Cover Story — Geppetto’s Toys
Brian Miller is owner of Geppetto’s Toys, San Diego’s largest independent toy retailer.
Geppetto’s Toys owner indulges his childhood pastime for retail success
By Cecilia Buckner
U.S. retail toy sales totaled $16.5 billion in 2012, a slight decline from the $16.6 billion recorded in 2011, according to The NPD Group, a global information company. But that’s no big deal to Brian Miller, owner of Geppetto’s Toys — San Diego’s largest independent toy retailer.
Geppetto’s has experienced growth every year since Miller founded it in 1992, from as little as 1 percent during the recession to double-digit figures.
And it is continuing to grow.
Construction is nearly complete for Miller’s ninth toy store location in San Diego — The Headquarters retail development at Seaport Village. Completion is scheduled for November.
“The ‘toy story’ for 2012 was filled with concern about declining birthrates, economic uncertainty and competition from consumer electronics, and those are all real issues for the Toy industry,” said Russ Crupnick, senior vice president at The NPD Group. “But, in the end, consumers proved that toys are still important and relevant as play options, and that they are willing to pay extra for products that deliver on play value.”
That, apparently, is one of the keys to Geppetto’s Toys’ success. That, and the fact that Miller is like the proverbial kid in the candy store — he loves to get his hands on his toys, personally picking out the ones his stores carry.
“I like picking out (and playing with) the toys!” Miller says. “This is what I love most about running Geppetto’s.”
Miller is chairman of the Good Toy Group, an 80-plus member national organization that creates catalogs for independently owned toy stores across the country that focus on quality toys for children of all ages. He says he iscommitted to providing a storefront that stocks the best toys available.
Miller’s toy selection mirrors the way the Miller family lives and is just one of the values that sets Geppetto’s apart from the big toy store chains.
Miller often played board games with his four siblings and parents as a young boy. He now shares that experience with his two boys, Nathan, 13, Jared, 10 and wife, Danielle. It’s a little harder now, Miller says, because kids like their screen time.
The shelves at Geppetto’s eight stores are filled with these board games, along with some toys made from wood, retro toys, such as Spirograph, and green toys — including some manufactured from recycled milk jugs, made by California company, Green Toys.
“What I think Geppetto’s does a really nice job of is balanced toy buying,” says Jillian Warner, a Pacific Beach resident who often tests toys
and blogs about them on her blog, Mommy Testers. “(Miller) has a pretty great sense of what parents want.”
Geppetto’s offers alternatives, Miller says. While electronic toys have their place, they cannot replace face-to-face interaction with family and friends. The toys he sells teach, and enhance connecting and interacting with others. “You can’t get that from computers,” he says.
As a child, growing up in San Diego from age 11, Miller says he always admired the fact that his parents were in the retail business. His father, Hadley, ran an antique shop and children’s toy store, Children’s World, in Hotel Del Coronado.
After finishing business studies at the University of Pennsylvania, and beginning some retail work of his own at Urban Outfitters, he was drawn back to San Diego to help his mother, Carol, with his father’s stores when he died.
The toy store was not doing well, Miller says, but within a year he was able to bring it around and in 1992, he bought his first Geppetto’s store in Old Town from a neighbor — marking the beginning of his legacy.
“As far as Old Town … let’s just say the store wasn’t meeting its sales potential when we bought it,” says Miller, but “It paid for itself in less than a year.”
Since then, Miller says he has not looked back. “Every year our revenue has grown for the past 20 years. Some more than others.”
Geppetto’s Toys is one of the largest regional toy chains in the U.S. and tallies 40 percent of its annual sales during the last two months of the year.
And when Geppetto’s grows, so does the community. Miller gives back a percentage of the store’s sales during grand opening to local charities. “I enjoy being actively engaged in a variety of philanthropic activities,” he says.
Miller says four things largely contributed to his stores’ success — exceptional staff, product selection, location and the stores’ environment/presentation. When selecting a store site, he says he picks areas of interest to the consumer that generate a lot of foot traffic, and uses the warm environment of his stores —outlined in brick and laid with red hardwood floors — to welcome shoppers.
Aside from the stores’ success, Miller says the most important thing to him is making Geppetto’s a place that children want to go. One of his warmest memories that he cherishes to this day, he says, is when parents of a young boy told him that for his birthday he could go to Legoland or Geppetto’s and he chose Geppetto’s. “At that moment, I knew we made an impact on children.”
Geppetto’s toys offers nine locations from Chula Vista to Carlsbad, in addition to a licensed storefront at the Dallas, Fort Worth International Airport.
To find out more about Geppetto’s Toy’s visit geppettostoys.com or call (858) 551-1070.
Geppetto’s Toy Stores in San Diego County:
• Carlsbad: The Forum , 1935 Calle Barcelona. (760) 632-1107.
• Del Mar: Flower Hill, 2670 Via de la Valle. (858) 755-2100.
• 4S Commons Town Center: 10436 Craftsman Way. (858) 674-9990.
• Del Mar Highlands: 3435 Del Mar Height.s (858) 350-9038.
• La Jolla: 7850 Girard Ave. (858) 456-4441.
• Westfield UTC : 4545 La Jolla Village Dr ive. (858) 546-7633
• Fashion Valley: 7007 Friars Road. (619) 294-8878.
• Old Town: 2754 Calhoun St. (619) 293-7520
• San Diego: The Headquarters, Seaport Village. Opening in November.
Geppetto’s Top Toys For 2013:
Kinetic Sand ($15.99 – $44.99) — Bring the beach indoors with this incredible play sand. Easy-to-shape sand molds into simple designs and can be used again and again. (ages 3 and up).
Choon’s Rainbow Loom ($16.99) — One of the hottest items of the year. Using a loom, kids link colorful rubber bands to make different patterned bracelets, rings and even a mini-handbag. (ages 8 and up).
Spirograph Deluxe Set ($29.99) — It’s back! Originally created in 1965 as a drafting tool by mechanical engineer Denys Fisher, the Spirograph was an instant hit in the toy world. Kids can make beautiful, intricate designs from the motion of gears around wheels using the art of mathematics. (ages 8 and up).
Goldie Blox and the Spinning Machine ($32.99) — Engineering fun geared for girls. Goldie Blox offers a much-needed female engineer role model who is smart, curious and accessible. She has the potential to get girls interested in engineering, develop their spatial skills and build self-confidence in their problem solving abilities. (ages 6 and up).
Terzetto by Gamewright ($22.99) — Outwit and outplace your opponent in this clever game of marble maneuvers. (ages 8 and up).
Lazer Maze by Think Fun ($29.99) — Lights and mirrors may make it feel like magic, but it’s really science and a good dose of brain power that’s needed to direct the laser beam through this series of mind challenging mazes. (ages 8 and up).
Nancy B Moon Scope by Educational Insights ($49.99) — Magnify the night sky up to 90x and see amazing things such as mountains on the moon and Saturn’s rings. (ages 8 and up).
Demolition Lab by Smart Lab ($39.99) —With the mind-blowing Demolition Lab, kids can construct unlimited warehouse-type buildings using over 100 walls, spires, beams, panels and more. (ages 8 and up).
Pogo Sticks by National Sporting Goods ($59.99-$69.99) — Kids of all shapes and sizes can pick the pogo stick that is right for them. The pogo sticks have a unique concealed low friction spring that enables smoother, higher and quieter bounces. (ages 5 and up).