“...some of the most reputable shopping centers in the country call and say that they’d like for us to be in their center.” — Jay Demircift, co-owner of Puzzle Zoo
Although he didn’t intend to get into the toy business, Puzzle Zoo Co-owner Jay Demircift is living his dream, he told TDmonthly Magazine. He grew up in the retail world and knew after finishing school that he, too, would continue his father’s legacy by becoming a businessman.
His first venture was a retail clothing store in Santa Monica, Calif., that didn’t work out as planned.
A PUZZLING PARTNERSHIP
“Serendipitously, I met a guy named Alan Saffron who had a puzzle store in Northridge. He really liked my location and wanted to rent it from me,” Jay explained. “I said if you really like it, let’s be business partners. Consequently, I kind of fell into the toy business; it was kismet.”
The store opened Sept. 3, 1993, and eventually branched out from puzzles. Jay was inspired to expand his inventory through friends who collected action figures and movie memorabilia. He began to stock this type of merchandise, and the diversity helped the store become more distinctive.
Alan moved on in 1997, but the store continued to evolve into the Puzzle Zoo of today, with a diverse product line that includes both specialty and mass-market merchandise. Jay’s younger brother Sean joined the business a few years after it started, and there are now five locations — four in California and one in Dallas, Texas.
In the beginning when they didn’t know the business well, they faced some financial problems.
“However, my family’s support and experience in business really helped further the success of the company,” Jay told TDmonthly. “This was definitely one of the biggest obstacles I’ve had to conquer as a businessman. When you believe in your vision, with dedication and perseverance, you can overcome anything.”
MAKING MARKETING WORK
As the expansion continues, Jay notes that it’s “absolutely vital you also find the right people to take your place and do just as good of a job as you have done in your first store, where you built your reputation.”
Jay has found employees through recommendations, which he has found to be much better than simply advertising for help.
While that advertising hasn’t been effective, one of the first lessons Jay learned is that marketing works.
“As a small business owner early on, you don’t want to spend money on advertising because you feel that it’s only for bigger corporations..., but there are always ways you can do marketing,” he explained. “It doesn’t mean you have to do a national television commercial.”
REPUTATION EARNS REWARDS
If he were starting over, Jay said he would adopt a clearer vision of the future of the business early in the development of the company. The store’s future, though, looks promising.
“It makes my family and I feel extremely delighted that people respond positively to what we’ve worked so hard to accomplish, especially when some of the most reputable shopping centers in the country call and say that they’d like for us to be in their center,” he explained. “We have been able to build a reputation in and around the industry, and continue to do so.”
Jay’s advice for others just starting out in the industry is this: “Work hard, be focused, and don’t give up.”