25 Years at Play: Toy Store Franchise Celebrates 25th Holiday Season

DEVENS, Mass., Nov. 8, 2012 (GLOBE NEWSWIRE) -- The 2012 holiday season marks an important milestone for specialty toy franchise, Learning Express Toys. Founded by CEO Sharon DiMinico in 1987, the Massachusetts based company is currently celebrating its 25th year at play. Originally started to raise money for a local nursery school, the franchise is now 130 stores strong and spread across 28 states. Despite its growth, Learning Express still maintains its identity as a genuine neighborhood toy store.

"Over the course of our 25 years in business, it's been fascinating to see the toy industry evolve and change," says DiMinico. "Though the emergence of the internet and the development of technology have changed the play landscape for children, the characteristics of high quality toys are essentially timeless. Both then and now, the very best toys encourage creativity, pique curiosity, and inspire imaginations."

Competing over the last few years with big box retailers and online show-rooming trends, Learning Express has had to differentiate itself from the competition.

"We want to engage customers on every level," says Learning Express owner Mary Beth Conklin. "For parents, we offer toy suggestions, provide free gift wrapping, and make sure to support schools within the community. For children, we host frequent craft days and story times, demo our favorite products in store, and encourage them to ride scooters and PlasmaCars around our shop floor. This is their space, and we want it to feel magical when they come and visit us here."

During the holiday season, storeowners' commitment to the communities in which they live is brought into particular focus. "Each year we partner with a nonprofit to raise money and collect toys for local children and families in need," says owner Rick Derr. "It's a fundamental part of what we do." The Learning Express Hot Holiday Toys list further reflects the company's dedication to providing added value for customers.

The list is comprised of both Learning Express "Top Toys" and Learning Express "Exclusives." Top Toys are products that Learning Express storeowners believe in wholeheartedly and love to demo for customers in store; Exclusives have been developed by Learning Express buyers in collaboration with toy vendors.

A large percentage of the items featured on the list are "storeowner finds." Home Office buyer Sandie Paradiso notes, "Between all our storeowners, we have hundreds of buyers on the floors of toy and gift shows and interacting with customers on the sales floor. When a product takes off in one store, owners share that success with their peers and the Home Office integrates it into our franchise-wide buying program. Over the last 25 years, that kind of collaboration and support has really set us apart and allowed us to thrive. Most importantly, it has enabled us to get unique and exciting products into the hands of our customers."

Customer engagement is now also extending online. The franchise will be debuting a new website in the coming weeks, and creating online communities through social media platforms has become a priority on both the local and corporate levels. Most recently, the company released an online Skill Building Toy Guide for Children with Special Needs to help parents and caretakers find developmental toys for the children in their lives.

After 25 years at the helm, the transition in leadership has begun between DiMinico and her daughter, Harvard Business School graduate Lauren Derse. "I started this company in a schoolhouse to raise money for Lauren's nursery school. She grew up playing underfoot at Learning Express stores and testing out toys for me on a regular basis. I couldn't be more proud that she's joined the Learning Express team, and I'm confident that when Lauren takes the helm in the years to come, the future of Learning Express will be brighter than ever."

Storeowners celebrating their 5th, 10th, 15th, 20th, and 25th anniversaries this year are available for interview.

You can watch the Learning Express branding video here: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=kr6cYE0cBGU &feature=plcp


For more information about Learning Express, please visit www.learningexpress.com.

About Learning Express Toys

Learning Express is the nation's leading franchisor of educational toy stores with more than 130 locations across the country, each one locally owned and operated. Learning Express provides an extraordinary shopping experience with knowledgeable sales staff who can offer expert advice on choosing the perfect toy, for every child, for every occasion. The Learning Express product mix is carefully selected from manufacturers around the world and every toy has exceptional play value. A birthday gift registry, free gift-wrapping, free personalization, civic fundraising, and customer VIP programs make each Learning Express store an integral part of its community. To discover more about Learning Express, to find a store near you, or to learn about franchise opportunities, please visit www.learningexpress.com or call (888) 825-3619.

CONTACT: Kathryn Blanchflower Communications Director Learning Express Toys Phone: (978) 889-1087 E-Mail: kathryn@learningexpress.comSource: Learning Express