Small Business Spotlight: Totally Toys
Small Business Spotlight is our brand new content series that shines a spotlight on our fantastic independent retailers.
We spoke with Paul Carpenter, the owner of family-run business Totally Toys. Totally Toys is located on Bristol’s popular Gloucester Road, Europe's longest independent high street, and is only a mile from the city centre.
The Totally Toys shop has proudly stood in the same Gloucester Road spot since 1988 and boasts 2,000 square feet of space - plenty of room for browsing the shelves.
Paul Carpenter / BristolLive
How did you get started with Totally Toys?
I was working for Woolworths and I fell off a ladder and broke my leg, so I was off for six months! For the first time in my life, I had time to reflect on where I was going and Woolworths wasn’t the place to do it.
I cashed in my Woolworths shares and started to look for shops to buy. I found 109 Gloucester Road for sale in 1988 and Totally Toys was born. We then experienced a boom in sales in the following three years as the toy market was doing really, really well. From then on, it has gone from strength to strength.
What’s different about Totally Toys?
I think it goes back to my Woolworths background. I never came into this [the toy industry] thinking I knew it all, but I did know a lot more than I first thought! Some of the disciplines that I learned from working at large Woolworths stores really help, such as systems, analysing, sales, profit margins etc.
Building up a rapport with customers is often more important than having products on the shelf. I do believe that many of my customers are my friends. I was at a National Trust attraction the other day and I saw seven people that I knew from the shop! I love that, I really do.
Being situated on Europe’s longest independent high street, Totally Toys embraces the small business, community spirit and works alongside other businesses to keep Gloucester Road thriving. Totally Toys is also renowned for having one of the largest Lego collections in Bristol!
What’s your proudest Totally Toys moment?
I am very proud of something we did last year. We got involved with the Every Child Needs Christmas appeal, which helps 16,000 children in need in and around the Bristol area. Totally Toys alongside the other businesses on Gloucester Road clubbed together to raise £5,000 during lockdown for the Every Child Needs Christmas appeal. I am really proud of that.
On a personal note, having my four children and five grandchildren is a proud moment! I also have an award: a hand-drawn trophy stuck to the back of the till - the “Totally Toys is the best toy shop ever” award!
What product categories do you stock and what are your bestsellers?
We have 50 different suppliers for Totally Toys. The top 80% of my sales comes from 20% of my suppliers. Bigjigs are my second biggest supplier next to Lego. I think that’s pretty amazing [for Bigjigs], to be ahead of the likes of Hasbro and Mattel.
Because we are a very community-based toy shop near a lot of schools, we have a lot of youngsters to cater for. So, we carry all the ranges. I often read the top ten toy bestsellers, but I rarely stock anything from these shortlists - it’s just not part of what we would like.
Wooden jigsaws always sell really well - we sell a lot of them! Wooden train sets also sell well. We stopped selling a major wooden railway brand when they went to black packaging and we switched to Bigjigs Rail instead. It totally revitalised our sales! The great thing about Bigjigs Rail is that it’s all compatible with all other wooden railway brands.
What are your favourite toys and why?
Being a farmer’s son, I love anything to do with animals and tractors. I also used to like playing with toy soldiers growing up because my Dad was in the war. Army themes seem to be totally out of the window now, and it’s a hard one to sell.
What’s next for Totally Toys?
We regularly make physical changes in the shop to keep things enticing. Retail needs to be theatre - if it’s dull, make it interesting. The shop is a colourful old place and the kids love it. We’re so blessed in the toy industry - what’s not to love about toy shops? If you’re tired of toy shops, you’re tired of living.
Shop at Totally Toys
You can find Totally Toys at 109 Gloucester Road, Bristol, BS7 8AT.
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