Playing it simple keeps toy shop on the go
What’s the most distinctive thing about your business?
We specialise in educational toys, books and arts and crafts materials so a lot of thought goes into choosing the products. That’s a huge part of my job, stocking what I think we should be selling and going out of my way to get the right things.
The main toy fair is in Nuremburg in Germany and you can’t miss it. You really have to put the work in and go around the whole fair to find things that are different. I always look for innovative things that are high quality, something more than the normal toy that you might get just 20 minutes of play from.
What would be the best piece of business advice you ever got?
That would all have come from my father – things I picked up from him from a very young age, watching how he dealt with people. Advice would be not buying beyond your means and not getting into debt. That’s one reason he was never keen to open up other branches. He wanted to keep one business running well and not get carried away. I’d be the same.
What’s the biggest mistake you made in business?
Lots and lots of little mistakes, but thankfully no big ones so far. It’s quite a difficult thing to listen to customers, which you have to do, but then sometimes you can be led astray and end up stocking things that you really shouldn’t – things that are easily available elsewhere but that are not different or unique. We’ve such a small space here; there is only so much you can do.
Any major successes to date?
It’s probably playing my part is seeing the business through to its 50th year this year. I’ve been very fortunate to take on a well-established business but as we all know, if a business isn’t looked after, it can go down hill very quickly. That’s my success I suppose.
Who do you most admire in business?
Anyone who takes pride in their work, knows their business and runs it well. In retailing, someone like Fergal Quinn stands out, in particular for maintaining his customer focus.
When you go into a shop and someone is enthusiastic and passionate, you can see it straight away.
Are the banks open for business to SMEs at the moment?
They are if you’re doing well, but otherwise I don’t think so. Newer businesses or those in a little bit of financial difficulty are finding it difficult. I’ve had no problems, but I haven’t needed to borrow money.
What advice would you give to the Government to stimulate the economy?
It’s an extremely difficult job that they have to do. I think they are getting a fair bit right, like listening to people and trying to deal with the bank debt, but it’s hard work. I think maintaining a positive outlook will play a major part in getting us out of this.
What has been your biggest challenge in business so far?
There is an ongoing challenge to constantly improve things. For most small businesses, trying to do the day-to-day stuff well takes a huge amount of time; finding time for other things is always very hard.
Like a lot of businesses, we did well during the good years. There has been a drop in sales but luckily we are coming from a high level. We did have to rethink things, but over a year or two, we got back on track again and things are fine thankfully.
What is the short-term future of your business?
I’d be very positive about it. You’re always trying to make the shop more customer-friendly. Improving the shop layout and the website is on the agenda for next year. Christmas is our busiest time of year and I think it will go well. Things are difficult for people, but thankfully people do spend on children, even when times are tough.
How much is your business worth and would you sell it?
I don’t know what it’s worth because we’ve never really considered selling. I’ve plenty of challenges left to achieve still so until I do that, I wouldn’t consider selling.
In conversation with Joanne Hunt