Ten years ago, having been made redundant from Woolworths, Stephen Barnes and Mark Buschaus launched Toy Barnhaus and today operate eight successful stores.
Stephen explains: “We celebrated our 10th anniversary on the 28th March, marking a decade since we opened the doors of our first shop. We were both made redundant from our positions at Woolworths in January 2009 during the credit crunch. Woolworths was the No. 2 toy retailer in the country at the time, so when it went under, a gap in the market opened in our area. Luckily there were deals to be done, and after a bit of negotiating with a local landlord, we managed to secure flexible terms over the first year for a price we found acceptable.
When we opened, the local press got involved; the paper and local radio station. Because the Woolworths angle made it a good news story, BBC Southeast covered it too. Around two months after we opened there was a sudden spell of very hot weather, and – being small and nimble – we managed to secure plenty of paddling pools which sold out very quickly. At Woolworths, you’d never be able to get enough stock whenever there was a craze or other unforeseen event, so it was so refreshing to experience buying from the point of view of an independent retailer.
Our first Christmas at Crawley went much better than we expected. After Christmas we went to Redhill to view a unit with a view to opening a second location. This came to fruition around a year after we opened our Crawley store. We bought an ex-Woolworths assistant manager on board as store manager, and Stephen’s sister was appointed assistant manager; a couple of other Woolworths staff joined us too. By this point, around three-quarters of our staff were ex-Woolworths. One of our managers owned a shop in Epsom, but had decided it wasn’t really for him, so in 2010 we took that over too. It was at this time we joined Toymaster. With three stores under our belt, we needed the security and payment terms, as well as the catalogue.
The following year, 2011, we upsized both our Crawley and Epsom units to double the space of each, and we managed to secure Lego as a supplier, which helped our business enormously. In 2012 we opened in Croydon and Worthing, and in 2013 we opened in Sutton and Horsham. We then opened in Staines last year, bringing our total stores to eight. Alongside the new openings, Redhill and Worthing have also been upsized.
The retail scene has been somewhat challenging so far this year, but you can’t always be up every year, year after year. At the end of the day, we sell toys and we like to be positive. With Toy Story 4, Frozen II and Star Wars still to come, we think the rest of 2019 will be great.”
To read the full interview, which was published in the May issue of Toy World, click here.