Toysmith Retailer Spotlight: Tidepool Toys
January Retailer Spotlight! Learn about Toysmith partners and gain insight into the world of Toy Stores by the people who spread the joy of toys to kids everywhere.
This month’s interview showcase is Sandy and Lori Smyth, owners of Tidepool Toys and Kids’ Ketch in Delaware. Life’s a beach filled with play at Tidepool Toys!
How long have you owned Tidepool Toys and do you own any other stores?
We opened our first location of Tidepool Toys & Games on the Boardwalk in Bethany Beach, DE, in March 2011.
We opened our second location of Tidepool Toys & Games on Rt. 1 in Fenwick Island, DE, in March 2014.
We opened our third location of Tidepool Toys & Games at Viking Golf Amusements in Fenwick Island, DE, in March 2015.
We purchased Kids’ Ketch in Lewes, DE, in January 2019.
Are there major differences between each store and how do you adjust your strategy?
All of our stores carry the same brands of quality toys and games, but…
Our Tidepool Toys & Games store on the Bethany Boardwalk also has a wide selection of beach toys and kites as well as inflatables for the pool and ocean. It is located next to Bethany Beach Ocean Suites, a Marriott hotel, which has a pool on site. We host a lot of events in this store especially in the off-season in order to draw more customers. We sell a lot of outdoor items such as frisbees, boomerangs, and other “GO, Play!” games, because the beach is just steps outside our front door. Light-up toys are also popular for the beach and boardwalk at night.
Our Tidepool Toys & Games store on Rt. 1 in Fenwick Island offers free gift-wrapping and free parking all year which makes it an easy place to come and quickly pick up a birthday present or baby gift. Consequently, we sell more baby toys and educational items (like the 4M science kits) at this location. Because it is a larger store, we have more room for displays like the double Toy Tower and a bigger play area. It also has a large window to showcase some of the great toys we carry inside.
Our Tidepool Toys & Games store at Viking Golf Amusements is our smallest store and tends to have more novelty and lower price point items. Customers come to play mini-golf and ride the go-carts at this family-friendly amusement park, so most of our sales are impulse buys. We have both the Toy Tower and the Yay! Rack at this location. We even have an employee who dresses up as a Viking for pictures with customers!
Our Kids’ Ketch store in historic Lewes, DE, has been a local landmark for 30 years. Our goal in this store is to keep the same types of quality toys and children’s clothing that customers have loved through the years, while also adding some trendier items in the mix. Because of the demographics, we can offer some higher price point items in this store as well. Customers love the personal touch they are given through our helpful customer service and hands-on product demonstrations at this location. Free gift-wrapping is also offered and appreciated.
What do you love most about owning and managing a neighborhood toy store?
We love to see our customers and their families come back again and again! We like to get to know them by name and share in their special moments like birthdays, or getting a good report card, or becoming grandparents for the first time.
We love to share the best toys we can find with them, that not only are educational but also fun. We love to offer great customer service as well as hands-on product demonstrations, so the customer enjoys the experience of coming to our toy store and looks forward to their next visit.
Does seasonality affect your business since you’re on the beach? What are some differences/challenges with running a seasonal business compared to a more traditional toy store?
Seasonality is a factor that affects our business at the beach. Almost half of our annual sales are made from Memorial Day through Labor Day from tourists visiting our resort town. Therefore, we must devote time and resources to handle the heavy volume during this short time frame. It is important to be well-stocked and have extended business hours in the summer season, so we don’t miss sales. For instance, our Bethany Boardwalk store is open from 9 AM – 10 PM every day; so, we can serve the early beach-going family as well as the customer who is strolling on the Boardwalk at night looking for a fun game to play. In the summer we must dedicate a large amount of space to products such as beach toys, kites, and outdoor games, because the beach is just a few steps away from our store.
In the off-season, we see more of our local customers coming into the store and shopping for items such as birthday and baby gifts. During our “second season” leading into the holidays, we have lots of events and special sales to attract customers into our store, so it is easy for them to “shop local.”
What is the funniest in-store moment you’ve experienced?
One of the funniest moments was in our Bethany Boardwalk location. I was helping a customer when I noticed something unusual crawling on the floor. After taking a closer look, we realized that it was a very adventurous hermit crab that had escaped from the hermit crab cage next door where they sold hermit crabs. When I notified the owner of the store that we had something that belonged to him, he said that I could keep him. So, I took him home to my kids and named him “Lucky”. He spent the next 2 years as part of our family.
How do you keep informed on the latest trends in the toy market and what would you say are some of the biggest trends you’ve seen in the last year?
Each year, we like to attend the New York Toy Fair in February to see the latest toys and trends that are unveiled. In June, we attend the ASTRA Marketplace & Academy. Our own children attend the show with us to give us a good perspective on what kids will enjoy. We also believe our sales representatives have a wealth of knowledge to share with us. We couldn’t be as successful without them!
In the last year, the biggest trend that has continued for us is the tactile, creative compound category including putty, slime, dough, and kinetic sand. Customers fall in love with the feel and sight of these products when they test them in our store. Then, they want to take them home with them!
Also, retro toys have really made a comeback for us. Parents and grandparents love to find a memory of their childhood and share it with their children. We must always restock items like jacks, paddle ball, die-cast cars, and pick up sticks for this reason.
What is your most commonly asked customer question?
I would have to say the phrase “What do you recommend?” is the most commonly asked customer question in our toy store. It may be for a child’s particular age range, or for a child’s favorite type of activity. Sometimes the customer just wants to find something that is new and different. Toysmith has such a wide array of products that it is easy to find just the right item to recommend to the customer.
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?
Our most popular event is ASTRA’s Neighborhood Toy Store Day. In addition to spotlighting the “Best Toys For Kids”, we also give back to the community by offering a free magic show by our local Dickens Parlour Theatre. We kickoff our Toys for Tots Drive at this event by donating 20% of the day’s sales to Toys For Tots. Children are also encouraged to make cards to “Thank-a-Marine”, because it is near the Marine Corps birthday. We have lots of game demos, prize drawings, and even crown a PlasmaCar race champion. Our customers not only enjoy the excitement of the event, but they feel good about helping to make someone else happy during the holidays.
Other events we offer during the year include weekly story time with music, an animal demonstration by Barn Hill Nature Preserve, author book signings, and our annual Frozen event with Anna, Elsa, and Insta-snow!
Have you found effective local marketing tactics to drive traffic into your store and/or events?
Our local paper creates eye-catching ads to advertise sales or events in our store. We also use Facebook and send newsletters to our mailing list through Snap Retail. During the busy summer months in our resort town as well as the 4th quarter, we advertise on local tv channels. This past year we also became members of The Good Toy Group. Our customers loved the coupons we included in the promotion, and the kids loved to circle their favorite items in the catalog.
How long have you carried Toysmith products, and can you comment on the impact working with Toysmith has had on your business?
We have carried Toysmith products in our store since day 1, which is 9 years now. They offer great prices and play value. Their wide selection of items works well with the unique characteristics of each of our stores. Our sales representative works with us to keep our inventory well stocked and makes sure we have all the best sellers. I love the fact that Toysmith has so many fun toys that are reasonably priced. So, children can come in with their “vacation money” or “money they have earned” and pick out something special.
On a personal note, what is your all-time favorite toy?
My all-time favorite toy is the classic Lite-Brite. It was so exciting and beautiful to see the colors light-up after you finished pushing all the pegs in! Another all-time favorite is the Toysmith “Jacob’s Ladder”. I was always fascinated how the ribbons worked to create the optical illusion!