What's New: My Toy Garden

October 19, 2011
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Welcome to What’s New Wednesday, a new feature profiling local startups—and the entrepreneurs behind them. This week, we meet Janet Pillsbury, who opened My Toy Garden in Carmel last month.

Type of business: specialty toy store

Address: 301 E. Carmel Drive, Suite A500

Phone: 571-1234

E-mail: hello@mytoygarden.com

Website: mytoygarden.com

Founded: September 2011

Owner: Tim and Janet Pillsbury

Owner’s background: Janet Pillsbury, 44, was a teacher for 17 years. She augmented her income organizing home shopping parties for Discovery Toys before tackling sales full-time when she and her engineer husband, Tim, relocated from Atlanta in 2005.

Janet Pillsbury, My Toy GardenOwner Janet Pillsbury opened My Toy Garden as an alternative to big-box toy retailers. (IBJ Photo/Perry Reichanadter)

Her experience working with children and families—including some with special needs—made Pillsbury a believer in the value of toys that are educational as well as fun. The mother of two (Lily, 4, and Nicholas, 18 months), she said most mass-produced entertainment options “prey” on children, putting profit before anything else. “That is wrong to me,” she said.

Why started business: “It is our goal to give all families a place to come, enjoy, connect, learn and be inspired,” she says on the store’s website. Pillsbury decided to strike out on her own early this year after an ownership change at Discovery Toys left her restless.

Although she was familiar with the industry, she had a lot to learn about running her own shop. Her first step was soliciting feedback from potential customers through an online survey, which helped her shape her business plan—and ultimately land an SBA-backed bank loan (after four denials).

Pillsbury also joined the Chicago-based American Specialty Toy Retailing Association, which gave her access to many of the resources she needed to get started, and sought advice from the local Service Corps of Retired Executives program.

Ultimately, she found a location near her family’s home in Carmel, oversaw remodeling of the former design center, and stocked the shelves she bought from a closed Border’s bookstore nearby.

“I believe if you’re on the right path, everything falls into place,” Pillsbury said of her quick ramp-up. “Everything just clicked.”
Competitive advantage: My Toy Garden aims to promote play in a variety of ways—which Pillsbury has dubbed the “Pathways of Wonder.” Merchandise is organized around those seven themes: literacy, games, construction, puzzles and patterns, creative expression, sensory exploration and active play.

Pillsbury and her two part-time employees—including one who also came from Border’s—ably guide visitors through the store, pointing out popular items and explaining the lessons they impart. The game “Funny Faces,” for example, makes a connection between emotions and expressions, something that can be particularly challenging for children with autism.

Several boxes are open, allowing customers to try before they buy—with or without kids in tow.

“Adults need to play, too,” Pillsbury said.

A weekly newsletter alerts customers to new products or special savings, reinforcing her mission of providing affordable quality.

Startup cost: $140,000

Funding source: Huntington Bank loan, personal funds

Potential problem and contingency plan: Like many small businesses, My Toy Garden faces competition from big-box retailers as well as other homegrown firms. But Pillsbury and her central Indiana peers hope their unusual products and personal touch draw customers.

In fact, she is one of six independent retailers—in Carmel, Zionsville, Brownsburg and Franklin—joining forces to promote Neighborhood Toy Store Day on Nov. 12. “We can help each other build a strong business,” she said. With different price points and product mixes, she said, the stores don’t have to be cut-throat competitors.

First-year goal: Pillsbury accomplished her biggest goal when the store opened in time to work out the kinks before the lucrative holiday shopping season. Now she’s focused on keeping the shelves full and the cash register ringing.

“You get nervous when you see the bills come in,” she said. “But what I’m doing makes a difference. The money will come.”

  • Welcome addition
    What a welcome addition to the retail mix in Carmel.I stopped in to solicit a donation for the Carmel library and was so intrigued with the place I brought my 2 granddaughters in shortly after.They were allowed ample time to shop and there was never any pressure to buy. If you are looking for a respite from "Barbie World," My Toy Garden is a breath of fresh air.

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  1. I am a Lyft driver who is a licensed CDL professional driver. ALL Lyft drivers take pride in providing quality service to the Indianapolis and surrounding areas, and we take the safety of our passengers and the public seriously.(passengers are required to put seat belts on when they get in our cars) We do go through background checks, driving records are checked as are the personal cars we drive, (these are OUR private cars we use) Unlike taxi cabs and their drivers Lyft (and yes Uber) provide passengers with a clean car inside and out, a friendly and courteous driver, and who is dressed appropriately and is groomed appropriately. I go so far as to offer mints, candy and/or small bottle of water to the my customers. It's a mutual respect between driver and passenger. With Best Regards

  2. to be the big fish in the little pond of IRL midwest racin' when yer up against Racin' Gardner

  3. In the first sentance "As a resident of one of these new Carmel Apartments the issue the local governments need to discuss are build quality & price." need a way to edit

  4. As a resident of one of these new Carmel Apartments the issue the local governments need to discuss is build quality & price. First none of these places is worth $1100 for a one bedroom. Downtown Carmel or Keystone at the Crossing in Indy. It doesn't matter. All require you to get in your car to get just about anywhere you need to go. I'm in one of the Carmel apartments now where after just 2.5 short years one of the kitchen cabinet doors is crooked and lawn and property maintenance seems to be lacking my old Indianapolis apartment which cost $300 less. This is one of the new star apartments. As they keep building throughout the area "deals" will start popping up creating shoppers. If your property is falling apart after year 3 what will it look like after year 5 or 10??? Why would one stay here if they could move to a new Broad Ripple in 2 to 3 years or another part of the Far Northside?? The complexes aren't going to let the "poor" move in without local permission so that's not that problem, but it the occupancy rate drops suddenly because the "Young" people moved back to Indy then look out.

  5. Why are you so concerned about Ace hardware? I don't understand why anyone goes there! Every time ive gone in the past, they don't have what I need and I end up going to the big box stores. I understand the service aspect and that they try to be helpful but if they are going to survive I think they might need to carry more specialty parts.