Dover toy shop 'Figures' it out
The very thing Walter Carroll loathed is keeping his Dover toy shop afloat right now.
“As much as we hate online, we need it to survive,” said Carroll, owner of They’re Action Figures. “We definitely need it during the pandemic.”
Carroll has been selling toys for about 24 years. For years he mainly sold online and at trade shows. Around three years ago he opened a physical store to get away from selling over the internet.
“I just like that old school, customer contact where people come in. You can see kids’ faces light up when they see those figures. By kids, I mean even the 45- and 50-year-olds,” he explained.
Carroll said his shop reopened May 20. Prior to that, he had to rely on selling toys on social media and eBay to survive.
He said Facebook is his favorite platform, because its toy community is strong and there are toy groups buying and selling.
The way it works is a user can post a photo of an action figure in a group with its selling price. The first person who wants to buy the figure writes “claim” and then they can negotiate payment. Carroll said Paypal is a preferred form of payment.
There’s a group called Greatest Tour Group on Earth and they host live virtual auctions for toys using Facebook Live.
“A lot of times Facebook is a good opportunity to sell to someone without paying eBay fees,” Carroll said.
Marvel Legends are always hot. But right now Carroll said he can’t keep mini figures on his shelves.
“The absolutely number-one toy has been Legos, because it’s an activity,” the shop owner said. “You’re quarantined in the house with the kids and you can sit and build.”
‘We got nothing’
In addition to closing his shop for two months, the pandemic has also put Carroll in a strange situation buying toy collections, which is a sizable part of his business.
Before, Carroll was buying collections daily. Since restrictions took hold, he thinks May 20 was the first time he bought a collection. That’s because people weren’t willing to meet as much, for fear of catching COVID-19.
That’s a big deal because Carroll said people in his business rely more on buying than selling. Customers will come from far away to buy hard-to-find toys.
“We have guys that drive down from New York. We’ve got guys that drive down from Virginia Beach. If you’re putting the right stuff on the shelves, they’ll come get it. It’s just that simple,” the Camden resident said.
It’s been tough for him and fellow small-business owners in the retail community. Carroll said he’s not received financial relief from the government and has had to figure out how to survive on his own.
He said his shop isn’t an anomaly, and about 15 or 20 other small business owners told him the same story. Carroll said he believes most of the small businesses that received support during this pandemic were medium-sized and had more than two employees.
“There’s a lot of small businesses out there that didn’t have access to the help. We got nothing,” Carroll said. “I received no unemployment, PPP [Payment Protection Program], no small business loans.”
The Camden resident said he doesn’t want to sound like he’s complaining. He wants the public to understand that small business owners are in a tight spot and many feel they’ve been forgotten.
“There were a couple days when this first started when I went home and slept for 12, 14 hours. I was just crazy depressed,” Carroll said. “I was so scared about losing the business and all that stuff. I just got kicked in the ass. We have to do what we have to do to make it through.”
One of the biggest adjustments Carroll recently implemented was halving off his shop for a new room in the back where he can focus on selling merchandise online.
The new area is surrounded by a wall so he can hide from his friends who might drive by the shop when he’s working late hours, because otherwise they’d likely come in and distract him, he said.
Carroll is a workaholic. For the foreseeable future he’s going to be spending late nights with online orders, despite hating the internet. But he’s okay with that, because it’ll make his partner happy.
“I wake up and come here and I’m here until it’s time to go to sleep. That’s been the secret to my marriage,” Carroll said.
Technically he has a long-time girlfriend. But they’re basically married.
“I’ve been with the same woman for the past 25 years in November. That’s been the key, man. We’re not around each other long enough to get on each other’s nerves. It’s been great,” he said.