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September 2007 | Vol. VI - No. 9




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Retailer Spotlight: Toys in the Attic

Unexpected Moves Lead to Success


Lynn Robillard knew from 16 years of running a custom jewelry store in Manchester, Vt., that in retail, it’s crucial to “always to look for quality, and to have unique things that you don’t find everywhere else,” she told TDmonthly Magazine. Adding a specialty toy store in 2005 introduced some retail lessons of its own.

It was the prodding of the owner of Jelly Mill business complex, where her Jewel of the Mill shop was located, that convinced Lynn she could succeed in this new venture. Another toy store had closed, she explained, and the complex owner didn’t want to lose that market.

LIMITATIONS DAMPEN SPIRITS

Challenges came quickly, however, with the landlord’s imposition of non-compete limitations involving about 30 product lines, because a nearby baby-boutique owner he knew dabbled in toys. Although Lynn protested, the Jelly Mill’s owner would not relent.

Having already secured financing through a loan and her own money, Lynn went ahead with the store. At Toy Fair in February 2005, she discovered great products and learned how fun it can be to order toys, but her landlord’s restrictions made things difficult.

“I was very disappointed [and] stressed,” she said.

FIRST YEAR BRINGS TRIALS

The fourth-floor “attic” location also presented obstacles. The stairs discouraged foot traffic, and customers were uncomfortable in the summer heat and winter chill.

Less than a year after her store opened, the Jelly Mill closed down, forcing Lynn to a new location as she reassured customers that she had not liquidated, as her neighboring merchants had. Although she didn’t make a profit in her first year of business, she later learned that she had already begun to make a name for herself.

BRINGING BUSINESS DOWN … AND UP

At Lynn’s new basement location, her jewelry store and toy store share a single space, and her anchor business has flipped to toys. She credits Toys in the Attic‘s product variety for her success, as she can now freely sell puzzles and games, the latter of which has been “very strong,” she told TDmonthly.

Wall space also works more effectively. At the Jelly Mill, Lynn had only shelving units hanging from the eaves of the garret of an old barn. But now, thanks to her background in interior decorating, brightened shelving units and buttercup yellow walls lighten things up, making the space kid friendly and fun. She also has a special area to encourage kids to sit and read books.

Although she has less traffic at her new location, “my average sale is higher than in the Jelly Mill,” Lynn said. She attributes this to convenience: There are only a few steps to enter and leave the store, so customers can more easily transport sizeable purchases.

STILL ON THE MOVE?

Despite the lower location, Lynn has resisted renaming her store so as not to confuse current customers. And, she may relocate the growing business to a larger space and separate the two stores once again, she said.

“Every time you move it’s like starting a business all over again,” Lynn admitted, but she looks forward to a space closer to the public road and would like to have the toys upstairs again — perhaps on a second floor or in a raised gallery area.

ON-SCREEN MARKETING DRAWS CUSTOMERS

Lynn spends about $500 a month on television advertising, which she has recently expanded from strictly Bennington County to nearby Rutland County. The results are well worth it, she said, as people have begun finding Toys of the Attic and Jewel of the Mill again.

She’s found that television ads provide the most return for her advertising dollar, but she also does additional promotion, including a display ad in the local Yellow Pages, which she doesn’t think works very well, and newspaper insert flyers for occasions such as Columbus Day weekend.

Lynn’s advice to soon-to-be toy-store owners? “Research product lines first, before starting the business,” she said.

See where Lynn’s research has brought her by checking out My Best Sellers: Toys in the Attic.



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Christine LebednikWriter's Bio: A professional writer/editor since 1984, Christine has spent much of her career in business and technical writing/editing. Her technical communications expertise is complemented by work developing curriculum materials for both print and on-line use in personnel training, and by work as both a software applications trainer and a writing skills tutor/one-on-one instructor. Read more articles by this author

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