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January 2010 | Vol. IX - No. 1




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TDmonthly Retailer Spotlight: The Toy Shop of Concord

Historic Specialty Toy Store Embraces a Boutique Vision


“Schleich just put in a beautifully done displayer, and that business has gone up 40 percent.” David Hesel, Toy Shop of Concord
The Toy Shop of Concord in Concord, Mass., has a different feel than most other toy stores. It’s based on Owner David Hesel’s “shop within a shop” branding concept, which he counts as one of his biggest successes.

BOUTIQUES INCREASE SALES

“Manufacturers do not have a clue about branding product in their stores,” he told TDmonthly Magazine. “We are trying to brand sections. Corolle Dolls just did a boutique in my store as a test. It looks stunning, and it’s increased our Corolle business by 25 percent since they put it in in August. Schleich just put in a beautifully done displayer [Oct. 27], and that business has gone up 40 percent. … Sales changed immediately.”

Hesel believes the days of just throwing products on the shelf are over, and vendors don’t understand the concept.

“Quite frankly, with all the respect that I have for the other players in industry, the reps don’t understand it either,” he lamented. “When you ask them for collateral material, they don’t have any, and my response today is, ‘Then how do you expect me to sell your product to your customer?’ It’s not enough to put in on the shelf anymore.”

Calico Critters from International Playthings is one such line that requires strong presentation to help sell its many products. It’s not that the products don’t sell now, but Hesel believes the section “will work much better if it has a boutique feel.”

FROM VENDOR TO RETAILER

Before he took the plunge into retail, Hesel was involved in manufacturing as vice president of sales and marketing for Creative Playthings. He was living in Concord but spent much of his time traveling. His daughters were 3 and 5 at the time, and when he saw an opportunity to stay home, he took it.

“I decided that I’d rather own a business and be local than be on the road all the time,” he told TDmonthly.

He bought the Toy Shop of Concord in 1988, when it “very quietly” went on the market. The store, founded in 1942, had a well-established reputation. The purchase was financed by the bank and the prior owners.

“The challenge was to pay the debt down, and to make a family living and move the business forward to some level,” Hesel said. “The way I did the cash flow before I bought it was on a three-year plan, and I had to get to that new sales level for the whole thing to work. We did it, but it was kind of scary at the time.”

POS BRINGS POSITIVE CHANGE

After the purchase, Hesel immediately added a point-of-sale system to the store, which prompted some re-assortment.

“I love every product that I have here, but I’m not married to any of them,” he explained. “I can divorce the product as rapidly as it doesn’t move out of the store. We can’t have cache boutique product that doesn’t sell for us. I think 15 to 20 years ago, we could — wait all year long to sell one, and we don’t do that anymore.”

Even newer additions eventually call for updates, and Hesel has to guard against becoming lazy or complacent with the business.

“We’ve been here for 70 years, almost, and we’re an institution. So you have a tendency to get lazy. … I just changed my point-of-sale system this summer. I should have changed it 10 years ago,” he told TDmonthly. “Suddenly, now that we’ve changed, we’re getting much more information, and it’s much better for us in the long run. … [We’re able] to see instant trends in sales of products. While Bananagrams is very popular, we were able to sell 750 of them by responding to an upward sales trend.”

BUILDING CUSTOMER LOYALTY

One of the store’s successes involves switching customers. Hesel believes that specialty stores switch customers over from the mass market one at a time.

“When you switch a customer and change their shopping habits, you’d better know how to keep them, and that means being right with them all the time, even if you think they’re wrong,” he said. “It’s very hard to get their loyalty, and it’s really easy to lose their loyalty.”

According the Hesel, the Toy Shop of Concord earns and retains customer loyalty by:

1. Offering an intelligent selection of products
2. Offering the best possible customer service
3. Rewarding loyal customers with rebates
4. Follow the traditions of the store (over 67 years) of NOT following fads, e.g. Mattel's Barbie

See the store’s best sellers here.



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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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