Saturday, October 27, 2012

Saturday MindFeed: A Year of Toys as Tools

Found this photo from ""  Joshua Baskin, Tom Hanks character says, "I don't get it."  A robot that turns into a building?  Well, what's fun about that?

Today is October 27, 2012.  Where was this website one year ago?  Basically, it had not been "born" yet.  But in a few days, Toys are Tools will celebrate its one-year birthday!   I have a big story planned for that day.  It's something you'll want to have in your family for generations!

First, please let me thank you from the bottom of my heart.  The fact that anyone is interested in what I have to say still amazes me.   (You should see how ignored I am in my own home!)  But seriously, with the one year anniversary of Toys are Tools coming, I thought it might be nice to share with you what I've learned.

After starting this site, I learned that we can use our children's toys to inspire their curiosity about the world outside their windows.   My son took 15 minutes to find the Netherlands on the map!  Next door is Belgium where some of my kids' favorite games were invented. In a few days, a Mensa winning game from the Netherlands will be reviewed here.

  1. The toy world is full of companies run by people who are passionate about toys and learning through play.   This corner of the world has the lion's share of very creative inventors, designers, & small business owners.   Some of the toys you've seen on this site are actually the result of someone's second job!.  I am so privileged to know them.
  2. I still won't write negative reviews.  You can call me a chicken, that's okay.  I've been chicken my whole life and it is true that once in a while my testers and I have encountered a toy that made us say as Tom Hanks said in Big, "I don't get it."   Why don't I tell you about those?  I believe that your time is limited and that you are here to find out what to buy.  Finding out what NOT to buy doesn't expand your choices.  I would only write a negative review of something if I thought everyone in the world would be standing on line at 2 AM to buy it but I don't believe that the readers here shop that way.

    We Made All Kinds of Things from david wells on Vimeo.  (Thank you to NYSCI"S David Wells for writing a song about a toy! And thank you to all the experts who have NEVER BEEN PAID by anyone but have talked to me so that Toys are Tools readers can make the most of out of their toy purchases - and most importantly.... have fun!)
  3. Toys are Tools Readers are VERY VERY SPECIAL.  Some of you are moms of toddlers and you're still here even though I don't write about toddler toys!  Some of you are therapists and teachers who love the toys like the way a sushi chef loves his thousand-dollar knife.   Some of you are seriously really savvy parents.  Your tips and ideas blow me away.  Moreover, you are here to learn something.  I know this.  Do you know how many of you DON'T know how to use Rafflecopter!  Some of you actually apologize for winning.  We are a seriously interesting community here.
  4. Blog Reviews: Things that Make You Go HMMMM??  I love writing reviews but I don't think I quite get this blogging business.  I have encountered blogs "whose opinions are their own" but then they also say "Even though the owner(s) of this blog receives compensation for our posts.."  Uh, okay.... well maybe that could be true but... What I've even found is that some "reviewers" may even charge companies by the number of hyperlinks and even photos that they publish in their "review" and yet still that apparently qualifies as "words are my own."?   hmmmmm.....

    Thank you Magnamagic for sending me this paint!   I was so scared that I screw this up.  I had never painted a wall in my life but I had a feeling this would be a good thing.  

      1. But Being Impartial is NOT Easy.  While I feel lucky that most of the stuff we've seen has been fantastic, I am fairly certain that at least some companies, will not send me another product submission if I don't write a favorable review. And believe me I need their cooperation.  For example, the numbers tell me a review with a giveaway gets read SO MUCH MORE than a review without one (at least within the first month of posting.)  So I readily admit to you that I have made more editorial space for toy reviews whose companies have a history of giving away items to my readers.  I should also tell you that irregardless of a giveaway offer, there have been a few occasions that I've decided not to publish a review.  It's always really cool when the company is grown-up about it and believe me, I've met some.  Additionally, I still do review products from toy companies who do not offer a product to giveaway to readers and those reviews get my full effort just the same.

      2. Shopping Is Weird Now.   Shopping used to be really fun- just a little hard on the feet but still really fun.  But now for so many of us, a shopping list (especially toys) becomes a list of research projects.   Even reading my review is more work for you!   Whatever happened to the salesperson who knew about everything in the store and gave you the best advice?  I found that kind of person at the Children's General Store in Manhattan where the manager, Michael, was so incredibly knowledgeable, I told him that I was just looking and yet he and I talked forever about toys.  Of course, I did end up buying something after all, and it was from a company that I had never heard of but Michael said it was good and if you met Michael, you'd  know he knows everything.

