The Toy Box in Mamaroneck has been a favorite destination for both kids and kids at heart for more than 40 years. Owner Steve Josephson talks to us about his four decades in the toy store business, how he’s kept up with a changing industry, and the enduring popularity of Monopoly.
How did you get started in the toy business?
My dad had a candy store in the Bronx, and I went into business with him when I was out of high school. I acquired the store in 1967, and turned it into a toy store. I had a total of seven stores at one time.
How long has the Toy Box in Mamaroneck been open?
I acquired this store from my best friend who passed away in 1996. The store has been in this location for 40 years.
Why did you close the other locations?
A couple were sold and the others were closed because of the economy.
What are the benefits and drawbacks of owning multiple locations?
The benefits include having better buying power. The drawback is mainly expenses. That’s the reason a lot of stores with multiple locations have closed down—the expenses have exceeded the revenue.
Does franchising work better for certain types of small business?
It can depend on pricing. Sometimes it can help a business, but sometimes the [franchise] rules and regulations get in the way.
How many employees do you have?
We have six employees. Three full-time and three part-time.
What are the keys to your success?
We keep the selection to what people like, keep hot trends in stock, offer free gift wrapping and free parking, and provide great service to help our customers.
What makes you stand out from the competition?
The service that we provide. We’re the largest independent toy store in Westchester County. When a toy becomes hot, we have it in stock and try to keep it in stock. We know how to go out and get [hard-to-get toys].
Do you have better access to vendors than national chains?
Not necessarily, but we can react to trends a lot quicker than most chains or box stores. When I see something is going to be popular, I can usually capture it for my customers.
Has your business changed in ways you didn’t expect?
The toy industry has gotten younger. When I first started, you had to start at newborn [toys] and work your way up to 15 year olds. Now, toys are geared toward younger kids because electronics are so popular with older kids. There are always the staples though that appeal to the young and old—Monopoly, checkers, Lego and Barbie.
What has been your toughest challenge?
Competing with online shopping. Years ago, it was department stores and discount stores.
How do you compete with e-commerce?
We’re just brick and mortar for now, but we have plans to get into e-commerce by the end of the year. There’s no way to compete with e-commerce other than getting into it [yourself]. I do think people like to come in and see, touch and feel what they’re buying and know that if they need any guidance or information, they can get it from me or the staff.
How is the health of your business and the health of your community connected?
I draw from both the immediate area and from outside the area, but I’m a big supporter of my community. We sponsor baseball teams and other organizations for kids in the area.
I’m also the president of the Mamaroneck Chamber of Commerce. We have lots of new businesses opening up, especially restaurants. We’ve become a real destination for dining. I’m trying to improve opportunities for retail, and keep the [business] during the day equal to the nights in town. Our motto is “Shop Local, Dine Local,” and independent stores should try to stick to this motto.
Other than the Chamber of Commerce, what other organizations would you recommend small business owners connect with?
Any community relations group. Be involved and know what’s going on.
What do you like most about your business?
It’s a fun business, and I’ve been able to watch three to four generations of families grow up.
Any best practices to share?
We have the right niche in the right area. We go out of the way for our customers and have products on our shelves that accommodate our customers.
What is your advice for someone who wants to go into business today?
Watch your overhead and accommodate your customers. Bend over backwards to keep your customers satisfied.