BERNARDSVILLE, NJ—There aren’t many toy stores left. Following the closure of Toys R Us in 2018, there remained few options for people who wanted to shop for toys the old fashioned way. That’s where Bernardsville’s Tons of Toys came in.
“We we are still the local neighborhood toy store,” said the store’s manager, Mike Milnes. “It’s a family-owned business.”
Milnes has managed the Bernardsville location on Morristown Road for four years. There are also Tons of Toys stores in Madison, Westwood, and Wyckoff. Leading up the pandemic, Tons of Toys had used the neighborhood toy store philosophy to achieve success.
“We had just had our best holiday season ever,” said Milnes, “January was busier than normal. We were starting to see a lot of new faces in the store.”
But in mid-March, the coronavirus forced most businesses to close. Because they sell a sizeable amount of educational material. Tons of Toys was allowed to operate but could not allow anyone into the store.
For a business that depends on browsing customers and a personal touch, it would seem a death knell. Not so for Tons of Toys. First they tried curbside pickup, which was mildly successful. Milnes said he knows why.
“At the time, the pandemic was still hitting this area hard,” he said, “and shopping for toys and educational materials is a visual experience.”
Milnes said Tons of Toys had to adjust drastically.
“We had to basically put our whole business model aside,” he said.
Knowing their customers were going to need an added incentive, they began contactless local delivery to homes. Replacing the physical store experience with ultimate convenience—faster delivery than Amazon—worked well, even if it was a bit chaotic for Milnes and his staff.
“We were taking orders over the phone and by email and by social media,” Milnes said, “People would call or email us questions about toys, and we’d answer them as best we could. It was kind of stressful, but we got it done.”
Best of all was the customers reaction to the service, because although Tons of Toys may have adjusted its operation, it hadn’t abandoned the neighborhood toy store feel.
“People were very, very happy with it,” Milnes said. “And we actually had this little niche that helped to keep us alive.”
By mid-June, New Jersey’s health guidelines allowed Tons of Toys to reopen the physical stores. Soon, it was doing brisk in-person business in addition to continuing the delivery and pickup operations. But looking back on those early few months of the shutdown, Milnes said he and his staff discovered something.
“We kind of got a kick out of working behind closed doors for a while,” said Milnes. “It was different, but we started to really miss our customers.”