All Smiles

photo by The Scout Guide of Baton Rouge

Giggles celebrates its one-year anniversary.

by Jenn Bergin

 

Emily Guidroz always had an entrepreneurial bug but she wasn’t exactly sure what she wanted to pursue. She had her ‘aha’ moment after years of frustrating shopping experiences at big box stores with her daughter Grace, now 7.

“I knew I wanted to make gift giving easier and more fun for parents, while creating a place that sparks imagination and fuels creativity – in children of all ages,” Emily says. So she opened Giggles, “a specialty toy and treat store,” in Baton Rouge, Louisiana, last year. “We cater to babies, toddlers, tweens (and everyone in between) with a unique three-part focus on toys, candy and – what I call – ‘Pinterest-worthy’ party supplies.”

The 1,300 square-foot store carries more than 100 high-quality toy brands and features a candy wall with 30 different types of candy – including parents’ retro favorites. “I wanted Giggles to be an experience,” Emily says. And it is. A “candelier” made out of 15,000 molded, high-gloss acrylic gummy bears lights up the store.

Emily recalls, “A few days after we opened, a mom sent me a photo of a Giggles gift bag and said, ‘I bought my daughter a surprise from her favorite store!’ At that point the reality set in that I’m more than a store … I can truly inspire and have a lasting impact on children.”

We asked her how it all started, and here’s what she had to say.

Find a sweet spot

As the store approaches its one-year anniversary in August, Giggles has found its groove. Looking back on the year, Emily says that choosing the perfect location for the store was “paramount.”

Giggles was one of the first businesses to move into The Village at Willow Grove, part of a mixed-use neighborhood development in Louisiana’s state capitol. Located on the Mississippi River, The Settlement at Willow Grove blends residential areas with work places, retail businesses and a community atmosphere. “In a strip mall, you never know who your neighbor will be,” Emily explains. At Willow Grove, her neighbors include like-minded businesses such as a French bistro “with Louisiana spice” and Fresh Kitchen, a healthy quick eatery; a lifestyle boutique and a trendy clothing store; and a fitness center that offers classes in the latest trends like Barre workouts and cardio Pilates.

“Willow Grove is centrally located and near other shopping destinations, which makes it easy for our customers,” she adds. Houses and condos surround The Village, which features charming brick sidewalks, a 16-foot fountain, benches and trees. Giggles moved into the development’s second completed building – the third building will be done this year and includes a full-service spa and restaurant.

Ultimately, Emily did her research. “I knew there was a true need in our community for a store like mine, and even more important, in the location I wanted.”

Ask the experts

Once the store’s location was selected, Emily moved full speed ahead. “I had a few ideas in the back of my mind, but the concept really developed overnight,” she says. “We signed our lease before construction on the development began,” she recalls, “so I knew I had a year to flush out the business plan.”

A 2002 graduate of Louisiana State University, Emily had a solid business background with 13 years of marketing and communications experience. “I was proactive in getting support in the areas where I lack experience, such as merchandising and buying,” she says. “When I created my business plan, I purposefully filled in the gaps and identified a circle of friends, peers and business leaders who were experts in the areas where I needed further education and development.

“I researched the industry from top to bottom,” she adds. “I looked at successful toy stores across the country, talked with small business owners in our local market, joined ASTRA to network with peers, researched products and began writing a comprehensive business plan.”

Right away, Emily knew she wanted to diversify her product mix. “Instead of just offering toys, I added a selection of candy, including 24 self-serve candy dispensers on the wall, along with a selection of party supplies that targeted the Pinterest craze.”

In February 2015, she headed to Toy Fair in New York in preparation for the store’s summer grand opening. She had a blast buying at the show, and came back ready to stock the shelves. “We scouted products and placed orders to ship later that summer. And we met with local sales reps that live around Baton Rouge to begin talking about our inventory plans and product offerings.” A small business loan helped with startup costs including inventory and the store build-out.

Emily hired a local architect to help guide her early decisions on store design. “I had some solid ideas but needed validation and another layer of expertise,” she explains. “My architect was able to pull everything together.” As a member of ASTRA, she took advantage of its educational webinars. “I learned about store flow and moving customers through a shopping experience, from when they enter to when they checkout and leave,” she explains. “We have our products arranged by category – seasonal products, games/puzzles, arts and crafts, costumes/dress-up, baby, party goods, etc. We’re still working through to see if this is the best way to display our product.”

Most of the store’s fixtures are from Ikea. These are combined with custom solutions like a built-in shelving system that frames the windows for displays, and an adjustable shelving system in the back of the store that offers flexibility. Still, Emily keeps things simple. “The majority of our fixtures are white since our products keep everything so bright and colorful.”

Offer service with a smile

“Our customers are busy moms and dads who shop with us because of our service,” Emily says. Giggles’ staff of five employees, including a store manager, pride themselves on their product knowledge. In addition to specialty-store standards like free gift wrapping, Giggles offers shopping by appointment and call-ahead/Facebook ordering “for those days when you need a quick gift.” They even put together goodie bags for birthday parties, choosing party favors based on customers’ budgets, kids’ ages and party themes.

Sending a child off to summer camp? Giggles will customize a care package to send as a surprise. Confused about what to get a classmate for her birthday? Just checkGiggles birthday registry. If there’s a way to make gift-giving easier, this store’s got it covered.

Giggles also has a Creation Station for arts and crafts, story hour and other events throughout the year like canvas painting and gingerbread house decorating. Even the store’s website is service-oriented. It includes a blog that’s loaded with information like DIY projects, toy recalls, trends, sales/events, party-planning tips, community partnerships and classes.

Looking back on her first year in business, Emily says it was full of surprises – and some setbacks, like an unexpected and expensive renovation to the candy section due to regulatory guidelines.“When we opened, I had butterflies and a little bit of the ‘if you build it …will they come?’ mentality.’ The best surprise has been how the community really rallied around us.”

Emily was blown away by the number of people who came to the Giggles grand opening and have supported the store’s large-scale events throughout the year, like Neighborhood Toy Store Day, Small Business Saturday and sidewalk sales. Most of the store’s marketing has been word-of-mouth. “We focus on social media and special events,” she says. “Every day we have new customers who come in and say they heard about our store on the radio. That’s been a great way to generate awareness.”

Focus on the future – and fun

“I’m already thinking about future plans for our current location and how to continue to keep Giggles relevant, interesting and fun!” Emily says. She considered bringing in other products like specialty clothing, and has been approached about franchising and opening locations in other markets across the southeast. So far, she’s decided to stay close to her core concept. “I want to remain true to what I originally set out to do,” she explains. “And keep it fun!”

The fun is infectious at Giggles, and Emily’s daughter Grace is the store’s biggest fan. Naming the store Giggles was her suggestion “because we laugh a lot!” Emily says. Grace is definitely an expert toy tester – and maybe even a next-generation store owner? “She can’t wait until she’s old enough to go to market!”

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