Interview With … Scott Nelson
Despite a lack of retail experience, Scott Nelson decided to take the plunge and open Play Today Toys in the Shops of Bartram Walk in 2015. Recently relocated to this area from Boston due to his wife’s job transfer, he thought it was time to do something new. He said he had always wanted to run a store and so wrote down a list of five potential retail ideas before deciding on “specialty toy store” in July 2015. His 11-year-old daughter helped him pick out the toys to stock from a stack of wholesale catalogs and also helped him paint and build out his unit in Bartram Walk in August. He opened his doors on Sept. 11, 2015.
Q: How did you come up with the name of your store and is it a franchise?
A: No, this is the only Play Today Toys. I had in mind that I wanted a name that rhymed and one night I was lying in bed at 2 a.m. and the name “Play Today” came to me. I added “Toys” to the end for clarity, but some people are still confused and think it is a used toy store or a consignment shop. We are a specialty toy store that carries only new unique and educational toys.
Q: What has been the best business decision that you have made since opening the store?
A: Definitely partnering with local schools. We are business partners with Julington Creek, Durbin Creek and Cunningham Creek elementary schools. This allows me to let people know the store is here. Also, hosting Prissy and Pop (the Instagram sensation mini pigs) has been a boon. When they were here last summer, “hoof signing” their latest book, we had 60 transactions in a single hour. I’m also trying to do more events to keep it fun and keep people coming in the door. I’m considering hiring a magician, arts and crafts night and storytime.
Q: What do you consider to be your store’s “edge?”
A: We try to find the most unique, educational and interactive toys to carry to differentiate us from the big box stores. I can help people pick out just the right toy. We also offer free gift wrapping and birthday registry, plus we are convenient — right in the neighborhood.
Q: What has been your biggest surprise seller?
A: Probably Thinking Putty. It is a modern takeoff of Silly Putty and is magnetic and different colors. In fact, I am sold out of it right now. Another big seller is Melissa and Doug, which are popular wooden toys. Puppets are also big. I was reluctant to carry them at first; they sell well and surprised me.
Q: What is your biggest challenge as a small business owner?
A: Keeping cash flow coming in and staying in budget for the slow months. Retail fluctuates so much. I learned last Christmas that you have to make that large influx of cash last for several months. Also, I have learned to be selective about inventory, which needs to cycle every three months or it’s just money sitting on a shelf. I got better at this after about six months.
Q: What is a typical day like for you?
A: First off, I make a list every night for tasks for the next day to keep me on track. I clean the store, order inventory, check emails and voicemails, pay bills and look at new catalogs. One thing that’s been very helpful to me, especially when I was opening the store, was joining ASTRA, the American Specialty Toy Retailing Association. It’s like a support and networking group and I check the online community bulletin board daily to ask questions and see if I can help others.
Q: What are your future plans, say five years from now?
A: Well, hopefully I’ll still be here. Maybe I’ll open another store. I’d like to carry more toys. Mostly I want children to remember, when they grow up, that there was this great toy store they visited when they were little. I don’t want to be rich, but I want to be happy and help children have nice memories.
Photo by Martie Thompson
Scott Nelson inside his store, Play Today Toys