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December 2007 | Vol. VI - No. 12
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Retailer Spotlight: Brain Station & Tree Town Toys

Couple Taps Into Community to Help Two Stores Thrive


“We really have an interest in our community — we are our community.” Tricia Masing
When Hans and Tricia Masing started their lives together, each worked in fields completely unrelated to toys. Tricia was an engineer in the auto industry and Hans was in information technology, they shared with TDmonthly Magazine. They both knew they wanted to work for themselves eventually, but had no idea what it would entail.

KIDS LEAD TO STORE OPENINGS

“When our kids came along … our focus changed, and we discovered that there was a whole new world,” Tricia said. “We knew that it was difficult to find really great toys for our kids. So in the process of seeking out these great specialty stores where we could find these products, we decided it would be a great business for us.”

The couple started an Internet store, Brain Station, in 2002, relying on Hans’ IT expertise and Tricia’s skills for picking out great products. When the opportunity came for a storefront in their home of Ann Arbor, Mich., they took it. Tree Town Toys opened in August of 2007.

LEARNING FROM MISTAKES

One problem they faced with financing the online business was the economy.

“The local Michigan economy hasn’t been that great,” Tricia explained. “Many people had a local perspective instead of a national perspective that an online business brings.”

She also admitted they have problems finding the right things to delegate to the right people. They can’t do everything for both stores by themselves, and they work day-to-day to set priorities for both entities.

“It’s really double the work,” Tricia told TDmonthly. But as for mistakes in the process, she noted that the important thing is to acknowledge them.

“You recognize the mistake, square your shoulders and learn from it. You hopefully don’t make the same mistake again,” she said.

GETTING TO KNOW THE COMMUNITY

One thing that distinguishes the couple’s business is that they have come to know their customers, and listen to them.

“We are in touch with our local community,” Tricia said. “Our kids go to the local school and have friends in town. We really have an interest in our community — we are our community.”

“Listen to customers and stay true to who you are and what you want your store to be,” she advised.

SHARING BRINGS PROFIT

The Masings also feel that building equity in their community is their most important marketing tool. They also find it beneficial to have a group of retailer friends.

“We share ideas … we share information,” Tricia said. “In addition to that, we’re involved with the ASTRA (American Specialty Toy Retailing Association) organization. We share information with people that we get to meet once or twice a year, but people that we keep in touch with around the whole year through the LISTSERV.”

“We’re not competing with a store in Scottsdale, Ariz., or Pomona, Calif., so there’s a lot more willingness to collaborate nationally,” noted Hans.

To find out what else Hans and Tricia have to share with TDmonthly readers, see My Best Sellers and learn about the most popular buys at Tree Town Toys and Brain Station.



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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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