When Yamil Castillo bought The Red Balloon Toy Store 28 years ago, he had no experience in toys or running a business. But something about the toy store with a “store closing” sign on the front drew him in. He said, “It was scary because I was going to school full time, working full time, and starting a family.” He was also working on improving his English and said, “I felt that I was not given the right opportunities because of my limited skills with the language. Opportunities were given to other people because they had more experience. I had to do something on my own.”
So he drew on his past customer service experience and took a leap. He said, “I bought the business for a very small amount. I said I’m going to learn about this. I started to meet with different reps with different toys.” Especially in those early years, relationships of trust with vendors were key: “I needed to trust them to coach me and guide me. Some of them realized it was a good opportunity. It was a partnership. If you succeed than we succeed and everyone makes money. I needed to trust them because they had experience.” He also started to go to toy shows to look for new products for his customer base.
Now, 28 years later, The Red Balloon has four stores. Yamil’s secret to success seems to be to learn what he can from big box stores and Amazon, while pushing the things that make him a local business. He said, “We do sell on Amazon, a few items we sell directly and some we sell from our stores nationwide.” They are looking at launching new features on their website to make it easier for customers to order ahead and are considering having a delivery service. Yamil is always looking at ways to get items at lower prices to make them more accessible for his customers without sacrificing quality. He explains, “I work to provide the customer with the best item and value for their money. It’s my obligation to sell them good stuff, make sure it’s going to last and the customer is going to enjoy it.”
At the same time, The Red Balloon thrives because of the specific things it provides that big chains and online retailers can’t. Yamil explains, “Number one is customer service. My emphasis with my employees has been, if you don’t offer good customer service, the customer’s not going to come back. I feel customer service is being neglected in a lot of industries, and personally, I go to places where I feel treated as a customer, where they give me attention and the person knows their stuff.” When they see a new toy at a toy show and decide to sell it in the stores, Yamil ensures the employees are trained on what the toy is and for whom it is best suited.
As a specialty store, they can also be more flexible to trends than the larger retailers. They were one of the first stores to stock the hugely popular fidget spinners and sold over 5,000 pieces before most chain stores could get them in. Yamil explained, “We always have to be alert to what is going to be hot. It’s spontaneous. This is going to be hot for two months or three months. It keeps us active and looking for the next item that people are going to like. As a specialty store we try to stay ahead of the big box stores. We have to stay more flexible.”
The Red Balloon continues to grow and adapt, but you can be sure that the good customer service, quality products, and knowledgeable staff will never change.
The Red Balloon Toy Store has locations in Logan, Salt Lake, Sandy, and Provo.
Other favorite Utah specialty toy stores are BAM! Bricks and More and Wonderful World of Trains and Hobbies.