Can you imagine how fun it would be to work in a toy store? Anna Chow could. That’s why she and her husband, Dexter, bought Cheeky Monkey Toys in 2002. Dexter had been laid off from his job as a software engineer and Anna was expecting their first child. They wanted to buy a business to have more flexibility .
The Menlo Park, CA toy store was started by a Canadian family in 1999. They coined the name Cheeky Monkey, an endearing name for a fun-loving, rambunctious child. In 2007, Anna and her husband expanded the store to double its original size.
They carry 15,000 items in the store—lots of infant/toddler developmentally appropriate toys that have quality and longevity. They stock toys that encourage the child to bring something to the experience and not just push a button.
For older children, ages 7-8, there’s a social component to toys, a shared vocabulary that may involve trading, for example marbles or Japanese erasers. At this age, children become the decision makers and sometimes want trendy items they’ve seen advertised. Some of the popular toys for this age group are classic retro toys like jacks, Japanese erasers, Pick-Up Sticks, and paper airplanes.
Anna explained that what makes Cheeky Monkey unique is the amount of toys they have out for children to play with. It helps parents see how a child plays with a toy to decide whether to purchase it. “We like to create a WOW experience for the whole family so there’s a sense of excitement when they come in,” she said. “It’s not – Don’t touch – but a place where kids can be kids.”
They always have at least five staff available to help with selections and questions. It’s important in terms of experience. On Saturdays they have 8-9 people.
Anna loves working in the store—especially talking with customers one-on-one. But she didn’t expect the sense of community that came along with it. She’s always recognized when she’s out shopping and appreciates that. She volunteers at her kids’ school and on the Menlo Park Library Foundation. She does outreach and donations, sponsors a little league team and Dexter is chair of Menlo Park Downtown Business Association.
Anna is very knowledgeable about toys. She believes that toys are important to children because they’re the tools that help them learn through play. That’s how they discover new things and make sense of the world. A few quality toys are better than lots of toys that they outgrow or fall aside. She cited a poll that said 25% of toys purchased never get played with and only 10% get played with more than 5 times.
Parents often underestimate their role in toys. They can re-introduce a toy when a child gets older to help extend the life of a toy as the child progresses in development.
Cheeky Monkey offers some special features on their website: you can order a toy online from over 2,000 items, have it gift wrapped, and then invite your family to come in and pick it up. They host monthly theme events for holiday crafts, puppet shows, a club rewards program (spend $250 and earn a $25 gift certificate) and a newsletter with tips on how to select toys.
[Full disclosure: Cheeky Monkey Toys is a sponsor of this blog.]