Toymakers are targeting Millennial moms with new preschool toys

Mother playing with son
Photograph by Christopher Hope-Fitch — Getty Images/Flickr RM

Preschool toys, meet your maker: she’s the “Millennial Mom.”

The newest generation of parents — Millennials — is beginning to influence how toys and gear meant for infants and toddlers are made. Defined by Pew Research as those aged between 18 to 34 in 2015, Millennials have become a more dominant parenting demographic, and so it makes sense that toys meant for infants and young children would be tailored to their tastes. Millennials have broadly changed how a variety of consumer products have been manufactured and marketed. That shift is taking over the toy aisle.

Mattel (MAT) and Hasbro (HAS), which own the Fisher-Price and PlaySkool brands, respectively, each spent a lot of time talking about Millennial moms at the New York City Toy Fair this week. These moms are more mobile than moms of prior generations, and they are more likely to live in cities. That’s changing behaviors, toy executives say.

Two of the world’s largest toy makers, Mattel and Hasbro need to act quickly to meet the needs of Millennials. Both have faced challenges in the preschool aisle, partly hurt by heightened competition from smaller rivals such as V-Tech and Tomy, which toy insiders say have stolen key retail shelf space. Mattel’s Fisher-Price sales tumbled 13% to $1.84 billion in 2014, while Hasbro’s preschool division — which includes PlaySkool and Sesame Street items — reported a 4% drop to $510.8 million last year.

“Millennial moms are completely different from Baby Boomer moms,” said Robert von Goeben, co-founder of eco-friendly Green Toys. “Parents are on the go constantly.”

Millennial moms want sleek designs, and they want compact toys and swings for their smaller homes, executives say.

Swing Bluetooth BRU-Kieran- Mattel
Courtesy of Mattel

“In the old days, you’d have big plastic things all around your living room,” said John Frascotti, president of Hasbro Brands. “But today’s young Millennial moms are living in cities and not big spaces. They want the ability to easily pack up stuff and not have it littering the living room.”

Hasbro’s PlaySkool line included a handful of toys that could pop up to be played, such as a car ramp, and then closed to easily fit into a diaper bag or purse. The company said Millennial moms crave mobility.

“The Hasbro line was awesome,” said Laurie Schacht, president of toy and licensing publisher Adventure Publishing and a toy industry expert. “They are paying a lot of attention to it this year.”
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Collapsibility was a feature that Mattel also showed off. A jumper set, for example, could fold flat to fit under a bed.

“Moms want the products, but they want them to go away when the guests come over,” said Fisher-Price Executive Vice President Geoff Walker.

Walker said Fisher-Price’s design for the new line would be sleeker and feature more muted colors. Swings and chairs are more like home décor this year, he added. Another big change at Fisher-Price: after attempting to add iPads to preschool gear the past few years, the company finally ditched the gadget. Instead, it is now adding mobile BlueTooth functions to some of its preschool sets.

Marketing also needs to change. Moms shop more online, and utilize social websites such as YouTube to learn about which toys are best, according to Schacht, who says the industry needs to pay greater attention to how women find out information about toys. Schacht said the industry is still trying to find its footing when it comes to marketing. In a sign of the changing times, one woman reportedly earned $5 million last year simply by opening Disney toy packages.

An earlier version of this story misspelled John Frascotti’s name. The error has been corrected.
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