Zany Brainy. Noodle Kidoodle. Imaginarium. Looking back more than a decade ago, the toy industry suddenly exploded with specialty-chain toy stores. Just as quickly as they exploded, they strayed from their core message. They started selling toys that could be found anywhere—except at a much higher price, which hindered their ability to compete. And, one by one, they were bought, absorbed, and disappeared.
Now the cycle begins anew. Shoppers are always clamoring for an alternative to the large mass-market chains. Now an alternative has to come in to fill that void. Enter Brilliant Sky Toys & Books. Started in 2002, this company is now operating nine franchised locations with 11 expected by the end of the year. Perhaps it’s the franchise concept that sets this company—as well as Learning Express—apart from the now-defunct competitors mentioned above.
Started by husband-and-wife team Brent and Sonia Taylor in Michigan, the company targets today’s highly educated parents. Much like themselves—Brent is a former exec at a Fortune 500 company and Sonia is a registered nurse—their customers are searching for enriching items for their children.
What began as a single location in Lansing is now a growing company projecting $6 million in gross sales for 2010, which it says is a 300 percent increase from 2008.
“We are firm believers in controlled growth,” says Brent Taylor, founder and CEO. “And, at the same time, we have the infrastructure in place to allow us to target an increased growth rate in the coming months. Our volume of inquiries from potential franchisees is increasingly dramatic,” he says. “We are projecting 10 new stores per year for the next four to five years.”
While it’s not rapid-fire growth, it’s been said that slow and steady wins the race. Taylor does point out that they could already have twice as many locations if they gave the thumbs up to anyone who came knocking with the capital. However, it takes a certain balance of right person, right location, and, of course, capital to make a toy store a success.
Once a franchisee gets started, they receive a Recommended Beginning Inventory (RBI) from headquarters. As they learn the ropes, franchisees do their own buying. Taylor points out that, “we do not require that certain brands or items are carried in all stores. We encourage our franchisees to attend trade events as a learning experience,” he says. In addition, “we share best practices amongst franchisees routinely.”
Another important part of retailing today exists online. Taylor explains that the online store will be opening this fall. “In the franchise environment we firmly believe that a central web presence and central e-commerce fulfillment is the only successful model,” he says. “But our franchisees will have the opportunity to benefit from the revenue that the online store generates. We will continue to find ways to allow our franchisees to ‘localize’ their web presence on our corporate site.”
The company does require that each store maintains a store-level presence in social media, which is then integrated into the corporate website. Taylor says corporate also shares best practices for traditional advertising and provides tools for marketing and ad creation.
While it may seem strange that Brilliant Sky Toys & Books is expanding during these economic times, Taylor believes that, “if you fill an important need and you execute properly, there is always opportunity.”