"Resilience" became a byword for many during the pandemic, but for hungry small players, a better word might be "nimbleness."
Case in point: Streetsboro, Ohio-based Simplay3 Co., which drove a portable play table from a concept in June to Bentonville, Ark.-based Walmart Inc.'s virtual storefront by late October.
"The usual timeline for our product development is one year to one year and a quarter in advance," Vice President of Sales and Marketing Brian McDonald said. "So being able to turn that around in 17 weeks was a lot of people working hard and having a lot of dedication,"
"[Walmart's] Made in the USA program has really created opportunities for us to present product lines," said McDonald.
Four-year-old Simplay3 has made its name with big backyard toys geared to preschoolers and younger children. The two-sided Monster City Extreme Wheels Track is based on a portable play table for the Thomas the Tank Engine crowd.
Feedback from Bentonville helped Simplay3 design and fine-tune the new product, which marks Simplay3's first foray into the older-boy market, McDonald said.
"It's a good partnership. We had periodic meetings back and forth, we made designs, got feedback, they suggested tweaks."
Simplay's export business has also benefited from low freight costs from U.S. ports. While East Asia-to-North America shipping prices remain sky high, shipping west across the Pacific cost less than $900 per container in early December. Simplay3 now sells to 30 countries, including China.
Simplay3 has 90 employees, five rotational molding machines and a 120,000-square-foot warehouse. The company founder is an industry legend: Tom Murdough, who earlier founded two other successful Ohio-based toy companies — Little Tikes Co. and Step2.
Fleet-footedness is a signature trait of the smaller retailers in Chicago-based trade group American Specialty Toy Retailing Association (ASTRA), said President Sue Warfield.
"When you go into a specialty toy store, an independently owned toy store, the owner, who is the buyer, has made sure these toys are good and not knockoffs. So they know their products and have done a good job of training their staff. … If they don't have the specific toy you're looking for, they can help you find the right toy for the right kid at the right time," Warfield said.
Still, "They learned that they have to do more online business. Facebook Live, Facebook selling, upgrading their websites," Warfield added.
At Seattle's Snapdoodle Toys, nimbleness took the form of a quick move from brick-and-mortar when Washington state imposed a lockdown last year. When COVID hit, "We raced and within five to six weeks we started our own e-commerce website in April ," owner Rob Pickering said.
"We have tons of Amazon employees coming in and saying, 'I love supporting local,'" Pickering observed wryly.