By Mario Toneguzzi
As the mother of three “gregarious” children, Shafina Hayat was juggling working in the corporate world with being a mum.
Then she spent 10 years raising her family.
But when her youngest started going to school, Hayat was looking for something to do for herself.
“Starting my own business had been a lurking desire for a long time, so I contemplated the idea,” says Hayat, who founded Hodge Podge Toys in 2014.
The unique retail outlet began its operations in Unionville but when she realized she wanted to grow the business, the toy retailer recently moved into CF Shops at Don Mills in Toronto.
The store now operates in about 1,000 square feet, and was built by leading Toronto-based construction firm BUILD IT by Design.
“As a parent I just wanted to be a better consumer. I wanted to know more about what my kids were playing with and what the toys were made of,” says Hayat, the company’s CEO. “So I really started to research it for myself 15 years ago.
“Once all my kids started going to school full-time I kind of thought okay I don’t want to go back corporate so what would I really like to do that’s really fun and that I’d really enjoy. I recognized I knew at least a little bit of what I wanted my kids to play with. So I thought why not a toy store.’
She says the premise of the store is to offer parents quality toys. Hodge Podge Toys is 100 per cent battery free. Most products are made in the United States, Canada, Europe, India, and Japan and productions which are also outsourced.
“I'm trying to be conscientious of companies that outsource. I try to bring in companies that are registered members with ICTI (International Council of Toy Industries) or those who own their own factories in the outsourced country or have representatives from the developing country residing and managing the production of the products,” says Hayat.
“I’m trying to ensure that fair labour practices and product quality are being instilled by the manufacturers. It is very hard to stick to this ideal, and with tech toys almost impossible. It's not perfect or even close to it, however I'm trying to make a small change and learning everyday. I have tried to find companies that take pride in their products and their brand.”
Hayat says Hodge Podge sells quality products and ones that are not regularly found in stores. They’re a little more higher end in terms of price point “but then again the quality is something you’re not going to find in a lot of stores.”
“We also offer an inclusive shopping experience. By that I mean we do offer toys for children with special needs as well,” adds Hayat.
“I also like to feature companies that give back. By that I mean, companies that care about the materials they use, labour standards, packaging and giving back within their own community or to the global community.”
The move to the new location at the Shops at Don Mills has been very good for Hayat and the store.
“I think it was the right move as far as growing the business . . . I want the store to be a very sought-after brand and I don’t want it to be in every neighbourhood. So for me being in this location is wonderful because I have customers that come from Leaside. I have customers that come from Bridle Path in Toronto. The East End as well,” says Hayat. “We’re centrally-located and easy to get to and traffic has definitely increased tenfold.
“I’m hoping to branch out perhaps to one more location in Toronto. I’m not too sure if I’m even going to do that. But I do want to branch out into the States and maybe other provinces in Canada.”
She’s not interested in launching into the ecommerce space.
“Just because it’s not realistic. Just because I cannot keep up with the online. I cannot keep up with Amazon. I want that old school feel of walking into a store and sharing that special moment with your child, your grandchild, whoever you’re in there with, to experience the toy and to experience the atmosphere of walking into a toy store - the colours, the sounds, all the old school sort of joys that toy stores should bring to people.
“We do really, really drive home the fact that we offer exceptional customer service and product knowledge . . . We want customers to know that they’re buying quality products and why it is that that product is being sold in our store.”
Mario Toneguzzi, based in Calgary has 37 years of experience as a daily newspaper writer, columnist and editor. He worked for 35 years at the Calgary Herald covering sports, crime, politics, health, city and breaking news, and business. For 12 years as a business writer, his main beats were commercial and residential real estate, retail, small business and general economic news. He nows works on his own as a freelance writer and consultant in communications and media relations/training. Email: firstname.lastname@example.org