Playper Curious Kingdom at Tons of Toys Madsion, NJ Toy Store

The Magic of a Local Toy Store - Tons of Toys

Jul 9, 2024

Being in the toy business has allowed me to appreciate those on the front lines selling toys even more than I did when I was “just” a parent. I last wrote about Tons of Toys in my hometown of Madison, NJ, and after getting to know them better, I wanted to dig deeper into their story of success as an exceptional brick and mortar toy store.

“I fell into it, then I fell in love with it.”

In high school Chris Brinkofski started working at the original Tons of Toys store in Wyckoff, NJ, which Jerry Maietta opened nearly four decades ago. After high school, he went to William Paterson University, and continued at the store.

When he was closing in on graduating, Jerry’s son Ken hit with a proposition: Opening a Tons of Toys with him at another location (today the two co-own the one in Madison and Bernadsville, with Ken being the owner of the first one and another in Westwood).

Tons of Toys in Madison New Jersey

Chris is still thrilled with it all 20 years later. “I felt like this was meant to be,” he says. “I have no problems working many hours, coming in early, staying late – I love people. Also, as far as retail goes, selling toys is probably the best! Most of the people who come into a toy store are really happy, and kids are certainly excited. It’s just a positive environment to be in, so I’ve always enjoyed the work.”

When the Madison location opened, he was 25. “I think it was good that I was young, because I didn’t realize how much work it was!” he says with a laugh. 

Contributing to the Madison Community

It is a pillar of the community in every way – and that’s not by accident. “Small business 101 is entrenching yourself within the community,” Chris explains. “For some people, it’s the tough part of the job; but for me, it just comes naturally. I like chatting with people, getting to know them. Also, I’m just lucky with being in Madison.

It’s a tight knit community where everyone cares about the town.” He notes that when they opened, people came in not just to shop but help connect them to others in town, provide information, and offer support.

“I knew right away that I had made the right decision opening my store in Madison. Caring about Madison is contagious!” He now pays that forward – whenever anybody new in town opens a business, he makes sure he’s there introducing himself and offering to help in any way possible.

Chris says that becoming an important part of the community “happened organically.” It was natural for the Tons of Toys team to reach out to schools, churches and synagogues, other organizations and participate in community events and gatherings.

“Yes, it helps the business, but I felt like it was just an easy thing to do in Madison. It’s more like you’re helping a friend when you get involved with a good cause, donating to fundraisers, things like that.”

(My wife knows about this first-hand, and says Chris is quick to agree to donate to our kids’ schools fundraisers or hanging a promotional poster in their window - truly a member of the community!)

They do in-store events including Chris dressing up as Blippi of the popular YouTube channel as “I look just like him” (he does!). “Kids think I’m actually him – it’s the only time of the year that I feel like I’m a celebrity,” he adds with a laugh. "They have another who loves to dress as Mario. They both will make appearances at community events. Otherwise, they still host Pokémon events almost every Thursday where kids can come in and trade cards and play the game. “Things like that are a good way to get people into your store, and it’s nice to let kids know they can come here to just hang out.”

All About Customer Service

Tons of Toys is the living example of something I heard from a recent podcast featuring Phil Wrzesinski of Ravensburger, a wonderful kid’s puzzle/game/arts & crafts company. He said, “The secret sauce of independent toy stores – the thing that sets them apart – is the passion and the relationships.”

At a big box store, and especially online, it’s a transaction. But at these specialty brick and mortar retailer stores, it transcends that. 

Tons of Toys embodies that philosophy. All four Tons of Toys stores are renowned for their customer service that includes bend-over-backwards aspects including delivery, gift wrapping, and ordering what someone wants that’s not currently in the store.

“We stress the customer service aspect and go out of our way for them. All of us who work here know that that is the most important thing, and I stress it like a drill sergeant. The store doesn’t exist without customers coming in.”

It’s so important that faced with hiring either someone who already has retail experience and someone who is just way nicer, the latter wins out every time. “You can’t teach niceness,” he states.

(And on gift wrapping: “It’s especially popular as many are picking up a toy at the last minute – and we also pride ourselves on wrapping fast!”)

Small Business Nuts & Bolts

The Madison store is a mere 2,000 square feet but they make it feel much bigger.  Not surprisingly, the store employee number fluctuates. In addition to the two owners, there are between five and ten members of the team at any time – with maybe even a few more during the holidays of course.

There is the nuts and bolts of running a small business, where margins can be tight, and any decision can have consequences – especially what to stock and how much of it. “We learn mostly on the job, talking to people, noticing what’s hot and what’s not,” he says. “It’s a matter of having your finger on the pulse of what’s popular at the moment.” Key is being close to the customers.

When someone comes in saying they need a gift for a kid who is into sports and of this age, the Tons of Toys team knows not to just point them to the sports section but point out the unusual. Kid wants a basketball? How about one that lights up? Also, did you know basketball trading cards are hot right now?

So, it’s all a combination of listening, watching, and then using their buying experience to not only spot trends but to then stay ahead of them. “It’s about trying to keep your finger on the pulse.” 

Having deep knowledge of everything in the store is critical, and while that might sound like a lofty goal, the Tons of Toys staff comes close to knowing it all. Again, a big source of knowledge comes from just asking questions of their customers. Did the kid like the toy? Did it engage them? Why or why not? 

And yet they also know that keeping their store fresh and original means taking chances. “We will try stocking new products on an educated guess, and sometimes they are duds and sometimes they are hits. It’s really great when you’re the first to carry the next new big thing.”

An “awesome selection” is important too. “I want people to know they will find what they are looking for here. It is one of the scariest things as a small business to have so much inventory but it’s also the most crucial to being successful.”

Indeed, the secret sauce for a local business is community involvement, industry expertise, and excellent customer service. That magical combination is what make Tons of Toys a special place in my hometown, and I’m so glad our kids get to grow up with Chris and his team creating amazing memories and experiences focused on fun and play!

Playper Curious Kingdom at Tons of Toys Toy Store in Madison New Jersey

You can find Playper Curious Kingdom toys in person at the Madison, New Jersey location.

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