Finnegan’s Toys & Gifts of Portland, Oregon is the OnDeck Small Business of the Month for November 2019. Locally owned and operated for more than 40 years, Finnegan’s is the largest independent toy store in Portland.
Finnegan’s got its start in 1977 when University of Oregon graduate Karen Leppmann found herself at a crossroads. During that first summer following college, the journalism graduate decided that writing up school board meetings was much less fun than designing and building wooden children’s furniture shaped and painted like animals.
So, without even a business plan in hand, Karen decided to try something different, and opened a small brick-and-mortar store at the west edge of downtown Portland. “We called it Finnegan’s, using my childhood nickname”, says Karen. “It was meant to be a temporary step off the path, but I will tell you that signing a 5-year lease was terrifying.”
Karen may have been new to the world of retail but she did have a strong instinct as to what customers might want from a toy shop.
“I searched everywhere for hard-to-find toys and modeled our inventory on those of small toy stores in Germany I had visited as a child,” says Karen. “I think our unusual inventory, easy access in downtown Portland and word of mouth among residents put us on the map. Remember, there was no Internet back then.”
Over the past few decades, the City of Portland grew and so did Finnegan’s Toys & Gifts. There have been several moves as the business expanded, but the little toy and gift shop that Karen started out of college has become a booming, year-round destination for residents and travelers.
As with many small businesses, Finnegan’s Toys & Gifts needed financing along the way. In 2012, Karen went online and found OnDeck.
“Over decades in retail, I have learned that you need to choose your inventory carefully, try new products, keep the best of the old, and get out ahead of certain times, especially the holiday season,” says Karen. “New inventory ahead of seasonal demand is crucial. When I needed to bolster my inventory, OnDeck was there for me with easy-to-access, speedy financing online. It is a tremendous relief to have a lender like OnDeck you can count on. “
Today, Finnegan’s is a local institution and continues to stock unusual, hard-to-find toys, games and gifts for adults, teens and children. Karen is happy to report that Finnegan’s prices are sometimes lower than even the online retail giants on certain toys and gifts, due to her research and 40 years of experience in the business.
“In an Internet era when many people have forgotten what it means to touch a toy or see a gift first-hand before buying it, at Finnegan’s we encourage customers to play with the toys,” says Karen. “We provide friendly, old-fashioned customer service – help choosing gifts, shipping, free gift-wrapping, and even suggestions for other stores to try if we don’t have what you’re looking for. Tourists tell us they have nothing like Finnegan’s in their town, no store with a large inventory of well-chosen toys, puzzles, games and gifts that customers can touch and try out. We’re happy to still be here after all these years.”
“It is with great pleasure that we congratulate Karen on her remarkable success operating an iconic toy and gift store for all ages,” says Andrea Gellert, Chief Revenue Officer, OnDeck. “The City of Portland is lucky to have such a retail visionary, who continues to find new toys and gifts to dazzle shoppers, while maintaining personal service that encourages generations of customers to keep coming back.”