For J.W Allen & Sons, 10 years in business has been a gift
May 15, 2015
Jon Allen relaxes into a seat in his office, cluttered with boxes of toys, and smiles. It is here, surrounded by the types of trinkets and novelties that have always brought him joy, that he feels at home.
As a child in New York, Allen loved visiting famed toy store FAO Schwartz every Christmas, marveling each time at what he saw. That passion never left as he grew up. A decade ago, he turned it into a career and opened J.W. Allen & Sons Toys & Candy, at 1675 Redstone Center Dr. The store is celebrating its 10-year anniversary this month.
"It’s always been more fun than buying nuts and bolts and selling those," Allen said. "I love the imagination. With so much Internet and high-tech play, sometimes going back and setting up animals or dinosaurs or knights or army men and just getting back to that imaginative play is meaningful to kids. It never grows old, really."
But getting to 10 years hasn’t always been easy. When the recession struck, the store experienced a downturn like many others in town. When sales dipped, Allen pushed through by remembering the happiness the store brings children. But now, he said, the shop is flourishing, selling more toys than it ever has.
"There were a couple of years we were struggling to the point of wondering whether it was worth it," he said. "But fortunately I looked at it and knew things would turn. We wanted to keep it going for our customers. We had a lot of locals saying, ‘Thank you for still being here.’"
That appreciation many Parkites have for the store has been apparent since it opened in 2005. It quickly became a destination for those who value Allen’s customer service and his efforts to stock unique items not always available at large toy stores.
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"It’s been great for the locals that buy local from mom-and-pop stores," he said. "That’s really helped me. I’m grateful to have that support. You get a lot of people who say they’d rather shop with us than a big-box store."
Still, not everyone has found their way into J.W. Allen & Sons yet. To Allen, that simply means there’s an opportunity for growth.
"I have people from Summit County or Kamas come in and say, ‘I never knew you guys were here,’" he said. "And we do advertise. So in one way, it’s kind of good that there still is a percentage of people that don’t know about us yet, who haven’t seen the store."
Allen opened the store when his three children were young. As they have grown older, it has become more difficult to stay on top of toy trends. Now he relies on his customers to pass along the word about which toys are in demand.
"If I don’t hear from kids or moms that this is what’s happening in the playground now, it’s hard to keep with the current trends," he said.
And if he doesn’t carry a certain toy or hot item that a customer wants? Just give it some time.
"I do my best to bring those items in if that’s what the kids are looking for," he said.
Reflecting on his 10 years in business, Allen said he is grateful to be in a town that values a small toy store at a time when many others around the country have closed up shop. The rise of online shopping and big-box stores have made retailers like him a dying breed, not to mention the fact that profit margins are small compared to clothing retailers or restaurants.
"If all I was looking at was to create a huge profit here, it would be a much different store than it is," he said. "A lot of things I buy on the unique side will eventually sell, but it might be a year. But I think they’re cool to have in the store. I don’t want to be like every other toy store around."
Nonetheless, he remains upbeat about what the future holds. Perhaps that’s not surprising, given his line of work. How can anyone not enjoy toys?
After all, he said, "I’m still a kid at heart."