- The Washington Times - Thursday, September 27, 2007

Toy stores and manufacturers are making it easier to find American-made products after scores of recalls have made some shoppers apprehensive of Chinese-made toys.

Stores such as FAO Schwarz and Toys “R” Us have trained their employees about which products are made in the United States so that they can help customers, the companies say.

FAO Schwarz also has labeled some of its American- and European-made toy sections in its stores. Its Web site allows shoppers to search for toys based on the country where they were made.

And toy makers that manufacture their products in the United States, such as Little Tikes, are quickly trying to change their packaging to wrap themselves in the flag.

“They’re highlighting for consumers toys that are made somewhere other than China,” said Jane Hoffer, president and chief executive officer of Prescient Applied Intelligence, a West Chester, Pa., retail supply chain consulting company. “Right now, there’s a skepticism, a concern about the product origination.”

The moves come after a spate of recalls of Chinese-made toys sold in the United States that were found to contain lead paint or small magnets that could choke children if swallowed.

Yesterday, more than 601,000 toys and children’s necklaces made in China were recalled, including five more items from the popular Thomas & Friends Wooden Railway product line, because they contain dangerous levels of lead.

RC2 Corp.’s “Knights of the Sword” series toys and some of its Thomas and Friends items, along with floor puppet theaters and gardening tools and chairs for children, were among the products announced in the recall by the Consumer Product Safety Commission.

The recalls — of more than 21 million toys worldwide — have hurt consumer confidence, according to the industry, just two months before the official start of the important holiday shopping season.

In response, the few companies that still make their toys in the United States are scrambling to rework packaging with “Made in America” logos. The packaging won’t hit store shelves for weeks or months, but Web sites for companies such as K’Nex and Little Tikes already have been updated.

FAO Schwarz, which sells classic toys such as plush dolls, Barbies and art kits, has highlighted the country of origin on its products not made in China with signs above sections of the stores, such as the Playmobil section, identifying that the toys are made in Germany.

The toy company also has developed a buying guide designed to answer questions about toy safety and added a search feature on its Web site where shoppers can search for toys by country of origin.

“We get about 100 people a day looking at that, using that functionality,” said Ed Schmults, chief executive officer of FAO Schwarz, of the search feature. “It’s not huge, but it certainly more than justifies our putting it up.”

Mr. Schmults expects parents to be asking more questions about toy origins as they start shopping for the holidays.

“The level of inquiry has faded from what it was this summer, but by no means has it gone away, and it may well increase as we get into the toy-buying season,” he said.

Parents say they are going to be more cautious about the toys they buy.

“It makes me think twice about what I’m going to be buying,” said Anna-Marie Williams, a tourist strolling near the Capitol this week with her toddler grandson, “especially since everything goes in his mouth.”

“It’s good to keep track of it, but you can’t buy a toy that’s not from China,” said Michael Williams, her son. “If it’s plastic, it’s from China.”

Bethany Sackett contributed to this report.

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