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June 2007 | Vol. VI - No. 6
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Retailer Spotlight: Fundamentally Toys

Expanded Store Counters Financial Challenge With Quality Space


“Trust your gut and admit when you’re wrong.” Debbie Scholl, Fundamentally Toys
Toy-store owner Debbie Scholl of Fundamentally Toys in Houston had prior experience in buying and financial planning for a department store and even managed a specialty store.

But it was motherhood that pushed her into toys.

MEETING A LOCAL NEED

“I always knew that one day I would have a store,” she told TDmonthly Magazine. “I just didn’t think it would be toys. After I had a child, I noticed that there was a lot of quality product in toy catalogs, but no appealing local stores carried specialty toys.”

She opened Fundamentally Toys in 1995 with approximately $250,000 that was raised and borrowed from a number of sources. She noted that it was many years before she saw a profit, and it can still be a struggle.

FRANK ABOUT FINANCES

“I think if I had to do it all over again, I would have planned differently,” she admitted. “I would have raised the expenses and lowered the volume expectations.”

Success, she added, is a work in progress: “I don’t feel that I am anywhere near where I really want to be just yet. Financial resources have always been an issue. … It takes money to make money!”

Scholl gives herself and her staff pep talks on days when the energy doesn’t feel “up” enough, but “thinking from abundance rather than lack when times are tough is not as easy as it sounds,” she confided.

OPEN SPACES, FRIENDLY FACES

The focus of her store, however, has never changed.

“I primarily wanted a comfortable place for people to shop and learn about play as it relates to child development,” Scholl told TDmonthly. “I wanted a clean, open feel to the store versus a stacked, floor-to-ceiling, narrow-aisle retail environment.”

Scholl noted that her biggest success was expanding her store a few years ago. Fundamentally Toys has a unique feel that makes customers feel at home.

“It’s hard to describe, but we try very hard to develop a relationship with our customers,” she commented.

A great staff helps, too. For hiring decisions, she has a written profile of the type of person she wants to work with, but the rest is instinct.

ORDERING BY CATEGORY

Scholl said she tends not to focus on specific items that are selling well, but instead looks at categories and vendors. Twice a month, she looks at her sales versus what she has on hand, and adjusts her order to get inventories into the categories that are selling well.

TAKING ON A REAL JOB

She advises newcomers to the toy industry to remember that this is a real job, not something “fun” to do.

“Trust your gut, and admit when you’re wrong,” she offered. “Watch where you spend your advertising dollars — it can easily be money wasted.”



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Brenda RuggieroWriter's Bio: Brenda Ruggiero is a freelance writer from western Maryland. Read more articles by this author

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