        Thank you to Harebrain for contributing the first Toys are Tools giveaway (and a huge one at that)  and thank you also for sending another Whisperphone Duet to the family that had theirs stolen from the mail on Christmas Eve.  You guys rock!

      3. Retailers/Manufacturers- this is for you:  We Are Not Always "Showrooming."  Many stores don't have someone like Michael and we need him because we have less money and less patience now.  Still, when I walk into a brick-and-mortar store, I will feel badly about going online to read about something that has caught my interest, because the store manager may think I am doing price comparisons.   But honestly, sometimes I go online because the box looks interesting but the box is sealed and I want to know more before buying it.  Some online stores have terrible photos and/or not enough/wrong information.  Consumers will go to the company page to get more info and then go back to Amazon or another favorite store to buy the product.

        Like wine shoppes, I think brick and mortar stores, online and catalog retailers, and a toy company's e-commerce section can start displaying links/QR codes to well-presented reviews/photos/videos right at the product description page or on a little card hanging off the shelf (like in wine shoppes).  Gold stickers are nice but have you noticed how many there are? I'd rather have a QR code that shows me tons of photos and maybe a quick list of ideas.  You can put it on a sticker and leave it on the box too!  PSST... Toy companies with e-commerce sites, PLEASE - Make your best accolades more accessible!  When a consumer is at a point of making a decision (buy or don't buy), the last page they'll be going to on your site is the "In the News" to look for reviews on the product.  
      4. Consumers: Skip the Reviews Once in a While.    Yes, I did just say that.  Well, as you can imagine, my shopping time, cross-referencing time, and coupon search time has diminished somewhat and you know what I've managed to do with all the extra time?  Play with my kids and save my eyes from computer-related stress.  Besides, making a mistake or being successful based on your own observations and conclusions will always make a better consumer out of you.  One of the reasons why I am able to write these reviews is because I have made a million mistakes (and counting...)

        Oh, and one more thing, if you are showrooming then know that we are all walking one step closer to making sure there are less and less Michaels and more and more defective price scanners in humongous stores where you "save" money by losing your valuable time.  Actually, there will be less stores to visit- period.   The end result which is already happening (a lot) is that there will be even MORE BLOGS and "Mom Ambassadors" and I hope you read what I wrote about disclosure.  Your go-to source for reliable information will become a list of advertorials.  There definitely are some amazing bloggers out there and they are super smart.  But these disclosure policies are so crazy and like I said,  I have to think about bottomlines too.  BTW, I used to "showroom" too and I didn't even think it was an uncool thing to do!

        Some toys don't need a review.

      5. Thank Goodness For Testers 3-7.   Believe me, I am more greedy than my children.  I want to see and touch and keep everything but that would really hurt my kids.  What kid gets 2-3 new toys every week?  That would dampen their creativity and slow their drive for inquiry and experimentation.  Not to mention they would become... .. spoiled brats?  Additionally, if they were exposed to that many toys, I think that would make them terrible testers.  Don't you think?  They'd expect way too much from a toy.  So I am so grateful to the testers and their parents who take awesome pictures, give me incredible feedback, and work hard to figure out how to best use a toy.    For one $12 toy, I may get 15 emails full of pictures and keen observations and that is likely on top of a phone call and more requests from me to please get a photo of this or try playing with something this way.....  

      Will Toys Are Tools Still Be Here in 2014?   'Tis Your Call

      I am going to need your help to make this website see the holiday season of 2013.  I do not know how to make money with this site other than doing all the wretched things that I described above and still refuse to do.  I thought there'd be dozens of toy companies wanting to advertise here but no one has been knocking on that door.

      But that is totally okay!  Like I said, there are so many awesome companies out there and the fact that these companies
      1. NOT only send product submissions to Toys are Tools (Toys R Who?)
      2. BUT many of them also send review units to an expert of MY choice too? 
      3. AND then give me at least one free product (or more) to give away to readers?
      All that for a blog with just 600+ Facebook Likes?  If these companies are going to advertise, they are going to have to advertise at a blog with heavier traffic, right?  The readership here is a small community and yet these companies have made a huge effort in trying to get Toys are Tools' readers' attention.   

