Greetings, Learning Expressions Readers!
I hope you all had a wonderful holiday season with your family and friends. It seems hard to believe that it’s 2013 already—and a whole 361 days until next Christmas! Though it might surprise you to hear this, it’s not all that long after the holidays that we start thinking about what hot new toys will find their way into our catalogs (and onto kid’s wish lists!) next year.
In February, Learning Express owners from around the country will gather in New York City to attend Toy Fair. At Toy Fair, vendors from around the world debut and demo the latest and greatest toys and games—and our store owners and Home Office buyers scout the 350,000 square feet for products they think kids will love. If you got a chance to check out our list of Hot Holiday Toys from 2012, you will have noticed it included some of our favorite Toy Fair finds (like the Boogie Board) as well as some “Exclusive” Learning Express products. You probably already know you can find these products only at our stores, but I’m guessing what you don’t know yet is how they come into being. So today I thought I’d share that with you!
Well, it all starts with Sandie Paradiso who is a Home Office
buyer as well as our chief developer-o-
exclusives. Sandie has worked at Learning Express for 18 years now (including several years working in one of our stores). This week, I took some time to sit down with Sandie and find out more about how she goes about developing some of our exclusive products.
Kathryn: Thanks for chatting with me today, Sandie!
Sandie: Not a problem!
Kathryn: So tell us. How exactly does a Learning Express exclusive get developed?
Sandie: Well, we partner with vendors such as The Orb Factory, Creativity For Kids, and Alex for many of our exclusive products. To get things rolling, I usually approach them with a story board of ideas I’ve come up with and we decide together which ones we should collaborate on. They definitely take a leap of faith on these ideas, so I really commend them for working with us and being willing to try out our different ideas.
Kathryn: Well we’re certainly glad they do! What was the first exclusive you ever developed for Learning Express?
Sandie: One of the first products I developed was a Groovy Girl named Lexa. We came up with the idea that Lexa watched over children while they slept, so she came ready for bed in her pajamas and slippers. Lexa also had a little pillow that worked as a pouch. If kids had any worries or wishes, the idea was that they would write them down and tuck them inside the pillow—and Lexa would take care of them while they slept. This was something I did with my daughter Hayley while she was growing up so I liked the idea of incorporating that into Lexa’s story.
Kathryn: Do you find that your exclusive products often stem from your experiences as a parent, or even as a kid?
Sandie: Absolutely. I really draw inspiration from my kids and my own childhood when I develop these products. When I was a kid I always folded gum wrappers into chains and created jewelry and accessories with them to make a unique, fun fashion statement; years later I found myself developing a Candy Wrapper Jewelry Kit for Learning Express. A few years ago I also got an idea for one of my favorite kits from my son, Nick. In middle school he and his friends played a game that involved soda tabs and the initial of your future girlfriend, which for him was the letter “K”—and today his fiancé’s name is Kelly! He always kept that soda tab, and when they started dating he created a bracelet incorporating that soda tab in it…hence my inspiration for the Soda Tab Jewelry Kit.
Kathryn: That’s adorable. So do all your ideas for these kits come from your life experiences?
Sandie: Sometimes, but not always. I spend a lot of time looking at various trends, as well as experimenting with different materials. While doing some home improvement I was playing with electrical wire and came up with the idea for Get Wired. I try and think outside of the box and use materials that you don’t usually find in an arts and crafts kit, like the Tyvek you’ll find in our Wonder Wallet Art Kits this year.
Kathryn: And do you have a favorite Exclusive?
Sandie: I love them all, but if I had to pick a couple of favorites it’s got to be the Get Wired Jewelry Kit and the All Duct Out Kit.
(See below for the original story board for Get Wired!)
Sandie: It’s definitely getting to see the finished product. I get so nervous when they hit the shelves in our stores—it almost feels like sending your kids off to school for the first time! I enjoy the process from start to finish, but hearing that kids (or even our bloggers!) loved creating one of the exclusives I’ve developed is one of the best feelings in the world.
Kathryn: So can you tell us what exclusives you’re working on for this year?
Sandie: No, Kathryn! But what I can tell you is that this year we will have exclusive products released in our May catalog. In years past, we’ve only been able to release exclusive products in our fourth quarter catalogs, so this is an exciting opportunity to get new toys into the hands of our customers earlier in the year. And I can give you a little hint. This spring you’re guaranteed to get soaked, reach new heights, find your sporty style, and flip (flop) out for our latest kits.
Kathryn: Well I’m definitely intrigued! Thanks so much for chatting with us today, Sandie.
Sandie: You bet!
So there you have it readers! Next time you see an “Only Available at Learning Express” sign in our stores you’ll know how (and by whom!) those products were developed. And as soon as we have our new exclusives in May, we’ll be sure to review them for you on here.
Happy New Year!