Head of Marketing. A Scientist.

If you are reading this, I must have got your attention somehow which is impressive. Everyone is trying to get our attention these days. That is part of marketing. It is a necessary evil. It is how businesses let you know that they exist and of community events going on. It is also overwhelming and exhausting. I simply want to hear music on the radio, to see what my friends are up to on social media, and watch my TV without constant interruptions.

Now that we have a small business, one of my primary duties is marketing. No worse of a person to do it then someone that 1) hates marketing and 2) is a scientist. Let’s talk about #2.

Scientists are not known for our marketing. Case and point:

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That doesn’t get me excited or make me want to read it. It is a very standard journal article title. Here are two of mine: Managing and preserving the University of Alaska Museum’s rapidly growing Genomic Resources Collection. And Using the online collection management system Arctos to manage the University of Alaska Museum’s rapidly growing archive of cryopreserved genomic resources. Needless to say, I haven’t had people beating down my door over those.

However, media outlets take meh and make it hip, so you want to actually read it. So that mid-Cretaceous embryonic-to-neonate snake in Amber? Much bigger deal than the above title suggests.

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OR

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My goal this year is that I need to break out of my science marketing shell. To report more than merely the facts. Add some excitement and pizzaz, spark your curiosity, do something to get your attention, something to entice you to come to check us out.

We carry a broad range of stimulating and engaging toys.

So I went to a marketing talk by Mammoth Marketing put on by Fairbanks Economic Development Corporation for some ideas. They encouraged us to be surprising, twist your message a bit, and have courage.

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I hope you follow along as I learn how to market and where to market. I have a feeling some things will be a flop and other advertisements, you’ll all be like “wow.” Perhaps one day I’ll be a legend like the Tip Top Chevrolet ads.

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Giving Thanks

I often find myself reflecting on the year as it winds down. This year, I feel overwhelming gratitude. We welcomed two new members into our family – Nova (pound puppy) and Nolan (son). We started a new venture – The Toy Quest. We’ve learned, stretched, and falling a few times this year but we always had friends, family, and our community there rooting for us.

A big thank you to everyone that has supported us this year! We appreciate every one of you! From our family, friends, customers, sales rep, employees, and advertising team advisors. THANK YOU!

I also want to give a shout out to a few other local businesses that I love and help make Fairbanks the vibrant and unique city I love. Small business help give Fairbanks that unique flair. I know that a lot of love and long hours go into making them successful, and I appreciate it!

If Only A Fine Store, Lane’s Quickie Tacos, Fireweed Baby, Sipping Streams, Little Owl Cafe, Happy Heart Massage and Postpartum Care, The Plant Kingdom Greenhouse & Nursery, Cold Spot Feeds, Goldstream Sports, Co-Op Market, The Woodway, Metropolitan GarageIn My Element

I know sure I forgot a few so feel free to drop your favorite local business(es) in the comments!

 

What do you get by shopping local and small year round?

I’m very onboard the Shop Small & Local Movement. Perhaps that is because I grew up the daughter of business owners, that I’m currently a small business owner, or that I personally know a lot of the small business owners in town. However, if you are not in one of those three camps – you may wonder what is in it for you beyond being trendy? I’ve compiled several, hopefully, persuading arguments for stepping away from your Amazon shopping cart and heading to one of your small, local businesses.