      I got goose bumps writing this story.  Kids can connect to the world by getting to know who made their toys.  Melissa Sweet, an author/illustrator known to us via eeBoo has had a huge impact on our lives.  I've learned that readers do care about who has made their toys.  photo: Melissa Sweet

      Conclusion: You Are the Boss

      You might be asking me how I could keep this going if it is as unprofitable as it has been.  In truth, it has been high octane fun that has been fueling this engine.  Personally, I really needed this. Learning all this stuff about child development wasn't exactly a choice for me but I do love it.

      In the past two weeks I have written about toys originating from the UK, Japan, Taiwan, and of course, the U.S.  Next week I'll be talking to you about toys from Sweden and the Netherlands!  But all this takes a lot of work and luckily I have begun freelance writing at a magazine but to maintain this site as my primary occupation, it has to make cents :) because this kind of reviewing and all these photos and interviews with experts and testers takes a lot of time.

      How You Can Fuel This Engine

      1. If you shop at Amazon, step in through my door first.  Just click the square below and then you can bookmark it and use that bookmark every time you go to Amazon.   Amazon doesn't give tons of money and there are a few items that aren't applicable, but for the ones that are, Toys are Tools would get a small commission. It may not sound like much but if everyone does their shopping through this door or any of my other Amazon links- almost all of their purchases will qualify- toy or not- even a pair of snow boots that someone bought this month after coming through one of my "doors" counts!  The catch is that YOU HAVE TO PUT IT IN YOUR SHOPPING CART BEFORE LOGGING OUT of Amazon if you did indeed go through my link.  If you go through my link today and you put it in your cart right then and there but buy it next month, I will still receive the commission.

      2.  Believe me, I didn't even want to do this link thing myself - what if you think I'm hyping up the review just so you'll buy it through my Amazon link?  I think long time readers will know from my writing that I wouldn't do that.  Also, most of you come to read toy news and you are not coming because you are in the mood to shop but the next two months may be different, right?  Basically, I want to keep these reviews going for anyone who wants to see them and I need your help.  I understand if you do the Amazon thing for church or school already but if you don't, then please consider bookmarking my Amazon link and using it forever and ever and ever, okay?

      3. In case you're wondering...., I CAN NOT SEE who made the purchases but I can see what was purchased and that means so much to me. Of course it's okay if you don't buy anything but if you did, I get to know that I might have helped someone make a decision.  Remember I have no way of knowing that my reviews influenced you unless you leave a comment.

      Recognize this?  It's a Ravensburger puzzle.  

      4.  Finally, my last request is that you please share this site with as many people as possible.   I think rather than buying random ads everywhere, it is better to attract your circle of friends because Toys are Tools readers are a different breed of people and most likely your friends have similar goals and interests.   Print out a current review/giveaway and give it to your teacher, OT, SLP, psychologist, friends, grandparents....     That will help this teeny tiny infant revenue possibly grow up to early toddler stages.   Or just write on Facebook or whatever is your social media of choice... "Hey guys, I found a really great place that tells you about the best toys for our kids.  Really fun and educational! Stuff you've never seen before..."

      Oh, and if you decide to do this but you often forget, don't feel bad.  I forget a lot of stuff too! and shopping SHOULD be fun!

      So that is it.   You are all part of this experiment.    Collectively, we control the future of this site because despite my passion for toys and writing reviews, soon I will have to start talking to the husband about boring stuff like saving money, college fund, retirement... ugh....   If you want to keep this site going a little longer, these are the ways you can help for now.  Happy shopping everyone!  May only reputable vendors appear in your path and may you get the best deals ever!!!!

      Yours truly,

      Jenn Choi

      Disclosure statement: Toys are Tools has not been compensated in any fashion by the manufacturer of any of the mentioned products for the publication of this post.  The product was given to Toys are Tools' testers and expert to facilitate a review.  Reviews are never promised. 


      1. Jenn
        Thank you so much for such a wonderful blog. I have enjoyed your giveaways and have bought many toys and games based on your recommendations and reviews. I always trust what you have to say and am so thankful for such a resource.

        I can probably keep you in business by clicking through your site for my too frequent Amazon purchases. I will do my best to remember!

        Thanks again for a great year of reviews and giveaways!

      2. Congratulations on one year!

      3. I enjoyed this post thanks for sharing