Blue Orange Games is lucky to partner with a fantastic bunch of retailers who are passionate about their businesses and supportive of our games. We want to do more to recognize the stores and individuals that make our mission possible. That’s how our new monthly spotlight on an outstanding Blue Orange Games retailer came about!
Adventure Toys in beautiful Los Altos is one of the stand out stores that make up our supportive network of local Bay Area toy stores. Charmingly Situated on tree lined Main Street next to a mix of other small business, Adventure Toys has been providing personalized customer service and a unique selection of playthings since 1986.
Our regional sales manager, Xavier nominated Adventure Toys for our first Store of the Month of 2014 for their strong community values and commitment to promoting our games. The store owner, Leslie always calls us when she organizes an event, and since it’s just a hop, skip and a jump down the freeway, we always are happy to join!
I had a great conversation with Leslie, who gave me some interesting insight on what it takes to run a toy store, gender issues in toys, and the importance of knowing your customers and market.
Leslie’s coming to own a Toy Store doesn’t seem unusual, taking into consideration her professional background. She had worked in retail since her college days (when she also studied retail business), completing a manager’s training course at Macy’s corporate and then going on to work for Niemen Marcus in women’s ready to wear. She was with American Express when her son was born, but decided to leave the corporate world to spend more time with her baby. When he was entering 1st grade, Leslie’s mother found a listing for a toy store business coincidentally being sold by a mother and daughter team. Leslie and her mom took over the store in 1999, and it has been going strong ever since, although her mom isn’t involved any more. It’s easy to see how the store has prospered, as Leslie’s motivated personality and business savvy was very apparent in our conversation. She works well over the standard 40 hours a week, and chooses to personally handle all aspects of her business from payroll, to marketing and buying. She told me that she enjoys having more control and could never go back to working in the corporate environment. I asked her what advice she would give to someone who wanted to open a toy store and she replied cautiously that it would depend on the person’s background and business knowledge. It’s not all fun and games, owning a toy store. Leslie is well acquainted with the complexities of owning a small business, especially retail, in which margins are low and staff turnover can be high. That’s her biggest challenge, she told me, maintaining high quality store associates. She has found success employing bubbly and competent high school and college students, as well as local moms who want to work part time.
But it’s clear that Leslie is passionate about her chosen path and her community. She is very involved in the Los Altos merchants’ organization, and has even served on the board. The group is always organizing events for the community that help local merchants boost their business, such as Halloween trick or treating, Easter egg hunts, and holiday strolls. Every year on the Sunday after Thanksgiving, the organization puts on a Festival of Lights inspired by the Disney Land spectacle to entertain local families and of course, Adventure Toys always has a float.
I tried to get her to divulge what was the most interesting or unusual thing to happen at her store, hoping she would tell me about the time Mark Zuckerburg strolled in looking for the latest Lego set or the like. Being in the heart of Silicon Valley and a neighbor to Stanford University, Adventure Toys sees it’s “fair amount of famous people,” Leslie admitted, but she insisted that she and her staff don’t treat them any different. Everyone that walks in receives the same amount of attentive and personalized service to ensure that they find that special gift and leave with a positive lasting impression. Adventure Toy’s strong customer service orientation and curation of unique and high quality products gives the shop a boutique feel that the discerning customers of Los Altos appreciate.
Leslie seems to have mastered the art of knowing your customer and market. Because her store is located in an affluent area where a considerable percentage of the population has advanced university degrees, she has noticed that certain items, such as games are particularly popular, so she makes it a point to stock a large selection of the best brands. Leslie explained that a lot of the parents in her area are very concerned with the amount of their kids’ digital interaction and time spent with screens, and they look to games as a way to help instill important values and skills in their kids. Jigsaw puzzles are another popular option for family time, especially the “family puzzles” category that has big and little pieces, allowing young and old to play. Leslie is wary of buying into fads too much and told me that despite their continued popularity, she foresees the burning out of the Rainbow Loom craze and doesn’t want to stock them anymore. Instead she focuses on offer what she knows works, such as games, puzzles, craft kits and science sets…notice a theme?
At the mention of science sets, I brought up a breakout star of 2013, GoldieBlox, and asked her how she felt about the construction toys made to inspire STEM interest in young girls. Debbie Sterling, the young woman who invented GoldieBlox is a Stanford grad and the incredible amount of local press she received in the early days made the sets sell like hot cakes at Adventure Toys.
“Some people argue that by using girly colors and typically female themes, GoldieBlox perpetuates gender roles, rather than going against them which the company claims to do,” I said, wanting to know Leslie’s take on the issue.
“As a toy store owner, I’ve noticed that no matter what you do, there are gender differences. Little girls, I don’t care what you put in front of them, they are still attracted to pink. Debbie did her market research…I don’t have any criticisms at all. She was still trying to get the engineering principals in there,” Leslie replied. In her opinion, Debbie is successful in the goal of GoldieBlox. The pink and “girly” presentation just makes it easier for girls to get it in their hands. As Leslie explained to me, you just have to have the right teacher presenting something properly for a child to latch onto something or explore a particular skill. Not everything has to be gender neutral. “We are the type of store that when a little boy goes to a doll stroller or a girl toy we encourage the parents. It helps the boys learn to nurture.” I was impressed with her approach. With over a decade’s experience in the business, Leslie comes across as someone customers can really trust to help them choose toys that are not only fun but add value to children’s lives. She makes it a point to be knowledgeable about her products and customers’ needs, and certainly has never turned down a staff training session with Blue Orange!
The whole team at Blue Orange Games would like to thank Leslie and the entire team at Adventure Toys for believing in our games and for fostering a warm, open-door relationship over all these years. Congrats!