Now that school is back in session, the energy in the toy store has shifted. Fewer people come through the door, and I can actually hear which songs are playing on the radio. During school hours, the wee ones who frequent the store are generally in strollers. And wearing diapers. Boxes arrive needing to be checked in, priced, and displayed in an appealing way. And while I enjoy this task, I miss seeing the children, the young customers I have come to know and enjoy. I miss talking to them, discussing what books they are reading, and listening to whatever they choose to reveal.
This past weekend, there were a number of memorable customers: the seven-year-old girl who proudly announced to me that she was now a Junior Dinosaur Hunter; the girl who wants to be a giant bat for Halloween and needed help finding baby bats to be her babies; the boy who always wears a tie, and has a collection of over five hundred ties; the three-year-old girl who grabbed my hand and led me through the store showing me everything she liked; the two young brothers who negotiated for almost an hour in the stuffed animal room until one brother’s terms of repayment abruptly put an end to the negotiations; and the seven-year-old girl who came in yesterday, after school, to spend her savings.
At 3:30, she walked into the store with her grandmother, dressed in a plaid school uniform. She came to buy something. Anything. Whatever she could afford with what was in her change purse, or rather a long knitted sock with a brass clasp at the top.
Generally the accompanying adult or the child, or both, are aware of how much the child has to spend. They go back and forth, discussing which toys are affordable, and which would require that the child wait and save up more money. In most cases, the child chooses not to wait. They want to buy something now. Today.
I offered my assistance to the grandmother, hoping she knew the child’s spending limit. She didn’t. “Oh, she has her own money and has to choose herself. This could take a long time,” she said. “A very, very long time.”
After letting her know I would help, as needed, (and that I understood her predicament), I returned to the day’s shipments. I priced the new product “Find It” and began to make room on glass shelving to the left of our register. First I put away the school themed items: die-cast school bus, remote control school bus, a Ravensburger puzzle with a school bus and cats for students, and an assortment of back-to-school books. Shelves clean, I worked on displaying the new game, which is very intriguing and sounds like a lot of fun for all ages.
Behind me the girl continued to look and look and look. “You can’t afford that,” her grandmother said. (The two of them were standing in front of the glass cases where we keep the collectible dolls.) Ten minutes went by. “No, you can’t afford that, either.” After ten more minutes, and five more “You can’t afford that,” the grandmother sighed, and suggested they go home.Pleaded was more like it. The girl refused.
1. Introduce yourself to the child and let them know you will help them.
2. Assure the adult involved that you are experienced in these type of situations, and with any luck, they should be able to leave the store within ten minutes.
3. Ask the child what they are interested in, or more importantly, what they are hoping to buy with their money. (Pray that the child is not set on taking home a Steiff or Madame Alexander doll, because if that is the case, you will have a challenge on your hands.)
4. Find out how much money they have with them.
5. Knowing their interests, show them a variety of items within their budget. If they keep going back to the collectibles, distract them before they even enter that area. (You can easily distract a child by asking them questions about their family, pets, siblings, etc.) Children love to talk about themselves.
6. VERIFY HOW MUCH MONEY THEY HAVE.
“Lots.” She smiled and jingled her lavender and gray knitted sock, its contents clinking.
“How much is lots?”
“Tons.” Clink. Clink. Clinkety-clink.
I began to ask for her definition of tons when she sprang to step 5 on her own. “My brother has lots of money. He has millions of money. More than me.” Clink. Clink. Clink.
“I have to sleep in a bunk bed.”
“Top or bottom?”
“Bottom. My brother–the one who has the millions–he sleeps on the top, cuz I have rules. Lots of rules.”
At this point, her grandmother sent me a distress signal. I needed to have this child out the door in less than five minutes. As a writer, I was intrigued by the girl’s conversation. What kind of rules did she have? Did the brother follow them? Did she make up the rules herself and . . .
The grandmother was fading. Fast.
“How many dollars do you have with you?” I said, wishing to hear more about her rules.
“Don’t know. Let me see,” she said and shook her sock. Clink. Clink. Clink. “See. Told you. I have tons.” She held the sock closer to my ear so I could varify the tons of money.
“Why don’t we count what you have, just to be sure.” I walked her to the register, picked up the calculator, and asked her to empty the sock. There were wadded dollar bills–two of them, and coins. Tons of coins. Pennies and nickels and dimes and quarters and coins from other countries.
We counted. The grandmother sorted the nickels. I flattened the dollar bills. The girl made a stack of pennies. A very tall stack, which teetered precariously.
I rushed through the store, desperately seeking small items priced $3.00 and below. The girl dragged her feet, mumbling about the doll, and why was it that her baby brother had millions and she didn’t.
Nothing caught her interest. I had a basket filled with little Schleich animals, lanyard in different colors, coloring books, and temporary tattoos. (Silly bands were not allowed in her household.) The girl shuffled behind me, clinking her coins, and clinging to her dream of buying the doll. The grandmother announced “Time is up.” The girl’s eyes flooded with tears.
“You said you like dolls, right?” I said.
She nodded, beginning to cry.
“What do you feed your babies?”
“Cheerios, jello, crackers . . .”
“How about a baby bottle?”
“Okay,” she said and wiped her eyes.
I leaned closer to her and whispered. “How about two baby bottles?”
She beamed and followed me to the register. Out dumped the money. We all shared in counting out $3.17. “You’re an angel,” her grandmother said as they left the store.
I wished them well, thinking, I am not an angel. I am a writer who is incredibly lucky to work at a toy store.
Our website is finally up and running. Most of the pictures were taken by me, which I hope reflect the true essence of The Toy Soldier. www.toysoldiermystic.com