Toy Fair and Toy Safety

We’ve been thinking a lot here about toy safety over the past six months or so.

Now, that’s nothing really new: the safety of any given plaything is always uppermost in our minds when we look at products. I think that it would be safe to say that this is true of all specialty toy retailers — we’re in this business because we care about children, and we want to help parents find the best possible fit between toy and child. That fit has always included safety, in terms of quality of manufacture and in terms of age appropriateness.

I think that’s why so many of us were so completely aghast at the toy recalls that affected a very few products carried by specialty toy stores in 2007. I know that I had a lot of faith in my suppliers’ products, assuming (perhaps naively) that because they came from smaller companies, they were exempt from the problems of quality control or design flaw that plagued the so-called “mass market” toys.

That little tootling sound you heard in every toy store in North America last summer? That was our wake-up call. Our suppliers and products are not exempt. No one is.

We’ll be going to Toy Fairs in a few weeks — me to Toronto, my partner to Nuremberg (with any luck). This is our annual opportunity to touch base in a personal way with the companies we deal with over the phone, the fax, and electronically the rest of the year. We get to touch the toys, turn them over in our hands, scrutinize them closely; and we get to ask questions. This year, for the first time, I know I’ll be asking lots more questions about the content of the playthings on offer. Where are they made? Who owns the factory? What kind of oversight is routine for the manufacturing process?

And most important — I’ll be wanting to see a copy of the product test results that guarantees compliance with all safety standards. If I’m not sure about a toy, it won’t be on the shelf. Period.

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