December 2nd – Specialty Retailer Holiday Countdown, Day 2
I had a great meeting earlier this week with Bears, Buddies and Toys in Huntington Beach. It was great because the owner of the store, Linda, is a savvy business person with some spot on insights to the struggles that independent retailers are facing these days. And great because she is facing them head on and surviving.
Bears, Buddies and Toys is a concept that several independent business owners developed for individually owned stores with the same overall feel, business plan, and merchandise. The Huntington Beach location is the only store that remains open. The space is giant and houses a huge pirate ship in the center of it, a castle’s dining room to the side, a stylized library with some great hand chosen books, a baby nursery with high-end dolls as well as a selection of other babies to love. It is decorated to the hilt with fantastical and whimsical creations designed specifically for the store. The idea is that people can book birthday parties for girls or boys at the store, which provides staff, costumes, goodie bags, activities and other event coordination as well as the venue. The birthday child can register at the store and parents are welcome can browse the toys, gifts, apparel and accessories while their little dumpling parties in the pirate ship or castle. The selection the store carries on a regular basis, makes it way more than a party venue, though. It really is a neighbor toy store / children’s specialty store. And to that end, the owner actively participates in neighborhood events, supporting schools, children’s sports teams and more.
Given the fact that the store is located catty-corner to a Target and down the street from a Kohl’s, it is understandable that the owner was a little sensitive to the Black Friday deals offered by mass retailers and the media attention they were getting from local papers. Solution? Linda called the Orange County Register and told them they needed to feature the local neighborhood independents – that they are the one’s that give back to their communities and they are the ones who are hurting because they can’t afford to offer 65% off like some retailers. The result? A nice little article on the front page of the paper’s business section about American Express’s Small Business Saturday with some great quotes from Linda, herself. Love it!
One of my favorite items in the store is actually an item I used to carry at the book stores and I have not seen it anywhere else since. Turns out the little cottage industry that started with a great concept is now distributing their product to one of the bigger specialty toy companies – International Playthings now carries the Peek-a-boo Bags. Simple in design, these little fabric bags have a clear window on the front so that kids can see the stuff sewn inside. By manipulating the filling, they can discover objects which they are seeking – a great, great travel toy, or something to pull out of your purse at a restaurant. The bag comes in a girl style, boy style, or neutral ABC (with 1 item that starts with each letter of the alphabet!)