Thursday, January 3, 2008

The FAO Schwarz Toy Buying Guide

A conversation with Ed Schmults, CEO of FAO Schwarz.

You have probably read articles or seen coverage on television or the internet about toy recalls and child safety. These are, of course, issues we deeply care about. We spoke with Ed Schmults, CEO of FAO Schwarz about his very personal take on what to think about when buying toys from us, or from anyone else. We trust you will find his perspective interesting and useful. Thanks for reading!

What do all these recalls mean for me? Should I throw away all toys made in China?

Schmults: The first thing to do is check the Consumer Product Safety Commission website ( to see if you own any of the toys listed and to confirm they were purchased during the specified times. Follow the instructions on the recall notice to send back to the manufacturer or to dispose of hazardous toys.

There are many quality-oriented factories in China that don’t cut corners, but if you are uncomfortable with China production, then seek out alternative toys made with quality design and quality raw materials. China does not have an exclusive on global toy production. At FAO Schwarz, we carry toys made in USA, Germany, Lithuania, Thailand, Korea, Israel, Spain, England, Kenya, Denmark, Philippines and Canada, among others. You can even search out toys by country of origin on our website.

How do I know a toy is safe?

Schmults: All toys sold in the US must meet certain US government safety standards concerning safety (choking hazards, toxic substances, etc.). However, the recent recalls suggest that it is possible for harmful substances to make it into toys. Use your judgment. Just as you probably put a lot of thought into what to feed your child, you should take the time to consider your child’s age and personality when it comes to toy selection. How does he or she play with toys? Many young children explore toys by constantly putting them in their mouth. If that’s the case at your house, seek out toys that are dishwasher safe or easily washed. A child who is rough and rambunctious needs highly durable toys that you check regularly for missing parts or breakage.

Look at how the product was designed : Does every part have a purpose? Toys with excessive moving parts can be prone to breakage and factories may use cheaper materials to reduce the cost of manufacturing a complex item.

Reject the notion that children’s toys have a short life span. A well-constructed toy should last for years, not minutes. Look for things like magnets and make absolutely certain they are securely fastened. Magnets, when swallowed, can be deadly.

Heed the adage, “You get what you pay for.” Quality does not have to be expensive, but you might not find it at the drug store or supermarket where toys tend to be used as a way to get add-on sales.

Trust your gut: If you are worried about the safety, quality, or appropriateness of certain toys, then by all means get rid of them. Toys should relax you and your children, not cause stress.

How do I explain to my child that I’m taking away a favorite toy?

Schmults: Keep it brief, especially if your child is a toddler or a preschooler. At that age, they are usually eager to try something new in exchange for an older toy, in particular a toy that serves a similar purpose. With older kids, you should take the time to explain why the toy is being recalled and to emphasize how unusual it is for toys to be unsafe. Be careful not to create “toy anxiety” either by going into unnecessary detail or by letting your own anxiety spill over into the conversation.

What do I do this holiday?

Schmults: The vast majority of toys in this country meet US government standards. However, because the level of anxiety regarding toy safety is understandably high, it helps to remember three things:

* Buy quality products from a quality retailer
* Look for simplicity and durability in toys
* Focus on imaginative play.

Focus on quality. For the last 145 years, FAO Schwarz has carefully selected our vendors for quality and design integrity, originality and health, safety and environmental concerns. If we see two similar toys, but one uses recycled materials, we choose the one with recycled content. Similarly, if we see competing toys, but one has eliminated PVC plastic or phthalates, we will choose the one that has eliminated these possibly harmful materials. We seek out vendors that share our belief that you can’t make a quality product using bad materials. A factory that cuts corners to achieve low price points does not have the mind-set to make a quality product.

Simple toys make safety assessments easier for parents and they tend to last longer as they have fewer potentially breakable parts. They are also easier to build, which may reduce the chances of a manufacturer substituting lesser quality materials to save money.

We know from countless studies of young children’s brain development that toys that require a child to use his or her imagination boost learning in all areas of development. At a time when many popular toys have lots of “bells and whistles,” it can take time and effort to seek out alternatives that help children develop the skills they need as they grow, but most parents are willing and able to build a better “toy box.” The key is to look for toys that leave as much as possible up to the child; in other words, a toy that tells a child what to do rather than letting him discover or invent ways to interact with that toy may actually inhibit learning. Toys that grow with your child promise years of play value, as do toys and games the entire family can enjoy.

What makes a good toy? My child seems to only want toys advertised on TV.

Schmults: My first advice would be to turn off the TV – or to limit the amount of screen time available to your kids. The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends no more than one to two hours of quality TV and videos a day for older children and no screen time for children under the age of 2. A recent study found that children ages 0–6 spend more time on entertainment media than on reading, being read to, and playing outside combined.

Age appropriateness is also important. A child should be able to master a toy. This can help them develop confidence and self-esteem. An adult puzzle will just frustrate a young child. Better to give a puzzle that is appropriate for their age or perhaps geared slightly older so that they can be challenged but also have a good chance of completing the puzzle.

We have so many abandoned toys lying around the house How can I buy toys that my children will play with for more that 15 minutes?

Take the time to consider the toys your child seems to play with the most. Then round up the rejects and either give them away or put them aside for a while and try reintroducing them at a later time. Sometimes kids get overwhelmed by too many options. If your children get tired of battery powered toys quickly, then focus on toys powered by their imagination. Batteries need replacing and can be a source of frustration for a child (and a parent).

How can I guide grandparents and aunts and uncles who spoil my children at birthdays and holidays to make better choices?

Schmults: Spend time with your child to develop a “wish list” for birthdays or the holidays. Communicate this to well-meaning relatives. Most will be appreciative of the guidance. The FAO Schwarz website ( provides just such a service. No one wants to give a gift that is not wanted, which is why gift cards, while impersonal, are often the easiest solution.