Toysmith Retailer Spotlight: Wonder Works
August Retailer Spotlight! Get to know Toysmith partners and gain insight into the world of Toy Stores by the people who spread the joy of toys to kids everywhere.
Our interview showcase is Christine Osborne, owner and co-founder of Wonder Works, in Charleston, South Carolina. An active member of her community, Toysmith is excited for Christine to share her vision of Wonder Works with us.
How long have you been a toy retailer, and what brought you to the industry?
I have been in the toy industry for 29 years. I have a degree in Occupational Therapy, and prior to Wonder Works I worked in hospitals for 10 years. I had a major passion for science and hands-on play. While working in a private psych hospital, I met my late business partner, Dan Morrisey, whose passion was telescopes. Dan helped bring astronomy to life for the customers of Wonder Works until he lost his battle with cancer in 2007.
Do you have more than one store and does your strategy change by location?
Yes! We have four stores throughout the Charleston area. Two are tourist stores, and two are in more residential areas of our community.
For the tourist stores, our strategy includes:
- Keeping the hottest seasonal, summer, and trendy items in-stock during their busiest season
- Local gifts which add the “Charleston Vibe” to the customers’ in-store experience
- Hands-on play experiences with the newest and staple quality specialty items
- The friendliest ambassadors of the city to staff the store
The community stores are larger and focus on the above, but also offer:
- More in-store experiences including a Melissa & Doug PlayZone
- More categories of specialty toys and more variety in each category
- Expansion of top gifts in the nation
- Energetic, friendly staff who are play experts, can multitask, and continually go above and beyond for customers
Your store has been recognized with many local/community awards. What do you think has made a major impact on your success?
- We don’t ever say “No”
- We take risks
- We constantly improve our events, year after year
- Most important: we truly HAVE FUN! When you have fun, the customer has fun!
What has been your weirdest moment as a toy store owner?
Serendipity occurs often in my life. I have realized the universe provides us with what we need when we need it. When my partner passed, a child with Down Syndrome asked me to carry his pottery, and the reason I had pursued a degree in OT was due to my love working at a summer camp for children with Down Syndrome. The act of carrying his pottery led to the establishment of a Local Gift Section in our store, which led to American Express featuring Wonder Works as Small Business of the Year. You cannot plan things of importance; you just go with it when it happens.
How do you keep informed on the latest trends in the toy market?
- Listening to customers, particularly in the tourist stores, that come from all over the world.
- Reading, reading, reading and networking globally with vendors and retailers.
- Working with vendors and reps to better their business. Extremely important to actively provide feedback to vendors and reps about their lines and products and new ideas to grow those lines.
Do you run special events and/or programs in your store, and if so, which ones do you feel have been successful in providing a positive experience that makes people want to return?
- Yes, we do. We host a HUGE, FREE community event each year called Elfstravaganza. It pulls in an average of 8000 people from the community. Partnerships with landlords, other tenants, the city, vendors, and community nonprofits are HUGE for making this happen.
- On a smaller scale, you cannot beat the character visits to the stores. These provide immediate lines out the door. We now have them wrap around the building and create experiential stations while they wait.
What is the most commonly asked customer question and what is your response?
Always the question regarding advice finding THE PERFECT gift for a specific aged child. Also, “Is this your store?” Customers seem surprised that I work on the floor and excited that I take time with them. Time is the most precious thing we each have; sharing of your time and knowledge of a toy and important play patterns makes the customer feel like a HERO.
Have you found effective local marketing tactics to drive traffic into your store and/or events?
- Our customer base is GOLD. Our Loyalty and Birthday Programs provide continual customer engagement.
- Social media: weekly email blasts, Instagram content, etc., provide daily updates to our customer families.
- Partnerships with charities through donations and event inclusion.
- Local media for coverage of events and expert advice on toys/play.
How long have you carried Toysmith products, and can you comment on the impact working with Toysmith has had on your business.
All 29 years of our business we have carried Toysmith. Novelty is Wonder Works number one category, due partially to the success of Toysmith’s brilliant Dump Bin Program. They are quick to set up and sell themselves. Toysmith’s generous dating programs are easy to work with. Toysmith remains our #1 vendor in profit for Wonder Works. Toysmith’s inclusion of other vendors widens offerings for our store and frequent reorders. A recent visit from Toysmith’s new CEO, Michael Keaton, to all 4 of my stores provided me with reassurance of Toysmith’s dedication to specialty.
On a personal note, what is your all-time favorite toy?
A small tool box with real tools in it that were 2 scales small than the regular size. My parents gave this to me when I was 5 or 6 years old. Each tool has suddenly started to reappear in my life recently. I do not ask why. Life is what it is….MAGICAL! EMBRACE IT!
You can find Wonder Works online here!