You’d be hard pressed to find a kid who wouldn’t want Jon Levy’s job.
The CEO of Mastermind Toys also serves as the Ontario-based retailer’s chief merchant — or head toy buyer. And the effort that he and the business’s other buyers put into their jobs is one of the things that sets Mastermind Toys apart, said Levy.
“Sifting through the thousands and thousands of things that we see when we travel all over the world, whether it’s Europe, the U.S., Asia or different places, to find what we think are the best and most fun toys, is quite a process.”
Founded by Levy and his brother Andy in 1984, Mastermind Toys has grown to 38 stores, with the 39th scheduled to open at Gaetz Avenue Crossing in Red Deer next month.
“Red Deer’s central location and solid economy are a few of the reasons why we are opening a new Mastermind store here,” said Levy. “Our research demonstrates that there is a strong appetite for specialty toys and children’s books in Red Deer.”
Mastermind Toys is in the midst of an aggressive program of growth. Five years ago, the chain consisted of just 11 stores; now the goal is 70 by 2018 — with 10 expected to be added this year alone.
Levy explained that the first 25 years were spent developing and refining Mastermind Toys’ brand and expertise. When the decision was then made to grow beyond the company’s Ontario roots, it was felt that the infrastructure needed to support a national business necessitated a “critical mass” of stores.
Concerns that the Mastermind name might not resonate with consumers outside its traditional market disappeared once stores began opening in British Columbia and Alberta, said Levy. That’s because mothers — Mastermind Toys’ primary customer — embraced the concept.
In addition to its “thoughtfully selected” inventory of toys, Mastermind Toys has a distinctive layout, he said. This includes products arranged around the store in departments, with wide aisles and continuous sight lines so parents can easily watch their youngsters.
Mastermind Toys also emphasizes knowledgeable service, added Levy, so adults can make informed buying decisions. Between its in-store and online (www.mastermindtoys.com) offerings, the company carries about 10,000 unique items, including some 6,000 types of toys and 4,000 book titles.
“About 20 per cent of the space in our stores is dedicated to children’s books and reading.”
Complimentary gift-wrapping is offered.
Levy estimated that about 30 per cent of Mastermind Toys’ products change every year, although some classics have stood the test of time.
“There are a lot of old favourites on the shelf that we’ve been carrying since Day 1.”
Many others have given way to new and different products, with a couple of consumer trends currently influencing the merchandise on the shelves.
“One is the infusion of technology into toys, which is very exciting,” said Levy. “And then conversely, there’s the desire of people to not want technology in toys.”
The latter push is helping strengthen demand for toys like building blocks.
Levy said Mastermind Toys carries playthings for infants, such as rattles; and also entertains teens with the likes of science kits and crafts.
“But our sweet spot is (ages) one to 10, probably,” he said.
Red Deer will be Mastermind Toys’ sixth Alberta location, with three stores already operating in Calgary and two in Edmonton.
The local outlet is being developed in 4,355 square feet of Nutter’s Bulk & Natural Foods former premises at 5250 22nd St.
A staff of about 25 is expected to be in place by opening.
“It’s not uncommon for when the stores really get rolling for them to have a roster of between 50 and 75,” said Levy.
Hours of operation will be Monday to Friday from 9:30 a.m. to 9 p.m.; Saturdays from 9:30 a.m. to 6 p.m.; and Sundays from 11 a.m. to 5 p.m. A grand opening celebration is planned for April 30 to May 3.