DEVENS, Massachusetts. Learning Express Toys hosted their 21st Annual Convention and Vendor Expo on June 24-27 at the MeadowView Marriott Conference Resort and Convention Center in Kingsport, TN.
The 2018 theme, “Get it Done, Play to Win” was a reference to the Team, Product, Wow! Success strategy introduced, at the February 2018 Toy Fair meeting. Learning Express stakeholders are committed to creating a successful business environment while providing their customers with a fun, engaging shopping experience.
“I’m not sure if it was the attendees mood, the “slightly southern” hospitality or the venue and the ease of getting around, but this year’s Convention was extra special to me,” stated Learning Express CEO & Founder, Sharon DiMinico. “There was a lot of optimism in the air. We talked about the opportunities that are now in front of us.”
Here is a quick recap of the week:
The Welcome Reception took place on the hotel’s patio, surrounded by lush green lawns and trees with the beautiful Blue Ridge Mountains off in the distance. The LE team was greeted by a table sampling of delicious moonshine, in 20 different flavors! An open bar helped people relax after the stress of traveling. It was a fun, low key night, culminating in a very competitive BulziBucket team tournament.
Schmiesing “Beat the Golfers to the Greens” 2nd Annual 5K RunBravo to those that ran in the 6AM Schmiesing 5K Road Race, after a night of Moonshine tasting. Store owner Pat Schmiesing and Franchise Development Director Mike Derse ran over the finish line together, tying for first in the Men’s division. Race organizer Christy Star and Megan Albanese of the Saucon Valley store were the first Women to finish. Lou DiMinico won 1st place in the 70+ age group. Kudos to all who participated. Everyone received t-shirts and medals, after crossing the finish line.
The LE Marketing team kicked off the session with slides and a video of all the wonderful things LE does to support their TPW philosophy. It was a very powerful presentation. Sharon DiMinico spoke about what it takes to be a successful retailer, according to Wharton School’s new Retail Matrix and how Learning Express Toys performs against it.
Town Hall Meeting
Like a real Town Meeting, our store owners walked up to the many microphones and asked their questions to a panel made up of Home Office staff. The venue was a perfect fit for the meeting. The room had stadium seating, much like that of a major university. Everyone could be seen and heard!
Team, Product, Wow SessionsPanels of Learning Express store owners and managers talked about Team, Product and WOW. Several LE Best Practices were discussed, in-order-to keep our owners at the forefront of the Specialty Toy Industry. Woodstock, GA owner, Jeff Weiss, discussed his outstanding hiring tactics, which included a new hire personality test. Bedford, MA Play Director, Sonya Kalajian, discussed the importance of scheduling, prepping for and hosting in-store events.
A number of our best vendors set up 21 Tables of Art, Games & Science kits to demonstrate their latest products. The demos helped our owners to become in-store EXPERTS in product knowledge, for the upcoming 4th Quarter. They learned a lot and had a lot of fun doing it. A lot of stores were adjusting orders the next day, so it must have been a BIG success.
Lauren Derse, Marketing Director & Owner of LE Bedford, explained how finished in-store samples increased her sales for Ann Williams products, by 230%. Mike Derse spoke of our Store-Conversion Program and how our vendors could partner with us. Rick Derr, Regional Owner and Lake Zurich Owner, talked about the importance of increasing sales during the first 10 months of the year and not just focusing on the 4th Quarter. Lisa Vicso, Head Buyer, then went on to announce the vendors for the Toy Category Awards.
“It’s my job to make the best impression possible to our vendors,” said Sharon DiMinico. “It’s not a hard thing to do. We had a powerful presentation and our vendors were impressed. We had 1 hour to knock their socks off and I think we accomplished it.”
There were over 100 of Learning Express Toy’s top vendors in attendance, at the Expo. The event is always a great buying and learning affair! The many vendors were very pleased with the orders they received, as well as, the upbeat attitude of the owners. They truly appreciate store owners and managers taking the time to see new products, modify orders and making great connections.
The Banquet & Casino Night
During the last evening of Convention, several awards were handed out to our Top performing stores and vendors. For our owners, the categories were for: Spirit, Team Player, Product Discovery, Impact & Marketing. Three of our owners were recognized for their outstanding performance, in the President’s Award, the Award of Excellence & the Founder’s award, as well. Our Vendors were awarded in several categories, including: Top Sales, Sales Increase, Customer Service, Best New Vendor, Marketing & Product.
The evening concluded with Casino Night, where both vendors and store owners tried their luck at several casino favorites. The event concluded with an energetic raffle!
It’s a Wrap!
There was no better way to close Convention 2018 than to donate toys from our vendor booths to a local charity. The Learning Express Home Office staff made all the arrangements, picked up the donated toys from each vendor’s booth and loaded up the trucks. A lot of local kids were very happy! This year, the Bristol Speedway Children’s Charities was picked to receive what was estimate is a $10,000 retail value in toys. The charity was founded in 1996 to help children in the surrounding area of Bristol Motor Speedway.
Stay tuned for details on Convention 2019!