Its all fun and games

Couple opens specialty toy store in Esther Short Commons building

Bob and Mary Sisson may have the luckiest grandchildren ever. The Sissons are the owners of Vancouver’s newest toy store Kazoodles. It was the grandchildren, ages four and two, that gave the couple the idea in the first place. Traveling to Portland to visit the specialty toy stores to get the kinds of gifts they were looking for, they realized there was a need in Vancouver.

Mary Sisson’s job at the Vancouver School District recently had been eliminated and she was looking for a new opportunity. Even though they had never been involved in business before, they decided to take a chance. They opened the store in downtown Vancouver in March.

The Sissons attended a class at Clark College and enlisted the help of the local chapter of SCORE. The couple said they benefited from doing their homework before jumping in. Creating a business plan was especially helpful, said Mary Sisson.

"It was hard work, but worth it," she said. "It makes you think through everything."

Kazoodles specializes in "kid-powered toys," meaning that virtually all of the toys do not require batteries.

"They are toys that kids have to do something with," said Bob Sisson. "They foster interaction."

Mary Sisson added: "Rather than the toy doing the playing for them."

The couple visited as many as 30 toy stores in the region and on trips to California and New England, talking to owners and scoping out products. They also attended trade shows and began developing contacts with vendors. Kazoodles’ inventory is supplied by more than 150 vendors. The Sissons said it is an ongoing process to find the right mix of merchandise. They stay away from mainstream toys that can be found in the national retail stores. The store’s selection ranges from books to tricycles, and prices range from a couple dollars to $150.

The Sissons decided on 2,000 square feet on the ground floor of the Esther Short Commons building to be close to the revitalization taking place downtown. And families are attracted to the area by the Farmers Market and Esther Short Park, said the Sissons.

Friends worked many long nights setting up the shop. Much of the store’s shelving and displays were found secondhand from other retailers going out of business.

The Sissons’ daughter, Sunny, one of two part-time employees of the store, initially suggested the name Kazoos – because kids like funny names – but a well-known Denver toy store already laid claim to it. So they decided on a variation of the word.

It’s a challenge to get Kazoodles’ name out to the public, the couple said. To reach out to the community they have begun holding various events at the store, such as story time for preschoolers once each week and providing toys to help disabled children.

"The feedback from customers shows we are on the right track," said Mary Sisson.

The Sissons are also considering online sales on the store’s Web site.

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