Jon and Jerice Bergstrom Devise a New Kind of Toy Store—check It Out!
Once upon a time there was a magical kingdom called "Toybrary." Fickle kids would go there to get toys. What made the place magical—and so unlike real life—was that when the fickle kids got tired of a toy, there was always another one to play with. This made the kids happy. It made their financially strapped parents happy. It made the King and Queen of Toybrary happy. They saw endless franchising possibilities.
Though it may seem a fantasy, Toybrary actually exists in the form of a two-story white clapboard house in Norwich, Vt. (pop. 2,398). Established last February by Jon Bergstrom, 34, and his wife, Jerice, 33, it is, in Jon's words, "a lending library for toys." Members pay a $60 annual fee which allows them and their offspring to borrow any one of 1,000 toys for up to three weeks. There are fines for overdue playthings and deposits for some of the more pricey items.
The inspiration for Toybrary came, partially at least, from the Bergstroms' sons, Kian, 6, and Theis, 3. Recalls Jerice, "I just looked at all the slightly used toys the kids had wanted desperately—then grew suddenly tired of—and thought 'What a waste.' "
The Toybrary is an attempt to eliminate that waste by recycling toys. The red-and-white membership card gives access to some $70,000 worth of tricycles, trucks, teeter-totters, trampolines, telescopes, microscopes and board games. For adult members—the Bergstroms encourage grown-ups to let the child in them run free—there are cameras, home computers, a Steinway concert grand, a potter's wheel and $1,700 worth of professional gambling equipment. "We specialize," says Jerice, "in things that most people wouldn't want to buy but would love to try." Browsing is encouraged—even for nonmembers. There is no admission charge and, for the most part, no time limit, though "We get a lot of grown-ups using the computer," admits Jerice, "whom we gently have to throw out."
After just three months in operation, the Toybrary has already signed up more than 400 members. (It will need 700 to break even.) More significantly, the Bergstroms, who were running a recording studio until they started Toybrary, have been deluged with inquiries about franchising the Toybrary, a name they have trademarked. Future prospects, says Jerice, look "real good. I see hundreds of Toybraries all over the country."
For the time being the Bergstroms, who live in a solar-heated contemporary house about a mile from the Toybrary, are carefully culling the "re-quest-a-toy" cards submitted by their customers. Recent requests include a skeleton, a King Kong model and a doll. (Amazingly, the Toybrary doesn't have a single doll.) No final decisions will be made until Kian and Theis are consulted. "Our kids are the official testers," says Jon. "They vetoed building blocks and certain games with too many small pieces. If it doesn't survive a weekend with us, it doesn't go into the Toybrary." All this high-pressure toy testing seems to have taken a toll on the Bergstroms' crack R&D team. "Kian and Theis are getting sort of toyed out," says Jerice. "Lately they've been asking for a complete set of chemicals."
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