TALKING SHOP: Cuthberts Toys

Like many new toy outlets, the first Cuthberts Toys store in St Albans was born out of the fall of Woolworths. Three stores later and business is going well. Lewis Tyler talks to co-owner Kirit Patel
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How did Cuthberts Toys get started?

We opened the St Albans store in September 2009. After living there for 20 years, we realised there was nowhere kids could go to spend their pocket money.

Woolworths had closed earlier on in the year, so we looked around and found a relatively central retail unit that offered us the size and the footfall we thought we’d need for a toy outlet.

That’s why it started really. There wasn’t any specific reason for toys – it was just that everything else in the town was relatively well catered for and kids seemed to be missing out.

Children do seem to be missing out in a lot of UK town centres...

I think children get taken out shopping with their parents and they are offered a relatively low level of shopping experience.

They might see a range of toys in the supermarket while food shopping, but it’s not what I’d call a full toy shopping experience that’s unique for the children. They need a retail experience that suits them. Not just kids too, parents – they used to shop in independent toy stores and they still want that experience now.

So how do you fulfil that need?

Well when we started we got a clean sheet of paper and asked: ‘what would you want to see from a child’s or mother’s point of view?’

Our primary customers are parents with kids. They tend to be mothers with pushchairs or buggies, so the experience was designed around a wide, open shopping experience – clean, crisp and well-lit.

We like offering a good view of the toys, but not cluttered or stacked high. We’d rather have less in terms of the range of toys, but one that is much more easier to see, pick up, engage and play with.

In all of our stores we have a play table, so there’s something kids can play with and not have to buy anything – that’s important.

How did you go from one to three stores? It’s fair to say expansion has been quite rapid...

We opened in Letchworth in October 2010 and we’ve just opened in Hatfield in June 2012.

I think what’s helped is the current retail environment. There’s retail space available and landlords are willing to negotiate an offer on leases that weren’t around maybe three or five years ago, so we’ve used that as an opportunity. Secondly, we’ve benefitted from

having a second store, which gives us better buying opportunities and the third store obviously adds to that.

Another reason we’ve done well is because the towns we’ve picked have had a requirement for a toy offering, and have good footfall. They’ve got strong family environments so there are kids around.

We’ve also positioned them so we can use staff across all the stores, and that’s been key.

What do you look for in a toy shop worker?

More than anything it’s their presentation. Obviously they need to be friendly – they need to have a polite, outgoing manner.

A lot of it is about understanding what’s in the stock room, what needs to be bought out, what needs to be merchandised and how to work on the tills accurately. An all rounder.

You can’t always rely on natural footfall – how do you get more people into your stores?

We use social media fairly well, in terms of Twitter and Facebook. We do Foursquare check-in promotions and we also use Pinterest too.

We can promote the stores, new ranges and talk about the staff – so we can drive interest in something quirky or product or staff related.

When people are physically passing the stores, shop windows are probably the most important drivers. When people walk past looking at a nice, clean, interesting window, that will then drive them into the store.

What has Cuthberts got planned for the future? 

We want to focus on the three stores and make

them better. And we want to better understand the dynamics of toy retailing, so that we have a proven system where what we buy sells well and we’re making a good margin.

We’re quite successful online – we’ve got a website, we’re a pro seller on Amazon and we do all the fulfilment for that at our store in Letchworth. We have a large warehouse at the back of the store where we’ve got a pick, pack and ship facility. About 25 per cent of our trade is online.

We’re happy with everything at the moment, but perhaps in the New Year we’ll take a look where it’s taken us.

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