INDIE PROFILE: Bus Stop Toy Shop - ToyNews

INDIE PROFILE: Bus Stop Toy Shop

On the west coast of Scotland stands a bus stop like no other. Here, kids and gamers across the seaside town of Largs gather to try the latest toys and games. Robert Hutchins talks to owner Duncan Conner.
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Can you tell us about your store and what is your background?

Eight years ago, I saw a small, non-descript building up for sale at the edge of the town centre here in Largs.
At the time I was managing a customer contact centre, but realised I didn’t want to spend the rest of my life behind a desk.

My parents were grocers and I’d grown up around retail businesses, so I thought: ‘why not?’ The town didn’t have a toy shop, so it was a natural choice. We have grown from there and have become a unique blend of toy store, hobby store and event location.

What events do you run?

There’s always something going on. We run events in-store seven days a week and there’s a real sense of community about the place.

We all know our regular customers by name and they often spend hours here. They’re often better salespeople for the business than I am, and there’s always someone on hand giving new customers advice or teaching them to play new games.

It’s an exceptionally welcoming environment and I am immensely proud of that. Rule number one is that everyone gets to play.

What toys do you stock, and what is selling well for you right now?

Skylanders is still our number one toy. I am delighted to see plans for game four unfolding for later in the year.
Meccano always does well and Nanoblocks have given the shelves a new lease of life.

In pocket money, Magic Box’s Zomlings are leading the way at the moment. In hobbies, Magic: The Gathering currently leads the way. They are incredibly clever at driving new customers into their stockists and giving them reasons to come back every week.

Wizards of the Coast, who make Magic: The Gathering, is obviously part of Hasbro, but there’s a great deal that mainstream toy manufacturers could learn from them in how to attract and retain customers.

How is your store split between the different ranges you hold?

It’s a fairly even mix across them all. In pre-school we tend to stock classic toys. Manhattan Toys has been a
strong performer for years and nowadays Marbel is supplying us with some fantastic stuff that works well alongside it.

We have big ranges of primary school age toys, from construction to arts and crafts to the trend stuff and everything inbetween.

Nearly half our floor space is now taken up by gaming tables for the hobby side of the business and being able to offer gamers space to play their hobbies is what brings them back time and again.

What else do you offer?

We have recently added vintage comics to the collectables side of the business, and that has gone better than I could ever have imagined. It appeals to existing regular customers and brings a whole new drove of comic fans into the store.

What’s your location like, and what’s the local competition?

Largs is a small seaside town and brings with it a good summer tourist trade. We are just outside of the centre, but our unique blend of products means people come to find us.

A couple of years ago, a Toymaster store opened within the town centre, which was obviously unwelcome. But in hindsight, all it did was speed up the diversification of the business, and our turnover is now higher than when they arrived.

How do you engage with your local community?

We run clubs and events every day and every evening. These cover trading card games such as Magic: The Gathering, Yu-Gi-Oh, Pokémon, Cardfight and Vanguard; wargaming such as Warhammer and others; roleplaying games and board games.

We have recently taken a small step into video game tournaments too by launching a weekly Pokémon Video Game tournament.

What is having the biggest impact on your business at the moment?

The continued rise and rise of trading card games in general. The challenge is often where to fit people for tournaments and we are finding ourselves hiring outside venues for the larger events.

What’s next for you and your store over the next 12 months?

I have got so many ideas, it’s hard to know where to start. We are tentatively looking at publishing our own games, so that’s probably next.

We are also getting towards a position where we could open a second store. I am not sure if I could bear not being ‘at the coal face’ all the time though.

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