Cheeky Monkey honored as Retailer of the Year by toy association

by Linda Hubbard Gulker on May 4, 2016

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Hearing that Menlo Park’s Cheeky Monkey was recently honored as the Retailer of the Year by the Western Toy and Hobby Representatives Association — selected from the 1,000 plus stores in the 13 western states — we stopped in to visit with the toy store’s owners, Anna and Dexter Chow. We were curious: How do you get into the toy business?

Anna, who’d started out in theater as a stage manager, explained: “We were expecting our first child, and Dexter [who was a software engineer] had been laid off in the dot com bust.

“We decided we wanted to work for ourselves and started looking for a business to buy. There were dry cleaners and plumbing services and things like that. But about a month later Cheeky Monkey, which had opened in 1999, came on the market. The first store was down the street in a smaller space, and here we are today!”

The couple live in Menlo Park and have two children in Menlo Park schools, so they are fully entrenched in the community. “Toys are unique in that our customer window is relatively short — 10 years or so, the core of the birthday party years,” said Dexter.

Added Anna with a smile, “Our middle school son thinks he’s too old for Cheeky Monkey, even though we work really hard to stock items that appeal to 10- to 13-year-olds.”

The enjoyment of operating a toy store, the couple agreed, is helping customers find that perfect gift, not what they might have come looking for but what really fits the child’s needs now and into the future.

“We want toys that are more than push a button, especially for toddlers.” said Anna. “A toy should be able to adapt with the different developmental stages.

“Once the child is school age, toys become more social. Words become part of playing with the toy.”

Recalling a time decades ago when the trend was for genderless toys, we asked if this was still the case.

“The trend in the toy market is commonality,” said Anna. “But there are different play patterns between boys and girls.”

To underscore this point, Dexter told us anecdotally that while 95% of boys who come into the store interact with the train table, only about 25% of the girls do.

Not been into a toy store for years? Walk around Cheeky Monkey and be amazed! Or take a look at the age appropriate and toy categories on the store’s very thorough website, which this writer uses as a research tool before heading into the store to purchase gifts.

Photo by Gina Hart

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