairy Door Company/License-2-Play 

Pretend – Role Play
Calico Critters Seaside Ice Cream Shop – International Playthings

Scientific Play
Hot Ice Crystals – Thames & Kosmos

You can read more about the awards here.

Dr. Toy’s 10 Tips for Top Toy Retailers

By Stevanne Auerbach, PhD, Dr. Toy®

Stevanne Auerbach, PhD/aka Dr. Toy® offers many play, learning and toy suggestions from baby to older children in the new 4th edition of Dr. Toy’s Smart Play Smart Toys, available in stores. The author of three books on toys, she evaluates toys and children’s products, and provides the Dr. Toy awards found on Dr. Toy’s Guide and for Dr. Toy’s Best Gift Guide App.

Below, Dr. Toy shares 10 ideas to help you create a checklist of productive activities that can benefit your bottom line, enhance your customers’ experience and bring them back to your store.

Gravity Maze

Gravity Maze

  1. Understand the power of play
    Become a play and toy expert and select products that fit a wide range of children’s growth and developmental needs. Include items that can be enjoyed by the entire family, including senior members.
  1. Tailor the best mix of products
    Toys sell to a broad range of customers who look for the best they can find and afford. Your products should represent the entire range of ages, community, and diversity.
  1. Know your customers
    Welcome them, and ask them to register as a “valued customer.” Send them a monthly or quarterly email newsletter. Find out what they want, and then try to provide those products.
  1. Enliven in-store experiences
    Create a table or counter offering games and demos. Run special events to get customers more engaged in the store.
  1. Tasty Science

    Tasty Science

    Brand your store
    Host drawings for prizes, and hold special sales and promotions with themes such as back-to-school, STEM (science, technology, engineering, math) learning, fantasy play and nature.

  1. Trust your expertise
    Play is vital to everyone’s health and well-being. Expand your skills in business, marketing and enriching everyday experiences through play.
  1. Contemplate community outreach
    Sponsorship of local charities and groups, or offering prizes for events, increases your store’s name recognition.
  1. Participate
    As an essential member of the toy industry, join organizations such as the American Specialty Toy Retailing Association, Toy Industry Association, Inc. and Women in Toys. Read trade magazines and sign up for The Bloom Report.
  1. Train your staff
    Dodge Tag

    Dodge Tag

    Train your personnel about age-appropriate toys; stock your store with good choices; and be sure your staff understands developmental milestones, toy appropriateness and can easily and courteously assist your customers.

  2. Offer a range of playthings
    Include a variety of toys for all ages and reasons such as active toys, creative toys and puppets educational toys.

Have fun! Create a special place that is the hub for the best toys and games in your community. That’s a winning combination for customers of all ages.

© 2015 Stevanne Auerbach, PhD, San Francisco, CA
Dr. Toy ® is trademark of Stevanne Auerbach

Images courtesy of Scientific Explorer and Think Fun (available at Rep Force One), and Toy Travelers International.

Local Love with Larry Lucas

Larry Lucas has been a familiar face on the AmericasMart campus since the 1970s. Lucas recently retired from his eponymous showroom, Larry Lucas, Inc. after nearly 40 years. Prior to his wholesale career, Lucas owned a successful 10,000-square-foot gift and floral shop in Sandy Springs, Ga. He will periodically share his expertise with us on the AmericasMart blog.

This holiday season, consumers can positively impact their communities by choosing to shop local. Studies over the past ten years have repeatedly shown that a greater percentage of every dollar spent in locally owned businesses stays within the community. Shifting just 10 percent of spending to independent shops rather than chain stores can significantly boost an areas economy and create jobs.

American Express’ Small Business Saturday initiative on November 28 helps kick off the holiday shopping season and encourages consumers to spend their dollars at small AMEX_Shop_Small_Street_CMYK_SOLID_Logobusinesses. Make the most of your participation and energize your community by organizing a street party. Ask other store owners to put a table display in front of their shops, suggest restaurants serve samples to passersby and organize activities for kids to make the day more of an event. Be active in rallying other merchants, your Chamber of Commerce, Junior Chamber and elected officials to get involved. You can make it happen!

It’s not just about the holidays. Help keep your local economy thriving throughout the year by purchasing supplies from area retailers rather than big box stores and hiring independent firms for supporting business services like accounting and cleaning. You can also have an effect by carrying products that are mostly – if not all – American-made. Then look for regionally produced pieces and, finally, get hyper-local by purchasing from artisans within your own city.

shop local eco denizenLet people know what you are doing to make a difference. Reach out to your local newspaper, radio and TV stations with your message and send information about your shopping events and initiatives to churches, schools and clubs.

Hosting a Seasonal Open House with Larry Lucas

Larry Lucas has been a familiar face on the AmericasMart campus since the 1970s. Lucas recently retired from his eponymous showroom, Larry Lucas, Inc. after nearly 40 years. Prior to his wholesale career, Lucas owned a successful 10,000-square-foot gift and floral shop in Sandy Springs, Ga.  He will periodically share his expertise with us on the AmericasMart blog.

With the holidays quickly approaching, get your business and customers in the spirit by hosting a seasonal open house. This can be something as simple as snacks and beverages during the day or a great sale after hours. This is an opportunity for you to thank your customers for their business, as well as successfully gain new customers for the holiday season and months following.


