Hazel Hodgins opened Toy Corner, an independent toy shop in County Galway, just before Halloween 2019. She talks to TNP.MEDIA about her experience of opening a new toy store and adapting the business to continue trading in line with government guidelines during lockdown
How has opening a store amid the coronavirus outbreak been? I know you opened at the tail end of last year, but, what additional challenges have you faced in the midst of the pandemic, on top of the normal struggles associated with starting a new business?
I have to say that while it has been difficult and hard work over the last few weeks, and of course, we don't know what the longer term economic and supply impacts will be, I have found the situation to have been a positive testing ground for new ideas. I am now trading online, which I had previously been averse to and most rewardingly I have created my 'Boredom Busting Box' which has gone all over the country so far and has given the recipients a much-needed lift from relatives who can't see them.
How have you found the first half-year of trading?
So far, I've experienced the two biggest swings in the calendar, opening just before Halloween, with the run into Christmas. My modest expectations during this period were exceeded and gave me the confidence to stay open longer term, to a couple of months of very quiet and difficult days. I looked to St Patrick's Day as the time when things would look up, but instead I found myself building an entirely new business model online in the space of a week to adapt to our new and unprecedented situation. However, I have to say that despite all of the ups and downs, it is roughly in-line with my projections to be sustainable for the first year.
What have your years working at the well-known Hopkins Toymaster taught you about toy retail – and how has that shaped your own vision for Toy Corner?
I really believe in the value of local, independent retail, where the experience is not just about the products available via the website, but also the expert knowledge and advice offered. I also want my customers to know that I don't take their business for granted. I say hello to every single person who comes into my shop and I work hard to make a connection with them and to help them find what they need. In terms of my product lines, I believe completely in real play, with products that have a high play value and in being a business that champions those ideals.
What advice would you give to those looking to take the leap into toy retail and open their own first store?
Don't wait until it's perfect to do it! I opened after only two weeks of works, as I knew I had a very limited amount of time to make an in impact in the community before the hard slog of January until St. Patrick's Day arrived.
My unit had remained empty for ten years, and I opened with the bare minimum in terms of lighting, shelving and stock. I have been adding as I go, trying to balance investment in the space with projected return. I was able to do more works in the shop during those quiet months and I plan to use this closure period to complete more jobs.