Profiles of Innovation
Where do you go if you really need a strong hit of nonsensical pleasure? Here in Austin, there is a place dedicated to the weird, fun vibe we've come to love. The store is Toy Joy, and its mission, according to owner Lizzy Newsome, is simple: "The original owners definitely had a really strong eye for strange and unusual items, and it really felt like [Toy Joy] had a home in Austin with a really Keep Austin Weird vibe, and we’ve tried to maintain that."
The original Toy Joy opened in 1987 and eventually moved to its present location at Guadalupe and 29th Street. Newsome and husband Trevor bought the store in 2008. "I started working here in 2006," she says, describing how the love affair began. "The first thing I did when I came to UT was start walking up and down Guadalupe in either direction just to see just how far it went and see what was on the street, and Toy Joy was one of the first things I found and I fell in love.
"This was the cool store that everyone wanted to have a job at, and I never thought I would ever even get hired — I just thought the store was too cool."
Newsome did get that job, and she's never looked back. "At our age, when we made the decision to purchase Toy Joy and take on the store, it definitely wasn’t a normal decision — or even an accepted decision — and it was very difficult to do."
"The most useful thing I learned in college wasn’t my degree, as much as I loved my reading and doing my English degree," Newsome says. "I think the most useful skill was interacting with people of my own age group, and I learned a lot about how much you can do even if there isn’t a clear guideline, and also learning a lot about holding back your vision so that it’s manageable."
Toy Joy is a playpen full of fun. From classic plastic cowboy and Indian figurines to modern Japanese Hello Kitty and Rody Ponies, there is something to draw the attention of any child and bring the child out of any adult.
Newsome buys toys from around the world, but because of receiving her minor in Japanese, she has a real fondness for Asian toys. "From one of our Japan trips we found floating rainbow poop. We sell tons and tons of it here, actually it’ll squeak too if you squeeze it the right way. Toy Joy's always going to have whoopee cushions and rubber cockroaches. We’re always going to have Hello Kitty, we’re always going to have jack-in-the-boxes and Etch-a-Sketches. So even though I work really hard to find new things I feel like at least fifty percent of my job is done already for me."
"Toy Joy's really more of a museum than it is a toy store," she continues. "And that’s kind of the mission when we’re working on the buying when were finding new items. We’re really trying to fulfill the same criteria that an art museum would have in a way."
Newsome describes her path to entrepreneurial success succinctly: Developing a tight knit, dedicated staff, delivering excellent customer service and constantly reassessing.
"The staff is amazing and extremely diverse. They come from all sorts of backgrounds and have all sorts of levels of knowledge. I think the most important thing is they all love working together — they’re all really good friends and tight knit. They love helping customers find just the right gift for someone, and you can tell that they genuinely enjoy doing that service."
In growing her business, Newsome added a few non-traditional items meant to keep customers coming back. One of the biggest draws is so simple, free gift wrap, all the time. The store also offers a sort of Toy of the Month gift subscription and last year she opened the Toy Joy Cafe next door, selling what else, sweets (including a vegan soft-serve).
"We’re constantly looking for ways to spread Toy Joy, but we don’t want to deviate from its current mission of keeping Austin weird."
Her message to other entrepreneurs is simple, "Especially to young entrepreneurs I would say, 'Never think you know what you’re doing.' An entrepreneur is someone who combines what they love with what they do, where their work and their hobbies become one and they really never stop working."