  1. Investing in your community. When we first started in Jan., my husband quickly realized that we get almost a request weekly for donations or sponsorship. While we cannot support every community event or organization, we try!  This year, we’ve sponsored a youth basketball team, donated raffle items to the Barnette PTA, we are always behind the library reading program, we’ve given to the Ronald McDonald House, Lighthouse Christian School, Alaska Firefighters (husband was a firefighter in his previous life), Pioneer Home, Boys and Girls Club, 4-H, Tanana Valley Fair, Run for the Refuge, and Santa’s Helpers. That is what I can think of off the top of my head!?!?! You support us and we invest it back into our community.
  2. Support your neighbors. If you shop local year around, you’ll get to know us along with the other small business owners. I bet you’ve never met the owners of Freddies or Wal Mart. You too can get to know your local business owners by shopping small and local. We are a hard-working, community loving group of people.
  3. Local owners buy local services themselves. We buy our gas, our groceries, our heating fuel, repair our vehicles, go to the dentist, etc. in Fairbanks. Money spent locally most often stays local (unless I get to go on a vacation! woot!).
  4. Greater Access to Product Diversity! We have access to a lot of vendors that the box stores do not. A lot of the products we carry are not available on Amazon or in big box stores (part of the purchasing agreement). Granted, it goes both ways with some stuff not available to us little guys. Of course some overlap. But really, we got a lot of diversity and things you may not know that you need! Invisible ink? Sticky poo? A unicorn slap bracelet? Two Brothers bow?
  5. Supporting Fairbanksan Unique Identity and Character! I know people talk about how’d they’d love a Target in Fairbanks but you can find Target everywhere (well, except currently Fairbanks). Boring. Imagine living in a place with nothing but box stores and strip malls. Bleck. The Toy Quest is only in Fairbanks. Right by the Farmer’s Market that is loaded with local goodies. Across from the Woodway that sells amazing woodstoves (I know I have one in my house, see #3). Long day at the toy store, calls for some Little Owl coffee from next door. Newest love has been Just the Tips Cafe up the road. Those are places you won’t see anywhere else but here. Longtime love, If Only a fine store downtown. Fairbanks is Fairbanks because of its people and amazing small businesses.
  6. I borrowed this directly from a “10 reasons to shop locally”: You’ll get amazing toys. Walk into a toy superstore, and you’ll find aisles of pink and blue plastic that’ll end up at Goodwill by spring. Instead, at an independent toy store, you’ll find toys that will spark kids’ imaginations, help them learn and be a lot of fun. Locate one at the American Specialty Retail Store Association website: http://www.astratoy.org/find-a-store.asp.  YES!!! We have carefully curated the toys we are bringing to you versus a blanket order for our 500 stores.Screen Shot 2018-12-07 at 1.01.01 PM
  7. You Matter More. This was also swiped from another site. “We talk a lot about exerting influence with your purchasing choices, or “voting with your wallet.” It’s a fact that businesses respond to their customers but your values and desires are much more influential to your local community business than the large big box stores.” Another yes! Wal Mart, Freddies, and McDonald’s won’t notice if you stop shopping with them. Every person that walks in our door matters. No matter if you don’t spend a dime because we hope you will tell your friends and perhaps they’ll spend a dime. We are striving daily to improve your experience and our customer service because we want you to have a good time when you are with us.
  8. Access to Experts or Bring in Yours. Earlier this year, Shane came home with two new games that we got for the toy store. As he plopped them on the counter, he announced, “It is my job to know how to play these.” Okay, we loved a good game before we bought a toy store but we take it even more seriously now (the toy business is serious business). We know toys. Even better, you can bring in your toy expert to see what gets them excited. It is much more fun than showing them pictures online. Children and toy stores are magical.
  9. It is really fun! Yes, you may come in as a screaming child is being carried out of the store but that is because they were having FUN at the store on the play tables. You’ll see adults get excited about toys that had as kids OR wish they had as kids. You’ll hear pop-guns going off, see remote control cars zipping around, or someone rocking out on a roll-up drum.
  10. It’s good for your health! Should I talk about the dangers of sitting and spending too much time on a screen? Or focus on the benefits of walking around and socializing with real humans?
  11. It feels good. You are helping out local people who need your patronage. You are supporting your community. This made me chuckle and may be too much of a stretch but “Small-business owners are the embodiment of the American Dream; supporting  them makes you part of the dream, and that’s a good thing.”
  12. More services! We have to offer something that online and box stores cannot offer. We try our hardest to be competitive when it comes to price and inventory but that isn’t enough sometimes. Some of our extra services, we offer free gift wrapping, free layaway, accepts home-school purchase orders, has a frequent buyer card, and coming this spring – Birthday Registry!

Okay, I’m running out of steam so we are stopping at 12 very convincing reasons why you should shop local and small year round! Have I convinced you yet that quirky, local businesses like ours are worth your time? I hope I have and I hope to see you out and about at one of our amazing Fairbanksan businesses!!

 

Is there room for brick and mortar toy stores in the digital age?

I have to admit that sometimes I panic and think “what did we just do?!?!?!” in regards to my husband quitting his job and us purchasing The Toy Quest from my parents. I wonder what is our future especially since it is so simple to pop onto Amazon in your PJs and do all of your shopping. Granted, we won’t judge if you pop in here in your PJs – just saying. But honestly, is there room for brick and mortar toy stores in the digital age? Is the Shop Local Movement enough and will it continue?

I stumbled across this article as I was looking for blog fodder that claims that

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Toys “R” Us closing was a boon for us since we got a bunch of their shelving. Woohoo, granted it was a lot of work.

The quotes from the other small toy store owners in this article rang very true – either in what we do or what we want to do in the near future. For example, not going with the very trendy toys but have the classics like wooden trains, whoopie cushions, and jacks. We have the silly stuff that you may miss on Amazon like Emoji sticky poo.

