WYCKOFF, N.J. -- Just when it seemed that online buying and big-box stores were sinking mom-and-pop businesses right, left and center, one New Jersey shop has found a way, not only to stay afloat, but to thrive.
Ken Maietta’s dad, Jerry, opened Tons of Toys in on Franklin Avenue in Wyckoff nearly three decades ago and handed over the reins to his son in 2004.
Tons of Toys could have eventually succumbed to bigger competitors such as Walmart, Target, Toys ‘R’ Us, or even Amazon. Instead, it has morphed into a mini-chain with a total of five stores. Besides Wyckoff, it has locations in Westwood, Madison, Chatham and Bernardsville.
But, how? It’s not giving away a state secret, said the younger Maietta, to reveal that common sense has had a lot to do with their success.
Tons of Toys, which started preparing for the holiday crush in September, does something the big guys don’t seem to do very well – offer personalized customer service, Maietta said Wednesday.
First of all, Maietta monitors “hot” toy trends all year long, not only by paying attention to manufacturers' pitches and scoping out television ads, but, more importantly, hearing what kids and their parents have to say.
“Ultimately, it’s the customers who decide what we carry in the end,” said Maietta, who credits himself with having “a good eye.”
Then, in order to preserve the “momentum” during lulls, Tons of Toys hosts things such as LEGO “play days,” where the toy building-bricks maker supplies kits for kids to use at the store, and Halloween parties.
It also has giveaways, free gift-wrapping and “personal experts” to help adults and kids pick out the right toys.
“It’s a way of staying relevant in the age of online buying,” said Meietta, who studied economics at Drew University in Madison, N.J.
The store also gives back to the community by donating gift cards, toys and other items to churches, hospitals and other local organizations.
Tons of Toys carries a multitude of popular brands such as Melissa & Doug, Hasbro, FisherPrice, Mattel, Disney and Marvel.
Because of online shopping, the days of crazed buyers wrestling each other for the last Cabbage Patch kid or Beanie Baby are supposedly gone, but that doesn’t mean certain “hot” toys still aren’t hard to get.
Meietta said this year’s must-haves are Hatchimals and an “old-school” Nintendo.
Hatchimals, made by Spinmaster, are interactive birdlike critters that burst out of their “eggs” and have to be taken care of as they age.
They have literally been flying off the shelves.
Tons of Toys was able to order 48 -- its entire allotment -- and all of them were snapped up within a day. “If I could have gotten 4,800, I would have ordered them,” Meietta said, adding that the store has gotten dozens of inquiries about the toy.
The toy is supposed to retail around $50 but has been showing up on Amazon for between $190 and $350. One ebay seller was offering a single Hatchimal for a whopping $600.
“There are people that will pay that price, just to make their kids happy,” Meietta said.
As for the Nintendo NES Classic, the entertainment system comes with 30 pre-loaded games from its heyday in the late 1980’s and an updated computer chip.
Meietta wasn’t able to get his hands on any of the Nintendos, but said he knows people are forking over hundreds of dollars for something that should go for $59.99.
“And that’s just 45 days out,” Meietta said. “I wouldn’t be surprised if they went for close to $1,000 right before Christmas.”
This is the biggest difference between purchasing something from someone you know and buying it from an anonymous online entity, he said.
Mom-and-pops know and care about their customers as individuals; they are, after all, their life’s blood.
“They are never going to gouge them,” he said.