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Interview with a Toy Shop Employee: USA Edition

Interview with a Toy Shop Employee: USA Edition

Interview with a Toy Shop Employee: USA Edition

Get to know Heather, the vice president of Sir Troy’s Toy Kingdom, a successful chain of toy shops based in Ohio in the United States of America!

How did Sir Troy’s Toy Kingdom start?

Believe it or not, our stores started as a joke between Troy and I in 1999!

Reader’s Note: Troy is NOT my husband as many people believe, but instead my best friend from Junior High!

I've always helped with the stores but didn’t start "officially" working for STTK till 2016, after leaving the classic car auction industry.

We have four stores, three Sir Troy's Toy Kingdoms and one The Little Toy Store, along with two seasonal gift shops. Since 2020 we have been saying we're going to take a year off from opening any new stores… Last year I launched the second brand and a gift shop, and this year we've launched just one gift shop... so far!

Our biggest store is the largest specialty toy store in the US with over 30,000 sq. ft of space. When I gave COBI room for a display, they thought I did the conversion wrong and told me the space that I had allotted them was bigger than a living room!

Tell us a bit about yourself and your role in the business?

I'm married to the biggest kid I know, and we have a daughter who is grown and out of the house. We have a cat and a dog (he's in the logo for The Little Toy Store!). The dog rides my motorcycle with me and frequently hangs out at the smaller stores. 

The title on my business card is: "Director of Sh*t Troy Doesn't Want to Do” (It really is! I have one of the most coveted business cards at any trade show). Officially, I am the vice president of the company. I am the baby & toddler, arts & crafts, outdoor, books, games, doll, plush and misc. buyer for Sir Troy's Toy Kingdom.  

What is your favourite aspect of working in the toy industry?

My favourite thing in the industry is to bring people together. I've helped with bringing products to the US, finding distributors, rep groups, worked with brands on marketing, etc. I enjoy collaborating with other toy stores and some of my best friends are other toy store owners. 

My favourite thing in store - the customers! There are days I get stuck on the hamster wheel at my desk piled high with paperwork and to-do lists, but then I go in one of the stores, and I see the look of wonder when people walk through the doors or get to help someone discover something new, and I remember why I am lucky to have this job.

What is your favourite toy or range you currently stock?

I was trying to think what my favourite "thing" is in the store, but looking at my desk I guess it is fidget toys! If I am on the phone, I am usually playing with something at the same time.  

In that case, can you tell us some of your thoughts on the merits of fidget/sensory toys for kids and adults alike?

There are always fidget toys on my desk because I tinker with them while I am on the phone. I'm a HUGE multitasker, so sometimes it is hard for me to focus on just one thing.

I believe fidget toys create a repetitive movement that can be soothing, and they have a way of keeping the "back of the mind" occupied. As adults, we have a bit more control, but kids have a harder time focusing sometimes and redirecting some of their energy or thoughts into a movement can help them to focus better.

Every one of my keychains has a Fat Brain Simpl Dimpl on it. I'm really surprised my husband hasn't taken them all away from me yet! 

What are the most popular ranges for your stores right now?

LEGO is always the answer. We are a gold standard LEGO store, so we get the Ideas sets. 

We are also way up in plush and candy/soda! Kidults are a huge market here in the US.

We’ve been feeling the Japanese influence in A LOT of things from LEGO to models to plush to candy.

What is a range that you will always recommend to customers?

Toys can be expensive, so I encourage people and the kiddos to look at the items that they will get the most hours of play out of for their money. How many times will the LEGO set be rebuilt into something new? How many hours of imaginative play will that Barbie doll be pulled out for? Some items get used once and then left in a toy box because the novelty is gone. I guess it's hard not to always come back to the classics.

What was your favourite toy or play time activity growing up?

I have always been a bit of a tomboy, or maybe I was just a well-rounded child! I loved to be outside riding my bicycle, but if I wasn't then I was inside playing with my Matchbox cars, train set, or Barbie dolls.

You mentioned a daughter, what was her favourite toy growing up?

I'm not sure she's quite grown up! Ha! Jessica is 33 and I still get her things from the toy store for her birthday and Christmas. As a child I remember her always doing crafts, still to this day she is very creative. We also had a lot of family/friend game nights when she was in her teens. She has become a pretty serious tabletop gamer herself and often competes in trading card games. 

How do you engage with your inner child?

Well, I am still out there on my bicycle and these days my motorcycle too. My love of the outdoors has never stopped, and I still love to explore. Two weeks ago, I was rappelling down waterfalls and on night hikes looking for frogs and bugs in Costa Rica.   

Oh, and well of course, I get to play with toys for a living! Two days ago, I was at a board game conference demoing new games to buy for the stores.

What has been your most memorable day with Sir Troy’s?

Oh - this is a tie for good and bad:

Good: Opening our second store in 2020, in the height of the pandemic felt like a bit of a gamble to say the least. After weeks of logistics issues, stocking issues, health department issues, etc. we were set to open. There's always that thought: "What if no one shows up?". I arrived an hour before staff, just to make sure everything was perfect. Staff started arriving an hour before opening and at the same time I noticed a little girl and her mom outside. I peeked my head out to speak with them and tell them that we didn't open for another hour. They told me that they were there early to be the first in line. I still get a bit misty eyed thinking about it. The line stretched around the building for three hours that day, just to get inside.  

Bad: Three weeks before Christmas 2021 I called the store to check on something and my daughter told me there was a roof leak at our main location. I told her that sometimes happened in that room and to put a trash can under it. She told me the trash can was full and they couldn't keep up with emptying it. I could hear the panic in her voice. I immediately diverted where I was going, picked up Troy, and headed directly to the store. 

By the time we arrived there was water flowing out the front door of our 9,000 sq. ft location and employees were shovelling it out the backdoor. We had a waterfall coming down in our event space… Luckily, our staff had moved quickly and mitigated the damage. We ended up with less than $2,500 in damaged product but had to be closed for over a week in the prime Christmas season while the building dried out. 

What advice would you give to those looking to work in the toy industry? 

I think just like any industry it is about getting your foot in the door. Be willing to start out in a learning position and do just that, learn, learn and learn some more. Find that niche where you'd like to be and set your goals. 

In the US I don't feel like there are enough young people in the industry to grow into the roles that are opening up as the older generations retire. I've mentored several younger individuals and had the pleasure of watching them grow from sales or administrative/marketing to now national speciality marketing managers.


Have you noticed any big differences between the UK and US toy markets after interacting with Grasshopper Toys?

For me what stands out the most is how little difference there is! Granted, at STTK we do focus more on imagination powered toys than some of our counterparts. We also steer away from battery operated toys and video games. Therefore about 80% of our stores are European based toys. We carry LEGO, Schleich, Playmobil, Brio, Ravensburger, Purple Cow, etc. just like Grasshopper Toys!

What’s something that’s on your mind lately regarding toys and play?

We are overthinking play. We're overly focused on the need for there to be a STEM or STEAM focus and a learning experience to every game or toy. The skills and problem solving that come from general open play are SO important! Things like learning to lose at a board game and do so graciously, while being happy for the winner, or building a tower without instructions and figuring out how to make it stay upright.

The toy industry is struggling worldwide; how do you keep going strong?

We give people something to smile about! Our stores are about having fun, no matter what your age. For some it is a trip down memory lane, as we carry classic toys like Etch-a-sketch, Lincoln Logs and balsa wood planes that they haven't seen since their childhood. For the younger generations it may be LEGO or everyone's favourite Bluey!

We are forever hunting for new items and things that people can find only in our stores.

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