Di Johnston made a huge decision recently, choosing to close Armidale Toyworld and re-launching a new business, Armidale Toys. We just had to find out if she is happy with the change.
Share with us your tree change story?
We moved from Brisbane to Armidale at the beginning of December 2002. Earlier in the year we had visited my family and some friends in the Inverell area and came away from that visit wondering what we were doing living in the city! We had 2 little boys who were not used to climbing trees, and I really wanted children who could experience an upbringing in the country and enjoy the freedom that comes with that.
Armidale was a natural choice of town for us to live in, with the great schooling it offered, and there was a job I could walk into at Armidale Flight Centre – so the decision for Armidale was easy.
Tell us about your family?
I have two sons, Harry and Rex. Harry (12 yrs) goes to TAS and is a fairly typical pre-teen. We had quite a scare with him last year, when he contracted Bacterial Meningitis.
We spent a few months in Sydney at the Randwick Children’s Hospital and he still has an operation to get through at the end of this month, but otherwise he is doing really well for someone who had a very squashed brain for a while.
Rex (10 yrs) attends Kelly’s Plains Public School just out of town and is looking forward to going to TAS next year. He is a really happy, twinkle- in-the-eye type kid, who loves life and all that goes with it. They are great kids and moving to Armidale has been good for them – they are very proficient at climbing trees now!
How did you originally get into the toy industry?
I had been in the travel industry with Flight Centre for 11½ years and really needed a change. I walked into Doug Jackson at Raine & Horne Real Estate one day and asked him what businesses he had for sale. A toy shop appealed to me, as in a previous life I was a trained teacher, and the idea of combining my knowledge of educating children with toys just seemed right.
What was the transition from Toyworld to Armidale Toys?
I really felt a need to move away from Toyworld at the beginning of last year, but couldn’t really do much about this until my lease ran out in Beardy St. I saw a need for a good quality toy shop to provide a point of difference in toy shopping for the people of Armidale and the New England. In January we moved the shop around the corner into Dangar St and renamed it ‘Armidale Toys’.
Our aim is to have toys and children’s gifts that you can’t find in any other shops. Being an ex-teacher, the emphasis is to also have educational type games and toys. You won’t find mainstream toys in Armidale Toys, but you will find toys that are different, unusual and traditional, with staff who are happy to help you choose a perfect present for any child.
We are focusing on the window themes and involving the kids of Armidale in the shop with competitions and exhibitions. In April we had a ‘count the bunnies’ competition and in May a Lego competition, that saw some great entrants.
This month it’s all about fairies and princesses. We invite you to come along on Saturday 18 June at 10am in your best fairy dress, and you might win a pair of sequinned fairy shoes! Next month is Beanie Kids … so keep an eye on our window for a great display of them.
Who are your staff members?
At the moment I have two marvellous casual staff. Nadine Devine works the few hours at the end of each day while I am organising my kids’ lives and on Saturdays. Nadine is training to be a teacher, so she really likes children and knows what she is talking about.
Jessica Mingay is my ‘on call’ girl and does a fantastic job. Jessica has her own business ‘Go Baby Go’ that rents out baby equipment and she has 2 children, so she has firsthand knowledge of toys.
What’s popular with customers at the moment?
Sylvanian Families is very popular with the girls aged 4-11yrs. These are little themed family groups with loads of activities.
There is everything from squirrel to koala families with pizza parlours, houses, and furniture. Imaginative play is alive and well with Sylvanian Families. Beanie Kids have just arrived at Armidale Toys, and they are popular with both girls and boys and are a fantastic gift for birthday presents, priced at $11.99.
Do you have a funny in-store moment?
Last Christmas we wrapped up what we thought was quite a large doll’s house. It was a short while later I realised we had wrapped up an empty box! Thank goodness we live in Armidale; I knew the customer and just called to explain our error. She was able to come back in, and we rewrapped the box – with the doll’s house in it this time!
In your expert opinion, what would be the perfect children’s birthday party?
I think this depends on the family and the age of the child. You can’t beat an at home party for little ones, with all the traditional games like sack races, egg and spoon races and pass the parcel etc.
If you are a busy family, then a party at the Sport & Rec centre is an option you shouldn’t bypass … bowling, Laser Blitz or Kids World, and you don’t have to clean up! Of course, all with gifts from Armidale Toys!
Final word …
I would like to mention our new online service. We are selling though a website called ‘The Present Cupboard’. I have around 40 products on it at the moment, with more being added every month. We also have a mid year catalogue sale starting on June 20, with lay-by for Christmas – 6 months to pay in full,10% deposit and full payment due by 24 December.