Wwith a bright green car used for make free deliveries up to an hour away or to get to local fairs where it settles, Maggie Tibbenham To has become a staple of the local community, while its toy store has become a central feature of the village center of Holmfirth. Here, Selfridges’ commercial director turned toy store owner talks about the joy of reopening, her strategy for the future, and why being seen is the most important part of running a local business.
The reopening of our store, Imagine Toy Shop, was really great. Since the reopening of non-essential retail businesses on April 12, it’s absolutely amazing, more than I expected. I was a little worried about how it was going to be, I had ordered a lot of products for the reopening, just to really show people to us, thinking all the time ‘I’m taking a risk here’. How busy is he going to be? But at the opening, I didn’t stop.
The first Saturday of opening, I did not have time to have a drink, for the toilets, I could not eat. It was better than Christmas. Mind you, I’m a village toy store, and in the whole area I’m the only one. But people were lining up in the street. It was really overwhelming.
Seeing the faces of the children running around was fantastic. In pre-pandemic life, logically, you would have parents who might tell you “don’t spend that money, save on something else” or “you don’t have to spend that much if you don’t want to.” But now they just say “yes” to everything. And it’s not just pocket money, these kids have saved up and are allowed to spend a lot, and no one is stopping them! The least of all, me.
I just hope it stays. I’m worried. My concern is that if people start to feel brave enough to travel after their shots in June, July, August, they will start to move away from their premises again.
“My local delivery service made me faster than Amazon; I jump in the car and I’m there. And the locals are realizing, “My God, she does a better service than Amazon. “
The problem with people is that they forget. When you are in a situation, you pay attention. But when that passes, you fall back into old habits. I’m not pessimistic about it, so hopefully this new post-containment mindset will stick.
I even found new customers thanks to the confinement, some admitting to having lived in the village all their lives, and barely discovering the store. But I have worked hard to market the store throughout this pandemic. I did Click and Collect for the local area, and made it a fairly large local area. I even went to Leeds with free delivery which is an hour’s drive away.
I also have a shopping app. Yes, a shopping app. It’s a brilliant thing, and I was one of the first to start using it. It’s on the Wix platform and is called Spaces. You can use the platform to build your own app for your store. I started this at the start of the first lockdown and it worked amazingly well.
Meanwhile, my local delivery service made me faster than Amazon; I jump in the car and I’m there. And the locals are realizing that “my God, she does a better service than Amazon.” I see a fairly large group of new customers from this.
It makes sense for me to continue with and develop the online platform. I will always be online and will continue to deliver. I want to be multi-channel and I don’t want my customers to forget that I am. People prefer to walk into the store and browse, and they missed being able to do that. I have such a huge assortment that the store is packed, so they’ll always find something in the store that they can’t find online.
Imagine Toy Shop is now 18 years old. I bought it two years ago and changed it a lot. I really stepped up the social media aspect and started trading online. I get involved in local events such as fairs. I pack my car – which is crazy green so everyone knows it’s me – and I go to different places and do all the fairs. I think you should – if you have slower weeks – do whatever you can. Sometimes, instead of waiting for your customers, you have to go get them.
I guess it all stems from my previous career as a sales manager at Selfridges for Harvey Nicholls. After having my son and a few years off work to raise him, I saw the opportunity to take over this toy store. I loved the place and wanted to improve it, and it happened. This is history on the move.
“I think you should – if you have slower weeks – do whatever you can. Sometimes, instead of waiting for your customers, you have to go get them.
Attending these fairs will now be one of my top priorities for the summer. It’s good publicity for me and it boosts business, while being a lot of fun. It works well because even though I have a quiet time, I know I have something reserved.
The only problem I have to mention right now is getting the product. Brexit, Covid, and toy manufacturing locations – whether in China or Europe – both cause headaches to get the product on time. I have to research what’s trendy and popular, and – take the summer months, for example – when the kids are off, you have to have the popular products. Let’s say it’s Push Poppers. I ordered a few boxes and didn’t go crazy, but you see I should have ordered more. Previously I could just order more and they would be in the store in a week or ten days. But it just doesn’t work that way at the moment, which is very frustrating.
I’m sorry to mention Brexit, but it turns out to be a headache to get a product.
Then again, I’m saying running a toy store isn’t always about selling and making money. It’s about being there. I encourage children with all kinds of activities. I love to be creative, so I’m all about “Imagine Make Something,” “Imagine Invite…” “Imagine Goes…” Imagine does this and that, so I stay very involved with the local projects going on here, as I feel that this is my role as a toy store.
My next step is to make sure customers know this; knowing where I am, whether I am online as well as in-store, because it is extremely important that you are seen.