“Sell what you love and what you are excited about, not just what is ‘hot.’” — Jude Larene, Izilla Toys
When Jude Larene and Jennifer Schneeweis decided to create a business where they could work together and include their son, Isaiah, they picked a toy store because it was difficult to find good toys in their neighborhood. Using their son’s nickname, they opened Izilla Toys in Seattle in 2003. Over time, they have balanced their strengths and weaknesses to help build a successful business. A BIG JUMP INTO TOYS
Neither owner was involved in the toy industry before — Jude came from a background in social work and Jen was involved in graphic design.
“We didn’t really know what we were doing at first, so we made a ton of mistakes,” they admitted. When planning their store, they simply decided to focus on toys they liked.
“We don’t sell any weapons, and we really look for toys that will keep kids active and creative,” Jude noted.
FINANCIAL RISK BRINGS PROFIT
The couple had about $60,000 to start their store, and said they “really scrimped.”
They took out some equity on their house — although they don’t recommend that to others — and saw a small profit in their first year. Their primary struggle, however, has been lack of capital.
“It’s such a seasonal business, that not having any fall-back money is a little scary,” Jude explained.
OPPOSITES DO THE WORK
Although Jen and Jude differ in personality, they work well together.
“Jen and I have very different skill sets that complement each other,” Jude explained. “She’s more organizational in her thinking, and I’m more on the brute force, manual labor side of things.”
Although they’ve done most everything themselves, Jude and Jen have had one part-time manager for nearly the entire time they’ve been in business. They’ve been fortunate to have employees who stay for years.
“We just hired our first teenager,” Jude said. “All of our other employees have been older and parents, so it will be interesting to see how this works.”
THE GOOD AND THE BAD
Jude said their three biggest mistakes have been under-ordering for the holidays, over-ordering for the holidays, and using a “rotten” accountant.
They have been successful, however, in marketing and events, a recent expansion that doubled their size, and focusing on the community. In fact, Jude feels their attention to the community and their customers makes the store better than its competition.
“We actively seek their input, so our store reflects what they value,” he said.
KEYS TO SUCCESS
It’s important not to skimp on advertising, advised Jude, who added he also spends a lot of time doing research on the Web.
“We look at European sites a lot for new ideas, and we use several online toy industry magazines,” he said.
His advice to others just starting out in the business reflects his philosophy: “Sell what you love and what you are excited about, not just what is ‘hot.’”