By Judy Salamacha
National Neighborhood Toy Store Day is Saturday, Nov. 10 and Lisa Smith, owner of Whiz Kids of San Luis Obispo, has a suggestion how the young and the young at heart might celebrate.
“Come visit the happiest place in SLO in the happiest city in America,” she invited. New games will be demonstrated encouraging active participation from the kids and their parents with a variety of craft projects scheduled throughout the day. “Kids can play and go home with something they have made.”
Smith had graduated from Cal Poly in 1987 with an urban planning degree, but the right job was not open in her field. Since she and her husband Mark Smith preferred to remain residents of Los Osos, she look
ed around for options and noticed that a kid-oriented business was lacking. Opening a toy store was on her someday-wish-list.
“Someday” arrived 31-years ago when she opened Whiz Kids in Los Osos in a prime spot next door to Carlock’s Bakery. The toy store has always focused on educational and developmental toys and books.
She moved the store in 1997 to SLO’s Marigold Center on Broad Street, and 10-years ago, they moved the family-owned retail business once again to 3979 South Higuera St., next door to Trader Joe’s.
Whiz Kids features thousands of toys, games and books for toddlers through adults sourced from 450 vendors.
What industry trends has Smith seen over the years? “Products have basically held steady,” she said.
The materials used became stronger like Indestructible’s baby books. Dolls with changeable clothing still come in all sizes, but have been modernized for age, ethnic and gender diversity, she added.
Puzzles have always been popular. But Smith’s concern over the last couple of years is that “Technology has taken over. Kids are spending more time with their devises and not as much time role playing. Kids used to spend hours dressing their dolls or wearing their super-hero capes, but not as much lately.”
And for those parents and grandparents who share Smith’s concerns, she has trained her staff to offer techniques to vary a child’s playtime. Her best advice, however, is to carve out more family time.
Toys, games, and books played or read together provide time for learning and time for family bonding, she said. For example, there’s been a resurgence of interest in all ages for jigsaw puzzles.
Another family activity might be inviting family friends over after creating an interactive home version of the popular Escape Room craze.
One of her current favorite books is the New York Times Best Seller, “Good Night Stories for Rebel Girls — 100 Tales of Extraordinary Women” by Elena Favilla and Francesca Cavillo.
The book features an illustration and 1-page depiction of women from all over the world who have made a difference by following their passions, interests and innate talents.
Arts and crafts have always been Smith’s favorite activities. She’s enjoyed watching how the Arts & Crafts tool kit industry has blossomed. “It started with burlap bags with arts and craft pieces inside and now amazing projects come in a variety of kits for kids.”
Special events incorporating arts and crafts projects happen monthly at Whiz Kids. Story Time & Crafts occurs every Friday morning at 10:30 a.m. Activities include reading stories and completing a craft project that parents and little ones create together. No need to RSVP, it’s designed for whoever shows up.
Whiz Kids also participates in San Luis Obispo’s Annual Small Business Day slated this year for Saturday Nov. 24. Activities showcase holiday gift buying ideas.
The 28th Annual Whiz Kids Lego Contest was held in mid-October. Creative building projects utilizing math and engineering concepts was the basis behind Smith innovative contest.
“Kids bring their Lego creations in to enter the contest,” she said. “There’s no fee and no age limit — even adults can build and enter. Everyone gets a prize.” She loves listening to the kids describe what they built and why.
For a variety of reasons not many retail businesses survive 31 years. Smith believes the secret to her success is stocking new products on almost a weekly basis.
“There is always something new to come in and see,” she said. “We’re able to choose the products we want to carry, which must pass our test to encourage positive play and developmental learning. We enjoy helping our parents and grandparents learn how to maximize what the toy was intended to teach.”
Success typically depends on well-trained employees who appreciate the core values of the business and understand the products and where to find them in the store. Smith is regularly at Whiz Kids rotating her five additional employees: Sue McCutcheon, Rena Rodriguez, Sarabeth Bertenthal, Kaylie O’Brien, and Gwen Stewart.
Smith and staff realize Whiz Kids has discovered a magnet for repeat business. Everyone is greeted by Smith’s pups — Sadie, Lucy, and Cody. “They come to the store every day and have their own fan club members who drop by just to visit our dogs and hear Sadie’s snores.”
Whiz Kids phone number is (805) 547-1723 or see: www.whizkidsslo.com.
Photo above: Whiz Kids toy store owner, Lisa Smith, poses with the store’s three biggest
attractions — pooches Sadie, Lucy, and Cody. Photo by Judy Salamacha
Freelance writer, columnist and author of “Colonel Baker’s Field: An American Pioneer Story,” Judy Salamacha, is a regular contributor for Simply Clear Marketing & Media. Contact her at: firstname.lastname@example.org or (805) 801-1422 with story ideas.