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Lee's Toy & Hobby Starts an Online Business and Triples it

Groton toy store started last year with 2,000 items for sale online. Now it sells 6,000.

Peter Marcus is kind of an old-fashioned guy.

He wanted to run Lee's Toy & Hobby in Groton the way his father ran it, the way it's been run for 60 years.

So it took his wife, Lisa, awhile to convince him they needed to get online for the next generation. But finally, she did.

And it took off.

Last year, the store launched an e-commerce website with about 2,000 items for sale, and as of this month, it’s selling 6,000 products online. Lisa Marcus, who co-owns the store with Peter, said their goal is to reach 10,000 by the end of January.

“Our Internet site has started driving brick and mortar sales,” she said. People are walking in with lists their children already compiled. The site is also serving grandparents searching for items and collectors seeking discontinued toys.

As a percentage of total business, e-commerce sales are still small—only about 5 percent of total sales—but are driving people into the store, Lisa Marcus said. Lee's Toy & Hobby sales are about 40 percent toys and 60 percent hobby-related.

The plan required some investment. The store had to hire someone to design the site, and to set up the e-commerce system. This year, it plans to phase in a "point of sale" network to track inventory, so that when something sells in the store, it’s automatically removed from the website’s inventory.

Right now, Peter Marcus and his staff do that work. Every day, they pull the stickers off what's sold at the register, then go into the website and update it, so inventory reflects what’s actually available.

With 6,000 items for sale, “it’s insane,” Lisa Marcus said. But the last thing they want is for someone to buy something and then learn it’s out of stock.

The most popular items online so far are discontinued toys; Madame Alexander dolls, for example. The store's had orders for various items from as far away as Australia and Spain.

“I was hesitant to do this,” Peter Marcus said, but said he sees it as the future.

“We’re going in an whole new direction and it’s very exciting for us,” Lisa Marcus said. “A lot of businesses are not doing well. And we are doing well. And I think it’s the Internet.”

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