 

A lot of times, we may not be cheaper than online behemoths or box store giants, but we are trying oh so hard to be competitive even if we won’t be able to always have the lower price. However, we offer a lot of things that online and big chain stores don’t provide. You can come in, ask about the product, touch the product, and maybe discover something better/different than what you were thinking of.

We are trying to create a warm and family friendly place where you can relax. In fact, I highly recommend grabbing a cup of coffee from Little Owl next door at the Artisan Courtyard then coming to let your kids play on our play tables while you relax.

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We’ve been thinking of events similar to the book signing we had in August.

 

We offer free gift wrapping that makes getting to birthday parties a breeze, and we will be creating a birthday box registry this spring to make it even breezier!

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We aren’t in it to become filthy rich (though that would be awesome). Our goals are to help Fairbanks keep its small-town feel with along with all the other fantastic local businesses, we want kids to have the magical experience and memories of their local toy store, we want to help parents play with their kids and watch as they develop into amazing human beings, and want to have fun doing it. I’m exhausted at just thinking of everything we want to do. And perhaps one day, my anxiety of being a small business owner will subside.

 

 

 

 

Toys help bring us together.

I lay in bed this morning, trying to catch a few zzzs while Shane took the morning shift with our 5-month-old son. I could hear his high pitched shriek followed by endless giggles. As much as I desperately wanted sleep, I couldn’t get enough of how delighted he was to be playing with daddy. As much as daddy would love to sleep in past 4:30 a.m. he also admits that he loves his special morning time when it is just the two of them.

For me, this is what toys are about. Time spent together whether it is playing a board game with family and friends, having tea parties with my nieces as they prepare me a pizza with lettuce, or reading my son his wordless crinkly book. Toys are a prop to help children learn and explore their environment, and who better to go exploring with than you! The American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) published some guidlines on picking out the best toys for you kiddos – something those in the toy business have known for awhile. The best toys don’t have to be costly or extravagant or trendy. As the AAP states “A toy’s most important attribute is its capacity to bring the parent or caregiver and the child together in playful interactions that are warm and full of rich language, supporting the parent-child relationship and the child’s social-emotional and cognitive-language development.”

Play isn’t frivilous, there is a lot of learning going on. Stuffed animals, play food, dolls, and cars help children imitate and practice real-life. Motor skills and problem-solving are developed with blocks, puzzles, and trains. Crayons, clay, and musical instruments build creativity. Expand your child’s language through reading and board games. Bow and arrows, sleds, balls, push toys, balance boards, and hula hoops get kids moving. You don’t always have to get them something you think they’d like; if you get them something you like – they’ll love playing with it with you.

My Christmas wish is not to sell out the entire store (though that would be grand), it is that everyone slows down a bit and plays together. And it doesn’t have to be at 4 a.m.

 

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Grandma and Nolan playing together at Mother Moose at the Noel Wein Library.

 

A new business and a new baby in one year.

They always tell you that when you have a kid, you have to drop a few things. As we prepared to welcome our first child into this world in June, we had no idea what we’d drop. It turns out: keeping up on The Toy Quest’s digital media and housecleaning. We’re attempting to get back into the digital media part, and at this point, I think housecleaning is a moot point especially as we head into the super duper busy time at the toy store.

Shane has never done a Christmas at a toy store whereas I grew up with it. I know Fairbanks will deliver and exhaust my husband in the next few weeks leading up to Christmas. He is like an athlete that has been preparing all year for this, and this is his moment to shine. He is nervous but excited to see all his hard work pay off plus a bit sleep deprived (our 5 month old is on a sleep strike). He wants you to have an experience. He loves the awe and magic he sees on kids faces as they walk in the store. You know the kids that come in often because they bee-line it to the toy tables. Parents relieving their childhood through classic toys they remember or finding something new for them since you are never too old for toys. He has been carefully curating our selection of toys – more variety than ever. I’m genuinely impressed with how eloquently he has made the switch from firefighter and paramedic to dad and the toy store guy.

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It Has Taken A Community

Shane and I were reminded why we are in Fairbanks the past few weeks. Last weekend, we were in Anchorage, and we thought we’d see what Babies R’ Us had on sale for last minute baby supplies. Next thing I know we are buying shelving for the toy store and trying to figure out logistics on how to get the shelving north to Fairbanks.

This past Thursday, Shane flew down to Anchorage where my parents, a college friend, and a wildland medic co-worker met him to help him disassemble shelving and load it into the U-Haul. When Shane made it back Sunday, two of his teenage 2nd cousins and brother help him unload the U-Haul and move shelves.

