Walmart Garanimals Expansion Signals Gentler Approach to Holidays

Last Updated Sep 23, 2009 8:38 PM EDT

The holidays could be a tough season for retailers, but some are taking a proactive stance, heading into the end of year by trying to generate a little excitement despite the cold water that's being flung by the economy.

On the heels of Kmart's announcement of an exclusive line of Dora the Explorer products, comes notice from Walmart that it is introducing a new exclusive play and learning toy line under the Garanimals label. It will offer age appropriate toys for infants, toddlers and preschool children in bright packaging -- you can almost see tiny hands snatching at Walmart shelves now â€" that features many of the same animal characters that lend Garanimals outfits their particular charm. The product line hits a range of prices and includes an $8 Pull-Apart Shape Sorter to help little kids get a grasp on the world of objects and a $29 5-in-1 Learning Cube filled with dexterity challenges. Thus, Walmart is determined to help advance motor skills. And sales. In introducing the toy line, Walmart points out that it launched Garanimals clothing in its stores just last year. By building on the apparel introduction not only does Walmart become a one-stop-shopping destination for Garanimals products, and all those supercenters demonstrate how fond of being a one-stop-shop Walmart is, but also establishes its sales floors as destinations where harried relatives can be both practical and fun in their gift giving. The price range helps, too, as in selecting a product or products, gift-givers can hit the sweep spot between cheap and broke.

Additionally, Walmart made the point that the introduction is just in time for the holidays. While the "just" part is arguable in late September, Walmart has been known for pushing the holiday season earlier into the calendar year. In fact, during 2008, Walmart's Sam's Club division announced its holiday catering program on Aug. 14. No such August announcement from Sam's this year. In fact, a search of Walmart and Sam's press releases reveals that this is the first public pronouncement about the holidays by the company this annum. So, in an historical sense, Walmart is late this year in getting the seasonal bandwagon rolling. And, if you consider the Dora announcement, it kinda got beaten to the holiday punch by Kmart.

The restraint may be due to trepidation, a concern that what's happening currently in the economy may lead consumers to keep their grip on wallet tight, and a decision that it is prudent to keep inventories lean and focus on hot products as temporary sell throughs a la the company's recent $298 computer, while maintaining a manageable everyday low price assortment that encourages consumers to fill out their shopping and that provides Walmart a decent profit. It may also signal that the retailer doesn't want to start major promotions too early, in part because of concerns that consumers will buy close to occasion. That's a phenomenon Walmart executives noticed for back to school and a pattern that has been evident in the last few holiday periods, even 2008, although the horror of that particular season made any last minute sales flicker something too insignificant to consider.

Still, Garanimals might cheer folks up a bit, and Walmart is planning on a multi-million dollar television advertising campaign beginning this fall and continuing through the holidays to ensure it spreads that cheer as widely as possible. After all, while cutting back on just about everything else, consumers in the recession have proven willing to spend money on their kids and their critters. Garanimals might be regarded as an approximate combination of the two, and, so, have better prospects than some other product lines.