Thursday, November 27, 2008

He Rules Toy Land

[In my quest to find images from vintage toy stores, I sometimes find articles about the many colorful characters that operated these regional empires, King Norman is one of the names that pops up a great deal]

Oakland, Nov 27, 1977-The head of King Norman's
Kingdom of Toys, the king himself, is part pixie, part business calculator who probably enjoys his merchandise as much as any kid on the block.

Norman Rosenberg founded his toy empire 29 years ago. The Eastbay branches are in Fremont and Oakland's Eastmont Mall. He believes the fierce competition, which has taken some of the fun
out of the business, also serves to keep prices from skyrocketing.

Norman goes to the toy show in New York City in February to see what's new. "There's a great deal of copying in the toy business," he said. "Some of the security measures at the show are more stringent than the Pentagon." He orders the toys that look like winners. They begin arriving in October and November for the holiday season.

Many manufacturers of toys, he explained, are more like assembly
plants. "Take an action figure, for instance, they might order the clothes
from one maker, the eyes from another, the box from another. By
Christinas, if the item is a big success they might sell out completely, because
it's too late to reorder all the parts."

He listed names of some popular toys, then confided: "Do you know
what the single biggest selling item is today? Skateboards." To underscore this revelation, he climbed aboard one and, while balancing, recounted
that many delivery boys use skateboards now in view of the bicycle theft
rate. They simply tuck the board under their arm while delivering.

On the topic of rampant imitation in the toy industry, Rosenberg cited indoor tennis as an example. "Tennis is very big this year. So one company brings out a tennis game. It sells. Now there are five or six. all slightly different."
Air hockey was the same last year. One manufacturer struck gold with the idea and now there are a bewildering number of them.

The Atomic Man with a flashing eye is a direct copy of the popular Six Million Dollar Man. Atomic sells well nevertheless. One new favorite for the very young is Baby Thataway, a battery-operated doll that crawls and waves her arms and legs. Baby Alive, a model that eats and then has an accident on your lap,is a holdover success from last year.

Rosenberg admits that he has guessed wrong a time or two on what the public might like but, for the most part', he gets "that certain'feeling
from dealing with the public for 29 years?' King Norman once had a television show in the Bay Area and his penchant for show biz is apparent in the recordings of his voice that echo through the store, alerting customers to special buys.

Among the big current sellers Rosenberg listed were an electric train, the Chattanooga Choo-Choo; board games for adults such as Group Therapy, Lost Gold and the Guinness Game of Records and Hot Wheels, which is coming back in its original form. Magic kits are big. too.

King Norman reluctantly sold his family run empire in 1985 to folks like Kay-Bee, mostly because of increased competition. As of October 2007, the 89 year old was enjoying retirement and still getting recognized for his seven year run on TV.


Anonymous said...

How strange that you should choose to post this today! Just yesterday I was in the Eaton Centre & discovered that there's an old-fashioned generic "Toy Store" in there! I was thrilled to see the display of those little walking & barking dogs out front, which is one of my main toy store memories. Wish the prices were still the same as they had been years ago, though...

Matt San Jose, CA said...

How cool that you found this!

King Norman Toys were wonderful, and it makes sense that KB bought some of them out (I know the KN in our local mall became a Kay Bee at some point...)

Here's in interesting article on the story of the "empire"...


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