T4Toys left the High Street in January due to high business rates and low footfall. We interviewed owner Kristine Judge to find out what happened and how her main supplier Marbel is helping her find a new home.
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How did you get started?
When I was in Paris I used to work in schools. I came back to England in 2003 and wanted to set up a nursery school, but realised this would take too long because of the bureaucracy and paper work involved.
I wondered, what would be the next best thing to do? How could I work in the educational sector but at the same time be able to meet people? I thought ‘well, I love toys – what about a toy shop?’
Most of the toys you see are plastic, licensed toys and I thought I could do something different by using my passion for eco-friendly toys which children can learn with.

When did you open your shop? What was the response?
In September 2008. It was very exciting and everybody in town was very excited, it was very good – it was the best decision ever.
Although it was a little town a lot of people turned up to welcome the business, including local councillors. The customers were very positive. Some people would come in and say: ‘Oh my goodness, how exciting to see a shop full of wooden toys’, which is something they had not seen in the area for a long time. Many responded to the colours and layout of the shop. People would say: ‘Thank you for doing this in our town.’
The local newspaper even did an article – it was a brilliant time.

How long was business good – did it start well?
Yes, at the start it was great and business was very, very healthy. But then, about one year after we moved in, the recession started.

So how long was it before you considered closing?

I thought about it probably about six months before we actually did. When we first moved to London Road there were a lot of shops around that complemented what we were doing. We had a baby shop, there was a children’s shoe shop and there was also a play café. These were good businesses that helped us by bringing families into town.
Unfortunately these firms started closing and then people were saying: ‘There’s nothing in town.’
When the footfall dropped I started talking to my main suppliers – after looking at the sales together we both thought we needed to get more footfall. That’s when we started talking about the possibility of moving the shop to a new area.

Was footfall in the High Street down, or were less families visiting?
When there were these other businesses around, families could come here and get lots of things done. If there’s only one shop which caters to families it’s not enough.
We started to feel out of place. People who’d never been in the shop would say: ‘What are you doing here?’

In what way did things change to make you feel so out of place?
Well people would say to me ‘We haven’t got any quality shops left apart from you.’ You need quality shops to attract more quality.
All of a sudden we had a 99p shop open, we had a Poundstretcher and a bargain book shop. So now there are only these, charity shops and mobile phone shops, which we have a lot of. In just six months everything changed.

Was the decision to close more due to feeling out of place, or financial?
It was a mixture of both. We wanted to stay longer for the community. We wanted to keep it going but at the end of the day you are running a business to make profit. If the community uses the service instead of going somewhere else then the businesses will stay.
But being out of place is a big thing – if you have the right businesses around you people will visit the area, because they can buy their birthday presents and whatever else while doing their shopping. If certain areas aren’t catered for then they will just go to the supermarket and do everything in one go.

So what now?

We really want to keep the business so we tried to negotiate a consignment with Marbel and our suppliers and they have agreed to that.
We’re looking at a number of new locations with Marbel and we’ve been down to the south coast.

So Marbel are helping? How does that arrangement work?
We work closely with them and I told them about what was going on. They came down to help improve the shop. We both suggested some areas and we looked at them together.
There are a lot of things we’re putting into consideration. The first is the size of premises, then the footfall in the area, there’s also the location – what kind of people live there? Marbel has helped assess these things.

Do you have a date in mind or are you still looking around?
We’re considering all the possibilities and then we will move. We hope the website will help us keep some of the customers we got at the shop, but at the moment it’s an interim solution.


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