“Shortly after I opened, an artist opened a studio/gift shop in a rented space, a computer guru bought a storefront … and a most wonderful tea house opened …” — Candace Gooch
Since September 2006, Candace Gooch has been working to ensure that her toy store, At Once All Agog in the Upper Limerick Village Historic District of Maine, lives up to its name.
“A little boy came in last summer, and with his hands on his hips, he said, ‘Now this is a toy store!’ It was a great feeling!” she told TDmonthly Magazine.
A few years ago when Candace’s employer decided to move locations, the wheels were set in motion for her strike out with something new — something different than her post as an office manager at an engineering firm.
“I had the ability to personally finance an endeavor,” she said. “I was turning 50 and it seemed to me the perfect time to start an adventure. The stars seemed to align for me.”
INSPIRING KIDS AND COMMUNITY
Candace researched several ideas and, when she went to Toy Fair 2006 in New York, was impressed by the myriad of toys that are not readily available in big-box stores.
“I was determined to open a specialty toy store and offer toys that spark children’s imaginations,” she said.
Besides wanting to inspire children, Candace also hoped to jump-start the area as well. Her store’s home was formerly a 1900s dry goods store.
“Several buildings in the district were vacant and needed repair, and I hoped that by investing in the district others would follow suit,” she explained. “Shortly after I opened, an artist opened a studio/gift shop in a rented space, a computer guru bought a storefront and opened his shop, and a most wonderful tea house opened for business just down the road from my shop.”
Visitors to At Once All Agog are allowed to touch and play with many of the toys that are offered.
“Many of my customers used to purchase toys from websites, and now they appreciate being able to get a real feel of the wonderful craftsmanship of these toys,” Candace told TDmonthly. (see best sellers here)
The store’s online presence is still important, though, since many of Candace’s customers visit Maine during the summer and would like to buy year-round. Consequently, she’s working on developing a shopping cart for her website.
One of her biggest mistakes was underestimating how much money she needed for advertising. A small business consultant advised her to double whatever she was planning to spend, but she has quadrupled it instead.
Her biggest obstacle, however, came in 2008 when oil went to $100 per barrel and sales dropped significantly — about 15 percent lower than in 2007 — on top of increased advertising expenditures.
“To add insult to injury … in Maine, we had three significant snowstorms on weekends in December,” she told TDmonthly. “I just had to absorb the losses and hope for a better spring. Business has picked up.”
But it didn't happen without a new plan.
"To increase my sales," explained Candace, "I expanded my hours by opening on Sundays from 11:00 to 4:00 this year. I am usually open on Sunday from Thanksgiving through Christmas, but I explained to my landlord I needed to continue that trend in order to pay the rent. At Once All Agog is a destination, and many families still take Sunday drives."