What is the history behind your store?
26 years ago, a small toy and bookshop was established within a family-run shopping centre in the Cheshire village of Culcheth. In 2007, I purchased the business with my sister-in-law Victoria Simpson-Forrest. We re-branded as Forget-me-not in memory of my late Mum and Victoria’s late Dad, both lost to Cancer. By 2009 we were growing rapidly and in March 2013, Forget-me-not had outgrown its store space and relocated to its own store outside the shopping centre. With its own car park the store is visible from the street and includes a small café and play area for children.
What is your background?
Before taking a career break to raise a family, Victoria was employed by Kendals of Manchester and later Harrods as a Retail Manager. I have worked with Victoria Wine, Marks & Spencer and British Nuclear Fuels in the PR & Marketing department. Our previous positions were very customer focused and these skills have been invaluable in running our own business.
You sell toys and books. How is revenue split betwen the two?
When we first acquired the business in 2007, the book range was very small. We soon realised there was potential for increasing the range as there was no other bookshop in the area. As the range of books grew, so did the sales and it wasn’t long before we joined the National Booksellers Association, adding National Book Tokens to the mix. We also offer a Second Hand Book exchange service and hold regular events. Books now account for around 30-40% of our overall sales with the remaining 60-70% in toys and stationery.
how does your online business compare to In-store?
Our website is purely for information only. We have dabbled in e-commerce but found the amount of investment in search engine optimisation huge and the competitiveness in price from the likes of Amazon and supermarkets too problematic.
What are your expansion plans?
From day one we have fully immersed ourselves in our local community. We enjoy the day-to-day contact with our customers, and know many of them by name. This is what we love about our job. Listening to our customers has shaped the way our business has evolved. We do our best to meet their requests and this helps us grow our product range. Our involvement with community events – including visits from Brownies and Cubs – inspired our move to The Old Telephone Exchange with the space for a café and events area.
How do you promote your business to the local and online community?
Our village publishes a monthly, glossy magazine, excellent for promoting the business locally. We lso send out regular releases to the local press in the wider area. We encourage customers to subscribe to our e-newsletter and to like our Facebook page to keep up to date with news, promotions and events.
What are your biggest selling lines?
Our range is very diverse, and as we know our customers extremely well, it is difficult to pinpoint our best selling lines as all our stock turns over well. But of course Skylanders, Lego Friends, Lego Young Builders range, Orchard games and Melissa and Doug are all very hot right now!
Which toy industry trend is having the most impact on your business right now?
Most of our toys are probably considered traditional. The majority of our customers say they enjoy shopping with us because we stock toys that are ‘a little bit different’. It’s a compliment we receive so regularly, we often joke that’s what we should have named the shop! We don’t sell any electronic toys because our niche brands are what differentiate us from the competition.
What are the biggest challenges facing indie toy retailers like yoursleves?
The main challenge is competing with the supermarkets and online giants like Amazon. Increasingly we are also experiencing competition from Garden Centres. But as we have found, an independent toy and book shop can flourish, even in these times of recession if the location is right. We are lucky that there is a strong sense of local shopping within our community and we return the sentiment by employing local people and work closely with local community groups.