At Toy Fair, one store owner hunts for diverse dolls

WHEN most Toys R Us stores closed in June last year, former manager Glendon Warner was left wondering what he would do next. He always wanted to open a toy store. The time was right, and he opened a small shop in Hyattsville, Maryland. But he made sure to do something he thought Toys R Us could have done better – include more toys that reflect the ethnicities of the children who play with them.

Toys, Babies and More, which opened in September, has shelves of dolls that represent a variety of races and cultural identities. Warner said he wants to keep up with toy trends, so on Saturday he headed to the biggest toy industry event of the year: the North American International Toy Fair in New York.

He was overwhelmed by the dolls.

“I could only go for one day, and there was just so much to see,” he said. “I was looking forward to meeting with more toy suppliers because I didn’t have the connections as a new toy store owner.”

He was impressed with the new toys that companies hoped would wind up on store shelves by the holidays. Dolls in different shapes and sizes caught his eye at the thousands of booths from toy sellers around the globe.

Glendon Warner, the owner of Toys, Babies and More, attends his first Toy Fair

Black Panther character dolls stole the spotlight at Toy Fair, he said. There were a variety of outfits and styles for the movie’s female characters, such as Nakia, Shuri and Okoye.

But one thing he thought Toy Fair lacked were diverse twin dolls. Warner met with manufacturers at the event, and one told him twin dolls of color are in the works.

“The world is more culture focused right now,” said Warner, who is originally from the South American nation of Guyana. “You’ve got to think like a parent and not just in a business way, where you have to sell. But you have to try to please everyone.”

A little more than five years ago, he noticed that black and brown princesses were beginning to make it onto shelves at Toys R Us. These were dolls that his young daughters play with today and love. Warner says that companies have been facing pressure from parents to include more dolls of color that children can look to.

But his inspiration for opening a store that featured more diverse dolls wasn’t because there weren’t any. It was because they weren’t being stocked as much as white dolls.

“My experience with having kids and working at Toys R Us, you would see parents go six, seven, eight miles to different stores to find a doll. Especially (at) Christmas,” he said.

Because there weren’t enough diverse dolls on the shelves, Warner says he used his seven years of experience as a manager to deliver what Washington-area kids and parents wanted. Warner has also sold dolls of color to parents in England and France who have had trouble finding specific dolls.

Warner told KidsPost that the Toy Fair experience was a lot to digest as a first-time store owner. But he is looking forward to learning more at similar events to keep his customers happy.

“It was a wonderful experience,” he said. – Text and Photo by The Washington Post