With a bright green car used to make free deliveries as far as an hour away or to travel to local fairs where she sets up shop, Maggie Tibbenham has become a fixture of the local community, while her toy shop has become a central part of the Holmfirth village centre. Here, the Selfridges business manager-turned toy shop owner talks to us about the joy of reopening, her strategy for what comes next and why being seen is the most important part of running a local business
The reopening of our shop, Imagine Toy Shop, has really been brilliant. Since the reopening of non-essential retail on April 12th, it has been absolutely incredible, more than I ever expected. I was a bit worried over how it was going to be, I had ordered loads of products for the reopening, just to really show ourselves off to people, all the time thinking ‘I am taking a risk here. How busy is it going to be?’ But come opening, I did not stop.
The first Saturday of opening, I didn’t have time for a drink, for the loo, I couldn’t eat. It was better than at Christmas time. Mind you, I am a village toy shop and, of the whole area, I am the only one. But people were queuing down the street. It was seriously overwhelming.
Seeing the faces of children running in was fantastic. In pre-pandemic life, logically you would have parents saying maybe ‘don’t spend that money, save up for something else’ or ‘you don’t have to spend that much if you don’t want to’. But now they are just saying ‘yes’ to everything. And it’s not just pocket money, these children have been saving and are being allowed to spend loads, and no one is stopping them! Least of all, me.
I just hope it is going to stay. I am worried. My worry is that if people start feeling brave enough to travel after their vaccines in June, July, August, they will start going away from their local again.
“My local delivery service has made me faster than Amazon; I just jump in the car and I am there. And local people realise, ‘my goodness, she does better service than Amazon.’”
The problem with people is that they forget. When you are in a situation, you are mindful. But when it passes, you fall back into old ways. I’m not being pessimistic about it, so hopefully this new post-lockdown mindset remains.
I have even found new customers through lockdown, some confessing that they have lived in the village their whole life, and only just discovered the shop. But I have worked hard at marketing the shop throughout this pandemic. I have been doing Click and Collect for the local area, and I have made that quite a large local area. I’ve even been to Leeds with free delivery, which is an hour 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 create your own app for your shop. I started this at the start of the first lockdown and it has worked incredibly well.
Meanwhile, my local delivery service has made me faster than Amazon; I just jump in the car and I am there. And local people realise, ‘my goodness, she does better service than Amazon.’ I am seeing quite a large group of new customers from that.
It makes sense to me to continue with the online platform and build that up. I will still be online and I will still deliver. I want to be multi-channel and I don’t want my customers to forget that I am. People do prefer to come into the shop and browse, and they have missed being able to do that. I have such a massive assortment, the shop is packed, so they will always find something in store that they won’t online.
Imagine Toy Shop is now 18 years old. I bought it two years ago and have changed it a lot. I have really ramped up the social media aspect, and started the online trading. I get involved in local events such as fairs. I pack my car – which is crazy green so everyone knows it’s me – and go to different places and do all the fairs. I feel you need to – if you have weeks that are slower – do whatever you can do. Sometimes instead of waiting for your customers, you have to go out and get them.
I suppose that all stems from my previous career as a business 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 on this toy shop. I adored the place and wanted to make it better, and it happened. It is history in the making.
“I feel you need to – if you have weeks that are slower – do whatever you can do. Sometimes instead of waiting for your customers, you have to go out and get them.”
Attending these fairs will now be a big focus of mine for the summer. It’s a great bit of advertising for me and it boosts business, as well as being great fun. It works well because even if I have a quiet period, I know I have something booked.
The only problem I do have to mention right now, is getting product. Brexit, Covid, and where toys are manufactured – whether it’s China or Europe – are both causing headaches in getting product on time. I have to look for what’s trendy and popular, and – take the summer months, for example – when kids are off, you need to have the popular products. Let’s say it’s Push Poppers. I ordered a few boxes and didn’t go mad, but you see I should have ordered more. I used to be able to just order more and they’d be in the shop within a week or ten days. But it’s just not working like that at the moment, which is very frustrating.
I’m sorry to mention Brexit, but it is proving to be a headache for getting product.
Then again, I do say that running a toy shop isn’t always about selling and making money. It’s about being there. I encourage kids with all sorts of activities. I enjoy being creative, so I am all about ‘Imagine Make Something’, ‘Imagine Invites…’ ‘Imagine Goes…’ Imagine does this and that, so I keep myself very involved in the local projects going on around here, as I feel that it my role as a toy shop.
My next step is to make sure that customers know this; know where I am, that I am online as well as in store, because it is extremely important that you are seen.