Weekly Briefing: Educational Toy Shop Finally Finds a Home

Bernice Baird-Browning started her toy business, Small Wonders, in a Palos Verdes mini-mall 26 years ago. The facility's management was so happy with her sales that they allowed her to open a doll and doll house store as well. But 12 years later, the mall closed for a two-year renovation, forcing the first of what would be four moves before the business finally settled into the Avenue of the Peninsula in Palos Verdes in 1999. Browning renamed her business Small Wonders and Baby Wonders, which sells the most popular items from her mini-mall days.

"We sell domestic, imported and educational toys for children up to 12. We have wooden railroads and wooden construction sets from Sweden, snap-together plastic parts from Germany that can create buildings, cars and fire engines, French dolls that are machine washable, pull toys from Italy and Czechoslovakia, hard wood musical instruments from Poland, and puppets and marionettes made from all over the world.

"There are hundreds of different styles of collector and play animals a half inch to four inches tall that are rubber. Then we have a full line of French clothes for infants to 2 years old.

"We don't even try to compete with (chain stores.) We're looking at two different businesses. We have specialty items and they have mass-market items.

"Parents want the quality something that is not going to break five minutes after you leave the door and something that they can pass onto their grandchildren. There are play tables all over the store. Anything you want to try out you can.

"We do three catalogs a year March, June and September. They can run anywhere from $4,000 to $7,000 to print and that's not including postage. A full mailing would run about $12,000 including postage. Usually we (mail to) about 18,000 customers. Our primary market is the South Bay area. Our secondary market is California. And then we have an Internet business. Internet and catalog sales are 10 to 12 percent of total business. Most of our customers that receive the catalog will come into the store and bring a coupon.

"I have 14 employees. Of course, we are a seasonable business. Our best time the last six weeks of the year would be (sales of) about $14,000 to $15,000 a week. The slowest time is the last two weeks in January they'd probably be about half that."

David Greenberg

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