TALKING SHOP: The Toy Station

The Richmond independent celebrated its 15th year in business in October - we talk to co-owner Karen Khatchik about how the High Street has changed over the years, top selling toys and Brad and Angelina's visit...
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How have you stayed in business for 15 years – what’s the secret of your success?
A lot of hard work – you can’t have limited hours here. Sometimes we’re here until two in the morning. We just do everything ourselves, we try not to bring anybody in.
Sometimes it’s incredibly hard to pick the right lines that will attract the most people. You try to get those crowd pullers and hope that people come back again because they bought that great thing from you. The secret to success is good service and this is something we pride ourselves on with every customer who walks in.

What are your best performers?
Well at the moment it’s all pocket money things. What you hope for is that the kids will notice the shop because they got that special 50 pence thing that everyone wanted.
Moshi Monsters is the thing at the moment. The foil packs are popular and so are the trading cards; they are a huge craze at the moment and bring in a huge amount of customers.

What else does well?
Travis Designs dress-up. They are dress up clothes but they are made in the UK and designed like a normal outfit, so it gives a lot of wear.
Lego Minifigures have also been popular. Lego as a whole is the must have – everybody wants it. If people can’t think of anything else to buy, they end up having Lego.
Apart from that, scooters. We stock Micro Scooters, which are quality ones made from metal, rather than the plastic ones. Scooters have ups and downs, though – there are some times when you sell a lot of them and then some times you don’t sell them for weeks.
Arts and crafts do well, because it’s a gift in a box.
The best range is the Creativity for Kids by Faber Castell – the box usually has a lot of product in it, whereas some things have a lot of box and not a lot of content.

What preparations are you making for Christmas?
We decorate the shop window with really animated things and the toys that we think people will like.
We have a moving Father Christmas and a jazzy, delightful looking window that we think will be appealing to children. We’re also doing a Victorian evening raffle. There used to be a Victorian evening in Richmond, it’s disappeared over the years but they’re bringing it back this year.
Last year the five shops on our street did an Eton Street traders Christmas event. Every Thursday in November and December we offered a ten per cent discount, gave away sweets and small gifts to the children. Everyone who purchases something gets a free raffle ticket.

What’s your philosophy on customer service?
When they come in and want to enquire about something in particular we give them in-depth details about the product and we research everything beforehand.
Most people usually want to know why one toy is better than its competitor, so we give them a consultation. If they ask, we’ll even take the product out of the packaging to show how it works. They will usually go away and think about it and they usually come back and buy it, we pride ourselves on our customer service and try to make the decision easier for customers.

How has this year been for you?
This year’s been a tough one. I think it’s been tougher than other years.
You always hope that children will need toys, but the internet does kill the High Street. A lot of people will come in here and say ‘Oh, we’ll look at it online.’ Some people tell us that they’ve ordered something online and been let down in some way.
As a retailer, what would you say has changed the most since you started 15 years ago?
The internet definitely. People are happier to sit at home and look at things online rather than going out to the shop. Plus there’s free delivery, so that doesn’t really help things.
But from a child’s point of view you can’t beat going to the toy shop.
Kids are delighted when they come in here, because we are packed with toys – maybe too packed, we only have 700 square-foot, but we’ve always done it like that and I think that’s what people like about the shop, the amount of things in it.

How much competition is there in Richmond?
Lots, within walking distance. Richmond is quite small too – it only takes two minutes to get from one end to the other.
There are five which stock toys – there’s one other toy shop and the others are clothes shops that stock toys. They do a lot of lines and they’ve expanded.

What are the trading conditions like in Richmond?
The High Street used to be better here, but a lot of people have gone away from it, because the rents are extremely high in Richmond. It was a destination town about ten years ago but lots of the shops people used to go to, like HMV, have all gone. Things that kids like to congregate around are not here either.

I’ve heard that you have some celebrity customers. What were Brad and Angelina like when they came to the shop?
They were just like anybody else. The children were great fun, we were chatting with them, they were showing them different things and they were just delighted. They just let the children look at everything, but they didn’t over indulge at all. They preferred small, fun things with immediate entertainment.



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