P.E.I.’s Toy Factory has been in operation almost 50 years

Posted on July 16, 2021 | By Alexander Chafe | 0 Comments

It all started in 1972. After retiring from the army, Alexis “Al” Shumate started making wooden toys for friends and family. His wife Jean had a background in retail and encouraged Al to turn his hobby into a business. Later that year, Al opened The Toy Factory from their barn in Murray River, P.E.I.

 

The Toy Factory founder, Al Shumate

 

Finding New Ownership

Following 18 years of success, in 1990 it was time for Al to retire again, so he started looking for someone to take over. That’s when Al met current owners Dan and Kathy Viau.

Dan also had a woodworking hobby, which started with home projects. As his family grew, so did Dan’s experience with woodworking, and it eventually became an extra source of income.

After hearing about the opportunity to purchase The Toy Factory, the Viaus knocked on Al’s door, and the rest is history.

P.E.I. Tourism Market 

Dan and Kathy operated the business for eight years in North Wiltshire. But, later decided to move operations closer to P.E.I’s flourishing summer tourism scene.

The couple found the ideal location in New Glasgow, a historical building right off the exit of the Confederation Bridge and enroute to Cavendish. The prime real estate brought major foot traffic. To capitalize on this, Dan and Kathy optimized their store’s eye-catching exterior, following the advice of a marketing advisor.

 

Kathy and Dan Viau in the store’s workshop

 

The Ultimate Retail Experience
Like Santa’s original North Pole workshop, product quality in integral to this Toy Factory.

Wooden toys are made by hand the old-fashioned way with a natural look and feel. Other toys have been added to the product line over the years, ensuring they’re from trusted suppliers.

In 2013-2014, major renovations occurred to enhance the in-store experience. Interactive elements throughout the store add to the kid-friendly atmosphere, featuring play areas, a fairy garden and toy making. Dan commented, “[i]n the store, you get to touch everything, and if you can reach it, play with it and break it, we need to know.”

 

Dan Viau working on a wooden airplane

 

Growing Pains

The Toy Factory experienced steady growth over time. But in 2018, Dan decided the store had become too busy. So, parking was reduced by 40 per cent and operating hours were scaled back. This meant lower revenues that year, but the store broke its all-time sales record in 2019, indicating the importance of maintaining a family-friendly environment.

Interactive toy making also changed over time. One-on-one toy making was once available, but “[i]t killed itself with its own popularity.” The store has since returned to the basics, allowing kids to observe toy making and help with finishing touches.

Succession Planning

Today, 75 toys are still made by hand at The Toy Factory, and operations are steady, thanks to recent changes. After 31 years, Dan and Kathy are starting to consider their own succession plans, looking to their stellar team for continued success.

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