Planning an event around the holidays can be stressful. With new merchandise coming in, busy store hours and even busier customers, it can be hard to find the right time. Planning in November with Thanksgiving approaching is a great time. Christmas shopping is on the customer’s mind and it will help them begin planning early, without worrying about other holiday events. Sunday evenings work well for events such as these with shoppers already around town after morning events or breakfast.


Set a fun theme as the basis for your event, such as a classic Christmas song like ‘White Christmas.’ Carry the theme throughout your in-store decorations, window decorations or food items. Don’t forget the holiday music! This is a great idea to help get customers in the mindset of the holidays while shopping.


Invite other vendors to participate in your open house, overall attracting more guests to the event. Contact your favorite local photographer to document the event or set around a few Polaroid cameras for customers to use on their own. You can use the photos on your social media accounts to promote your event for years to come. Looking for something for the kids? Invite Santa and his helpers and have your photographer there to take photos as needed. These can be sold through packaging deals and will make great gifts for parents.


Collaborate with local caterers, bakeries or cooks to offer refreshments at your event. Donated samples of their items offer a chance for them to promote themselves and sell items if they choose to do so. If local customers have cookbooks, welcome them to bring a few samples made from their book and offer them the chance to sell their cookbook in store during the event. You can have signs made to promote the event or advertise your event on social media and include the local food options that will be available.


Check out your customer email list for a start on creating the invitation list. Of course, all customers and the public passing by will be welcome to your event, but getting the word out ahead of time will be essential. Send invitations via email or through traditional mail to whomever you have information for. Reaching out to men will be helpful on their end, as well. Let them know that employees will be available for any shopping assistance they may need.


Here are a few other helpful tips for planning and organizing your seasonal open house event. We recommend not trying to gift wrap that day, as the store will be busy and require attention. Instead, offer a redeemable ticket for them to come back the following week to have their gifts wrapped. This will give them the chance to return to the store AWH_PHOTO-8686for a less crowded, more personable experience. Not only is a seasonal open house event a great way to draw in more business, but it also sets you apart from other businesses around town. It gives you the opportunity to get the store decorated prior to the holidays and see what pieces in your store sold well, giving you enough time to reorder before the holiday season really begins.

The holidays are such a fun time for business owners, so why not share some of the fun with your customers?

You Buy, They Give: Children’s Brands that Embrace Charitable Causes

Over the past decade, many different retail brands have been incorporating a chosen charity into their business model. Think companies like TOMS, The Honest Co., Warby Parker and Burt’s Bees. A handful of these companies have implemented a one-for-one partnership, or simply donate money or product to other charitable organizations in need. It’s safe to say that this growing trend in the retail industry is here to stay, and that doesn’t disappoint.

We’ve done some research on the Children’s World brands inside and outside of AmericasMart to find which companies are exercising this trend for the little ones. We’re highlighting six companies and their efforts in giving back, each with a unique way of following through.

Rockin’ Baby

Rockin’ Baby began its Mother to Mother program in 2011 to help make a difference in the world and for mothers. For every sling or pouch purchased, it donates an Rockin Babyorange Hero sling to a mother in need in either Haiti or Kenya. Throughout this act of giving back, Rockin’ Baby has the chance to teach mothers the important role a sling can play in a baby’s life, helping her transport a child to find water and nourishment, ultimately creating a better life for a mother and her child. The orange color also helps deter malaria-carrying mosquitos. (Teacup Tots, 13-S351)

Bunnies by the Bay

This brand has a charity program called Half the Sky, which offers love and care toBunnies By The Bay children in China who have lost their families.  When you purchase an item from Bunnies by the Bay’s Red Thread Collection, part of the proceeds from each sale goes toward funding Half the Sky. They money goes toward nurture and stimulation for babies, innovative preschools, personalized learning opportunities and permanent foster homes for children with special needs. (Summer Place Reps, 13-S333)

Stephen Joseph

Stephen JosephStephen Joseph has created partnerships with three different non-profit organizations to provide care to children in three main areas, To Eat, To Learn and To Play. No Kid Hungry, Children’s Scholarship Fund and Little Kids Rock all play a major role in Stephen Joseph’s efforts in giving back. For example, Stephen Joseph donates $1 for each Lunch Pal sold to honor their partnership with No Kid Hungry. (Laura Ann & Associates, 13-N103)

Persnickety Clothing

Persnickety Clothing gives back through their charitable program called Buying IsPersnickety Logo Giving. When you purchase an item, it donates part of the proceeds to children in need. A trip to Nicaragua in 2009, lead to partnerships providing clothing to children and employment to families in the area. Persnickety Clothing not only hopes to put food on their table, but also to help them break the cycle of poverty and in doing so impact future generations. (Joyce Nilsson, 13-E113)


DondoloAt Dondolo, making a difference is key. It extends its efforts to Colombia, providing clothing to children in need and jobs for single mothers. By exercising the one-for-one business model, for every article of clothing purchased at Dondolo, it donates another article to a child in need of warmth. This company strives to empower womanhood and believes that giving back begins with its customers. (Dondolo, 13-E330B)

Bella BlissBella Bliss

Bella Bliss, created by two mothers raising their families, likes to give back in a variety of ways. It gives an average of $10,000 in cash donations each year to leukemia and lymphoma charities, as well as the American Heart Association. Bella Bliss also donates clothes and gift cards to more than fifteen other charities each year. (Bella Bliss, 13-E107)

To find children’s brands like these and much more, plan your visit to Atlanta Apparel next month, taking place Thursday, August 6 – Monday, August 10.