by Tina Manzer
Troy Cefaratti just opened his second toy store; his second 9,000-square-foot toy store. They’re both in Ohio – the original in North Canton and the new
one in Medina. But who expands during a pandemic? When you’re a successful merchant like Troy is and you’ve been searching for the right space for years, you have to do it despite the challenges. “We signed the lease on September 2, received the keys on September 24 and opened our doors on November 1,” reports Heather Marks, Sir Troy’s marketing director. Here she explains how they pulled it off.
How was the grand opening?
Here’s a good story: a little girl and her mom were standing outside the store at 10:45 a.m. When we told them we didn’t open until noon, they said they were standing in line. Sure enough, within 15 minutes, a line formed that quickly wrapped around the building. With more people joining in, the line remained that long for the first two hours of our celebration. We could only safely accommodate 60 people at one time in the store, and everyone patiently waited to be cycled in.
Why was November 2020 the right time to open a second store?
It was the right property in the right area. Plus it gave us the ability to open up for the majority of the fourth quarter. We had been looking for space for three years! Many folks from Medina made the hour-long trek to North Canton on a regular basis. So we crunched a bunch of boring numbers and looked at demographics, which confirmed we were a good fit.
Pier one moved out on September 23 and we started moving in the next day.
Our team and our reps were totally amazing. Barb White from Specialty Marketing Group, Marcia Harris from Faber-Castell/Creativity for Kids, David Siegel from Total Toys and Bill Benda, the national account manager from Schleich, all made sure their brands arrived before our grand opening. Every one of them came in to set up their brands! What other industry steps up like that?
What challenges did you face?
Hiring in the current market is challenging anyway. Now try it as a brand-new business hoping to recruit qualified individuals who want to join your team. Then run them through evaluations and interviews to find out if they’re fun. Yup, fun – it’s a requirement of working at a toy store. We did find some amazing individuals and are proud to have them on our team.
There were problems with shipping and inventory. I don’t have to expound on this, everyone gets it. Also, we were sad that we couldn’t have play tables in the store or host crafts or events.
The biggest challenge came right after we signed the lease. It was totally unexpected. One of our major brand/strategic partners cancelled its flagship program for the remainder of the year because they didn’t want their staff travelling to set up the stores. We had already allocated floor space for their fixtures and our order was ready to place. Phone calls, emails and an appeal letter later, they granted our flagship status.
Both our communities have been very supportive during this crazy time. We pivoted quickly during the shutdown in March to do FaceTime/Zoom shopping, email orders, more FaceTime Lives. Our e-commerce site was up within two weeks. We have phenomenal neighbors at our North Canton store – while our doors had to remain locked, Pizza BOGO in our plaza allowed our customers to pick up their packages there.
Staff who worked during the shutdown walked, on average, 6 to 8 miles through the store each day helping customers and filling orders.
How important to the success of the business is social media?
Word of mouth has always been the lifeblood of small independent businesses. Today, it’s amplified by social media. During our shutdown, we went from making two to three posts a week to two to three posts a day. Since reopening, the amount has settled somewhere in the middle.
A part-time staff member is dedicated to handling all of our marketing, brand management, social media and events. We recruited her from her job marketing and managing classic car auctions, so it was a move from big-kid toys to little-kid toys.
Any predictions for toy retail during the holidays?
We are going to see smart shoppers out earlier than ever. They know there will be shortages of more items than in the past, plus shipping delays and supply-chain issues. When they see something they like, they will not come back for it later. It may not be there. We’ve been selling Christmas-themed games since November 1.
We anticipate a strong return to quality imagination-powered toys. With their kids learning from home, parents are struggling with the large amount of screen time they’re getting. Kids used to come home from school and unwind by playing on the computer or with video games, but now they are at computers all day. Families are seeking a new balance.
Troy Cefarrati loves to create and build with LEGOs. His first store was online, and sold his leftover bricks, but his first physical store opened in North Canton in 2009. Sir Troy’s moved to the much larger, 9,000-square-foot space in 2015, and has become famous for its wide array of LEGO kits and full-line offerings from Playmobil, Breyer and Schleich.
“Sir Troy’s specializes in quality, imagination-powered toys for kids of all ages. It carries the brands kids love, and parents and grandparents trust,” says Marketing Director Heather Marks.
It doesn’t sell video games and most electronics, and instead offers trains, models, rockets, puzzles, card games, dolls and STEM kits. “Sir Troy’s does not chase fads, because they usually fade away before the gift is even unwrapped,” Heather adds. “Instead it focuses on quality toys that withstand the test of time and stand out as quality favorites.”