While unloading shelving and moving shelving at the store, two of our childhood friends stopped in for toys, and we were able to catch up.  This actually happens quite often – our friends now know where to find us.

Two weeks ago, we did our first TV commercial with the help of Shane’s cousin who works for a tv network. Our two nieces were the stars of the commercial.

I’ve been feeling very appreciative of our family and friends here in Fairbanks. It has made us taking over the toy store more enjoyable and less overwhelming. I love being part of this community, I love watching our business grow, and gaining new family and friends in the process. Fairbanks is a big town with a small town feel.

 

Survived ToyFest West!

Recovering from a cold, the death of a computer, and the three days of ordering madness that is Toyfest West, I’m finally posting an update.

Shane is 90% finished with the stuffed animal aisle and it looks amazing but is already full yet we have Squishables and Aurora stuffed animals on a barge heading north as we speak. The middle gap that is there is going to be shelves for the book and stuffed animals pairs. In the end, we are moving the books across from the stuffed animals but that is happening after we get the new puzzle wall in (if you have been recently, you’ll have noticed the very empty wall next to the bathrooms). Then we are moving and consolidating the role play section followed by the Playmobil move and a parent waiting area by the train tables. Phew, I’m exhausted simply writing about all our grand plans. Stopped by and watch all the fun changes unfold!

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Mid-March, I put on my serious face and we hit up ToyFest West. This is where we see all the new stuff that is coming out and write a lot of toy orders for the year.

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My serious toy shopping face.

I’ll make sure to post on Facebook as things start to role in. Some of the new stuff we have coming:

E-Blox: Turn your kids lego into a circuit. Shane and his friends were already talking about how cool it would have been to electrify their Death Star as a kid. I have a feeling some of these will be coming home with us and Shane will be digging out his Legos.

Morphonatus Action Figures: Magnetic action figures that you can swap body parts between them. My brother and I used to do this with his GI-Joes since they were held together with rubber bands. FedEx should be bringing them by in the next few days!

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Hearthsong: We got all kinds of neat stuff from Hearthsong. My nieces favorite is the BBOP balls. Granted, they wanted everything out of that catalog.

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Marlay Mularkey: We are getting the Munch Mitt from them along with baby items from several different companies. We are expecting our first in June and wanted more options for parents of infants in town. While we love Fireweed Baby and Once Upon A Child, Fairbanks needs more infant and baby toys! Everyone needs more toys in their life.

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I’m getting excited simply thinking of all the fun toys that are heading our way! Stop by and check out all the new things that are starting to role in!

 

Making our Mark!

Shane has been loving owning the toy store and is plowing forward at breakneck speeds. He is the serious side of the toy biz where I’m like “oh, shiny!” It makes a good match. As for what we have been doing to make our mark, Shane has moved ahead where I’ve wanted to talk about it for a bit more. Granted, we’ve been talking about it since we first thought about taking over the store a few years ago. Shane won, and if you have been in this week, you may have noticed some “construction.”

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There are some sections of the store that are bursting and spilling into other areas. Other parts that have an abundant amount of space. To start the redistribution of space, the party section has been relocated, and the stuffed animals are going to be moving over to their new home in the “party” section. The old pegboard is down, primer up, and Shane is starting to add some color! Imagine a clear blue sky, fluffy clouds, and lots of stuffed animals! Knowing Shane, it is going to look as good as I imagine it to be in my head!

I’ll be sure to post a final product photo once he is done. He is aiming to be done by the time we head to Toy Fest West toy show the first part March. I’ll make sure to blog that excitement too. Yup, for work we get to play with toys. Not a bad gig at all.

A biologist and a firefighter walk into a toy store…

My parent’s opened The Toy Quest when I was four years old. I remember dragging the stool over to play with the Lundby doll houses, eating popsicles and watching Mister Rogers in the back room, and trying to negotiate with them into giving me a daffy duck stuffed animal (I was unsuccessful). It became one of my first jobs as a teen, and I helped out while I was in college. I grew up to become a biologist whereas Shane, my husband a firefighter and paramedic. I never imagined that we would own the toy store or that my parents would ever retire.

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Yet, here we are. My parents are retired and we are the official owners of this fantastic toy store. This is a whole new and exciting world we have entered. Toy shows are very different from science or emergency medicine conferences. We can bring the dogs in with us to assist with paperwork in the backroom. Toy catalogs now litter our living room and have become our evening reading along with business books. We are slowly figuring out how to put our mark on this incredible store while retaining what has made it successful for the past 30 years in Fairbanks on top of remaining active in our respective fields. Stay tuned to find out what happens when a biologist and a firefighter own a toy store – we promise not to disappoint!