Toys still a good buy, even in tough times

  • By Katie Murdoch Enterprise editor
  • Tuesday, August 24, 2010 9:18pm

MILL CREEK — Even when money is tight, parents are reluctant to cut the extras when it comes to their children.

Owner Jeff Snipes opened Reigning Imagination Toys in May in Mill Creek Town Center. While the business isn’t recession-proof, 20 years of experience has taught Snipes that opening a toy store even in bad economic times finds parents ringing up plenty of sales at the register.

“They don’t scrimp on their children,” he said.

Many families have scaled back spending by not going out to dinner as often or putting off expensive vacations. Staying home leads parents to buy toys and board games for entertainment, he said.

But it’s not all fun and games, Snipes said.

Friends who own toy stores in Kenmore and Redmond saw “a big dip” in business although none have folded, he said.

Snipes admitted he’s worried about the economy “double dipping.” But he keeps a positive attitude.

“We’ve hit bottom,” he said. “The economy is coming back.”

Children make remarkable sales people, he said.

“They can talk until they’re blue in the face and they can talk Mom into buying,” he said.

Snipes said creating a positive experience for customers of any age is vital.

“For the most part, when people come in it’s a feel-good place,” he said.

On Sept. 11, 2001, Snipes said people kept coming into his previous store, telling him they needed a quick break from the bleak news.

“They were so upset, they wanted a feel-good place, customer after customer,” he said.

To draw customers in, Snipes makes a point of keeping toys within children’s reach and hiring warm staff.

“There’s a lot I can teach employees but you can’t teach someone to have a personality,” he said.

Snipes sells a combination of high- and low-priced merchandise available in chain and smaller stores.

Counters are low enough for young customers to pay, and stuffed animals and jewelry are at children’s eye-level.

“The whole idea behind a toy store is you should come in and play,” he said.

Snipes said the location of his store has been good for business, with steady foot traffic throughout Town Center.

His plans to retire in 2007 and relocate to Costa Rica were short-lived when the recession slammed through the real estate and stock markets. On a more positive note, Snipes became a grandfather, a bigger factor deterring him from moving.

“Toy stores take you back to your childhood,” he said.

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