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Do you recall?

I was in Borders today with my kids and there were signs all over the store that said “Books are safe gifts for kids.” Meanwhile, in the children’s section, they had an array of toys for sale, many of which are made in China.

The whole media and public relations circus that’s surrounding these toy recalls is getting a little bit out of control. Toys themselves certainly aren’t the enemy. And to blacklist all toys from China is also going way too far.

I understand that parents are concerned. But I feel like there’s an absence of perspective here, and those signs at Borders are just fanning the flames. Is it smart marketing or is it hypocritical?

Lead paint recalls are nothing new. Peruse the CPSC website, and you’ll find recalls dating back to 2003 that deal with lead issues. You’ll also find that the list of kid-related recalls reads like a who’s who of some of the most popular brands we sell. Baby Bjorn, Mountain Buggy, Bob Trailers, Graco, Brio, Boppy. Recalls happen even to the best companies. But the media has never put this kind of pressure on consumers to hold such a grudge.

As specialty retailers, we’re in a tough position. On one hand, this is a great opportunity to introduce our customers to some overlooked products that are made in the USA or in other European countries; that’s what people want, right? But if we follow that path, are we really any better than Borders?

Reporters keep calling to ask me to recommend safe toys for kids, and every time I think back to what I tell parents who ask me about the safest car seat. Just about any car seat that’s properly installed and used correctly is safe. Parents need to have faith in that. Car seats – even really good ones – are recalled all the time, but people don’t just stop using them.

Toys are such a valuable and essential part of development, fostering all kinds of skills, imagination and interactions. I love books, but they aren’t a fair trade – just ask anyone who’s ever watched a kid unwrap a toy and then unwrap a book. I know that all this press coverage is nerve wracking, and I certainly can’t promise that the toys we sell won’t ever be recalled (though I really wish I could). But try not to get swept away by the tide of negative press. I will be buying toys for my kids this holiday season. And probably a few books, too. But I’m going to try to shut out the noise and choose the things my kids will love.

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