by Jenn Bergin
In 2003, Stacy Smith, a former interior designer, opened an eclectic gift boutique in Marietta, Georgia, one of Atlanta’s largest suburbs. She filled it to the brim with “wit and whimsy” and named the store Doodlebugz, after the pet she had in college. Stacy traveled to tradeshows and markets across the country in search of new artists and unique products to offer her customers who, she quickly realized, were looking for more than just gifts.
“When we first opened, I noticed that most of our customers were pushing baby strollers,” Stacy explains, “so I added a small baby section in the back corner. It started as one shelf and grew and grew.”
But Stacy never intended for her gift boutique to have a children’s section, and she didn’t want to give up any more space in the 2,000-square-foot store. “So to meet the demand I decided to open a toy store, too!” In 2008, she opened Lizards & Lollipopz, also in Marietta, and says the 2,000-square-foot store is “the perfect place for kids of all ages to indulge.”
“We started out carrying primarily retro and wooden toys. Soon we added a huge selection of children’s clothing.” Her niece came up with the store’s name, which reflects its appeal to both boys and girls. “Over time, we’ve evolved from a simple toy store to a complete kids’ boutique.”
One hip Square
Marietta is about 30 minutes outside of downtown Atlanta, but its small town feel is far from the pulse of the big city. The quaint and picturesque area with a dramatic mountain backdrop is a popular “city getaway,” rich in arts and culture, and Civil War history and heritage. The Marietta Trolley offers daily tours past grand Antebellum homes, Civil War battlefields, and museums like the Gone with the Wind-themed Scarlett on the Square.
Lizards & Lollipopz is located in Marietta Square, a historic town center and park that attracts visitors and locals alike. “Our customers are a mix of locals and tourists; some on day trips from Atlanta with friends, and some visiting from other states,” Stacy says. “There’s a constant change of people, which I love. We’re always meeting new people and hearing their stories.”
Dozens of retail shops and restaurants surround the Square, plus multiple art galleries, theatres and museums; and public buildings and workspaces. Business picks up in March, when the seasons start to change,” Stacy says. “But the weather’s been warmer than normal, so it’s been a great year so far.”
Marietta is the type of place where everyone knows each other, she adds. And everyone in town knows Lizards & Lollipopz’s store manager, Lynn. Originally from Tacoma, Washington, “Mrs. Lynn” (as she is known by the toy store’s customers) relocated to Marietta to be closer to her young granddaughters. She quickly bonded with kids in the community, and became a “star” in the small town with leading roles in local theater productions like “Driving Miss Daisy.”
“Lynn loves the kids and they love her back,” Stacy says. “Customers bring in their dogs to visit her, bring her cookies, or just drop by to say hello to Mrs. Lynn and give her hugs. She makes our store stand out.”
Lizards & Lollipopz is a “fun and very visual store,” Stacy says. “Pops of our signature colors – bright red, royal blue and white – are everywhere you look. Kids push around pint-sized shopping carts and fill them with their favorite toys. We showcase our whimsy in all the details – our customized bags feature a cartoon lizard holding a lollipop. And we tie a real lollipop on the gift bag to complete the fun!”
Product is displayed on repurposed furniture such as bookshelves, homemade pipe furniture and upcycled finds. There’s not a slat or peg board in sight. “We have fixtures that I found on the street, picked up at flea markets, some Ikea finds, even stuff I had in college,” Stacy says. “A good coat of paint works wonders!
“I love to take a piece of furniture and add casters to the bottom so I can easily change up the store at a moment’s notice,” she adds. “I get bored easily, so I’m always changing something.”
When she’s working on her displays, Stacy uses a little metal cart to collect items to merchandise as she strolls around the store. “Customers will sift through my cart all day long and buy things off it,” she says. “There’s such an interesting psychology behind the movement of products around a space. They are the same items that have been displayed elsewhere, but when they’re just thrown on my silver cart in no particular order, people love to ponder them.”
Taking on Toy Fair
Stacy never adds a toy to her product mix just because it’s “hot.” She prefers wood or recycled toys over plastic, doesn’t carry licensed items, and focuses on classic and retro toys. “If I enjoyed it during my childhood, then I know there’s a market for it in the store,” she explains. “While some of our product choices haven’t sold as well as hoped, most of our selections are good because we stay true to ourselves – we only buy what we love.”
She just returned from Toy Fair and has a method for dealing with the madness. “Before I left, I pulled reports from the companies I knew I would reorder from, and went through them on the airplane to determine what to reorder and what needs to go on sale,” she explains. “I packed my shipment calendar so I could write down all of my orders and ship dates. The calendar is so important because it keeps me organized.”
Each year, she walks the entire Javits Center before placing a single order. “That way I can see everything, compare prices and make better buying decisions.
“I make a detailed list of the items I’m interested in by row, then go back and make my decision right then on whether to buy or slash it off my list. I do all of my buying before I leave New York because I don’t have time when I get back to work. Plus, I like to get the show specials – especially freight specials because they help my bottom line so much!”
From running two stores to running around Toy Fair, Stacy keeps pretty busy. Her biggest challenge is staying focused, she says. “I tend to start a million different projects rather than complete one, so I have to use a notebook to plan out my days!”