“Go back to the drawing board and adapt:” CT toy stores reflect on lessons from brutal 2020

In early 2020, Jennifer Fila and Jared Greenman were eager to expand the new toy stores they own in southwest Connecticut. They finished it by facing once-unimaginable challenges to support their various businesses.

A few months after opening Town Center Toys in Wilton and Funky Monkey Toys & Books in Greenwich in July 2019, respectively, Fila and Greenman were faced with the economic disruption triggered by the coronavirus crisis. They have survived the upheavals by building customer loyalty and adapting their operations to the new landscape.

“I had seen a 50% drop in sales just as (COVID-19) hit, so it affected my business,” Fila said. “My holiday season has been a little better than it was earlier in the pandemic. I had the impression that the community of Wilton came to support me.

During Connecticut’s economic shutdown between mid-March and mid-May 2020, which included a temporary ban on in-person purchases at “non-essential” businesses including toy stores, Town Center Toys and Funky Monkey remained afloat with services such as online ordering and curbside pickups.

“This (online service) helped me through when my doors couldn’t be opened,” Fila said. “I have maintained this and it has served me well throughout the summer and during the holiday season. So people could order online and then either come to the store and pick it up, or I would deliver all over Wilton. “

Funky Monkey has benefited from other new initiatives such as SMS marketing and a points-based customer loyalty program. These programs have helped the Greenwich store and Funky Monkey’s other store in Greenvale on Long Island, New York, achieve 2020 holiday season sales that exceeded their 2019 holiday numbers.

“It was a very difficult time in 2020,” said Greenman. “As a small business, we really had to go back to the drawing board and adapt. “

Over the past few months, merchandise such as jigsaw puzzles and games have been a top seller at Town Center Toys. Funky Monkey has seen similar selling trends, with toys like Legos and a Greenwich version of Monopoly also ranking as a top seller.

Brand associate Gabriela Llanos takes a customer's order for her car at Funky Monkey Toys & Books at 86 Greenwich Ave., in Greenwich, Connecticut on April 28, 2020.

Brand associate Gabriela Llanos takes a customer’s order for her car at Funky Monkey Toys & Books at 86 Greenwich Ave., in Greenwich, Connecticut on April 28, 2020.

File / Tyler Sizemore / Hearst Connecticut Media

Sales of the U.S. toy industry rose 19% to $ 13.7 billion in the first nine months of 2020, according to retail tracking company The NPD Group.

“During this time of unprecedented uncertainty, parents and families have turned to toys for entertainment, distraction and joy,” Juli Lenett, NPD toy industry adviser, said in a statement. . “The pandemic clearly had a positive impact on toy sales in the second and third quarters. “

Fila said she always took a measured approach in planning Town Center Toys, which she launched after 12 years as a stay-at-home mom.

Reflecting this strategy, Town Center Toys’ approximately 1,350 square foot store at 5 River Road continues to operate on reduced hours, averaging about four hours per day. It is open every day except Monday.

“Everything I did, I was careful including the size of the store and the volume of inventory,” Fila said. “It’s definitely a condensed version of a toy store. But I think it helped me.

Funky Monkey’s approximately 1,700 square foot Greenwich store, located at 86 Greenwich Ave., is open seven days a week, most days from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m.

Greenman’s goals for the company this year include launching an online store, which will feature his most popular items.

“We are thinking long term in Greenwich, and we are really happy with the location and the way we have done so far,” he said. “We are optimistic about the future and about growth. “

pschott@stamfordadvocate.com; twitter: @paulschott