Charlotte Polley, Boo’s Toy Shop, Dorchester
Toys put a smile on children’s faces on Christmas Day, so you could argue that running a toy shop is equivalent to being Santa’s little helper.
After deciding that a move to London just wasn’t right for her and her young family, Charlotte Polley decided to take a leap of faith and set up her very own toy shop.
Can you tell us a bit about yourself and your background before running your own business?
Life before Boo's Toy Shop was very different. My career started at 16, I was 19 when I had my daughter, Chloe, and 23 when I had my son, Connor. I worked my way up the ladder and ended up working as an international assistant merchandiser for a major high street fashion chain.
I loved my job and enjoyed being part of a team where every day was different. But the company I was working for decided to relocate their business from Weymouth to London and the move just wasn't right for us.
I decided to take a leap of faith and set up on my own, so I used my redundancy pay to set up my very own little company.
What’s it like working with family?
I just love working with my family. My grandad helps me with my accounts and my children help me choose the products.
It's still a lot of hard work running a family business and I thought being my own boss would give me a little bit more flexibility when it comes to special occasions, but now I have to be even more organised than before!
Having your own business can be so rewarding. I’m very lucky to have such a brilliant support network.
Whenever I put on events my family is always there to lend a hand and they never let me down.
What’s your favourite thing about being your own boss?
I love being able to make decisions on products and I like to take risks. I love picking a successful product and seeing it fly out the door.
I’d love to say I like choosing when I work, but that seems to be 20 hours a day – so no more watching soaps for me! Once the kids have gone to bed my nose is back in the laptop working.
Why did you decide to start online and then open a shop?
We started off with just the website to test the market. We did make a couple of errors in the beginning but we learnt a lot of lessons. The website allowed us to find our customer base and then we went on the hunt for the right location.
Opening the shop was a huge step for us, but it was so rewarding and it brought more customers. New customers were also falling in love with brands they may not have looked at before.
How do you compete with competition from big toy shops and supermarkets?
We try to create a magical shopping experience. Because we’re an independent shop we can spend
more time with customers and provide a high-quality service. We’ve gained so much support and loyalty from customers based on the excellent service we provide.
We’ve also created an ‘open play’ policy within the shop where children can test out toys and explore without being told not to touch things.
Something else that makes us slightly different is our posting scheme. When customers come in and buy from us they can bring the birthday card along and we do the rest. We post directly from the shop.
This service has gone down so well, especially with grandparents in the local area.
What words of advice would you give to someone thinking about running their own business?
Do your research! It’s essential to know your market and your products. I made a few mistakes at the beginning but I quickly learnt from them.
Have a great accountant behind you and make sure you have a support network.
I’m lucky that I have a very supportive family and amazing friends who help me along the way.
It’s also important to network with local businesses so that you can help each other out.
I love my little business. Like anyone I have my ups and downs and retail can be a challenge at times, but we are always seeking new ideas and suppliers to keep us moving forward. We also aim to continue building that magical experience that draws customers to our store.