Independently-owned retailers are a key part of their local communities. For example, did you know that small retailers make up 98.6% of all retail firms in the U.S.? They also employ nearly 40% of all retail employees. One of our customers, Finnegan’s Toys & Gifts, has been a staple of the Portland, Oregon community over the past 40 years. Read on to hear from founder Karen Leppmann on how Finnegan’s has continued to thrive even with the rise of large online retailers.

Finnegan's toys & gifts

How Finnegan’s Toys & Gifts got started

Karen’s business started as more of a side project, like many other businesses. She says, “After I finished school, I wanted to do something physical, and something that didn’t involve studying after so many years. I had thought about going to vet school; I worked in a zoo toward that. Then got a degree in journalism. I was just tired of studying. So I got some power tools to make something, and ended up making furniture for children that looked like animals. So, for instance, there was a bookshelf that looked like a giraffe, and a toy chest that looked like a lion. From there the idea grew to have a toy store.”

Karen-finnegan's toys & gifts

“I like hearing all of the nice things people say about our store. We’re on our third generation of customers. I love seeing the people playing; I love it when they run in and say, ‘Oh, yay, yay, yay! Look at what they have!’ Those are the things that I like best.” – Karen Leppmann, Founder and Owner, Finnegan’s Toys & Gifts

How Finnegan’s Toys & Gifts competes against online retailers

It may seem surprising that Finnegan’s Toys & Gifts has thrived, even as so many other toy stores have closed over the past few decades. Karen puts their success down to their customer service and selection.

She says, “We are the largest toy store in Portland, possibly in the northwest. We have a wonderful selection, a very wide selection of interesting, sometimes educational, always fun toys and gifts for all ages. Additionally, our staff is wonderful. They help people shop and can make suggestions. They will even point you toward another store if we do not have what you need. We do gift wrapping and we do shipping.”

Because of their unique selection and stellar customer service, Finnegan’s has become a destination for locals and tourists alike in Portland. Karen explains: “Tourists in particular tell us they have nothing like this where they come from. Toy stores seem to be disappearing, so they don’t have any place where you go try a toy, touch it, and take it home with you. Locals tell us they know we’ll have what they’re looking for.”

Financing challenges

Like most small businesses, Karen says Finnegan’s has struggled with getting funding in the past. She states: “Finding funding is always an issue for us. We need to build our inventory in the fall, so we have a full store before when customers start shopping for the holidays. We always need extra cash for that.”

Before finding OnDeck, they had to get pretty creative to get the funds needed to buy their holiday inventory. She says, “Over the years, we’ve used various ways of getting funding for the holidays. We’ve borrowed from family, used credit cards, worked with banks and other lending groups, but over the last few years, we’ve used OnDeck exclusively, because they’ve been the easiest and the best to work with. The application process is easy. It’s quick. You know in a few days whether you’ve been approved, and the money comes to you when you need it.”

Without their funds from OnDeck, Karen says they would struggle to prepare for the holiday season, which is their biggest month of the year: “If we didn’t have a source for that money, I’m not certain what we would do. We would not be able to have the stock we have. We would not be able to make as many parents and children happy. It’s a definite need for a toy store.”

Learn more about how retailers prepare for the holiday season in “How Retailers Can Maximize Holiday Season Sales.”

The pros and cons of running your own business

For Karen, one of the best parts of running a toy store is being able to make parents and children happy. She says, “I like hearing all of the nice things people say about our store. We’re on our third generation of customers. I love seeing the people playing; I love it when they run in and say, ‘Oh, yay, yay, yay! Look at what they have!’ Those are the things that I like best.”

That makes all the hard work of running a business worth it in her opinion: “what I love about running my own business is also what I don’t like sometimes. It’s wonderful to be your own boss, but on the other hand, you’re your own boss, and you have to do all of the things that need to be done. Luckily, I’m a hard worker, so that works okay. I’ve also finally figured out that pulling a store together and making it a destination is kind of a creative endeavor.”

Looking forward

After 40 years of running Finnegan’s, Karen is starting to think about how she can keep the business running when she eventually retires. She says, “looking forward, what gets me most excited about the future of the business is trying to figure out who will take it to the next step. At some point, I need to stop working, and someone else will need to take that over. So that’s an exciting idea, that someone will come in with their own ideas, and make changes. I’m sure they’ll all be for the better.”

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