Timeless advice on a toy store career
As the force behind Timeless Toys, 4749 N. Lincoln Ave., in Chicago, Scott Friedland spends a lot of time thinking about the special relationship between childhood, activity and toys. In a world where children are inundated with apps and screens and phones and tablets and television, Friedman’s traditional approach to play is as unique as his path to toy-store ownership.
Friedland, who lives in Chicago’s Andersonville neighborhood with his wife and 2-year-old son, says his original “life plan” was to join the Israeli army after studying in Israel during his freshman year of college. The Buffalo Grove native instead enrolled at Indiana University and joined the school’s ROTC program, graduating with a degree in kinesiology with an emphasis in sports marketing and management in 2012.
After he graduated, Friedland began working for his father’s accounting firm, Michael Friedland, Ltd., whose clients included Timeless Toys. As the toy store’s owners began mapping out their retirement, Friedland sensed an opportunity and began working at the store. In February of 2016, after three years of learning “the toy business from the bottom up,” the Friedlands formed Timeless Enterprises, Ltd., with president Michael Friedland working the store’s financials and Scott Friedland, vice president, running the store. In 2018, Friedland opened clothing store Timeless Tots, which will be sharing space with the toy store in January. Friedland is also the current treasurer of the Lincoln Square Ravenswood Chamber of Commerce and will be the president of the association in 2020.
We talked with Friedland during his busy month of December about his role as a store owner, his vision of play, his plans for the future and his favorite toy as a child:
On differentiating Timeless Toys from other toy stores:
“We really focus on early childhood development and high-quality toys that are going to last you a long time. You won’t find a whole lot of things in our store that require a screen or an app. You may not find the trendiest of items in our store but we consider that a good thing. We’re going for classic toys that will stand the test of time, the kind of toys your kids will look at in 20 years and say ‘I loved playing with that.’”
On his clientele’s penchant for the occasional tantrum:
“Most of the time kids cry or scream, it’s because they’re leaving. And I know for parents that’s tough. They always apologize to us. But for me, that’s like a badge of honor. To be honest, if your kid’s not acting that way — or at least a little sad or upset — when leaving the store, we did something wrong.”
On his son’s good fortune:
“I don’t think he understands how lucky he is. He has a wonderful toy room at home and the ultimate toy room here. And he’s been the model for a lot of the clothing we sell. He talks about daddy going to the store — probably because that’s pretty much the only place I go.”
On the importance of the store’s location in Lincoln Square:
“You can’t count on being a store that people have to drive to, especially with online shopping and in the city where people don’t have cars. People walk and people take the train and the bus, and that provides a huge portion of our business. So many people don’t even know we exist, and they just happen to be walking by on their way to dinner and they’re like, ‘Look at this place!’ That’s a huge benefit for us.”
On his favorite childhood toy:
“My Hot Wheels cars were unbelievable. I took them everywhere as a kid. I have three older sisters and they carried around purses everywhere, right? And so I thought anything you took with you was called a purse so I had this little briefcase that had slots for cars and that was my car purse — that’s still a joke in our family — Scott’s car purse. It was with me all the time.”
On a toy store owner’s life after the holidays:
“We regroup, talk about what we can do next year, share ideas, finish up our inventory counts. Things die down a lot but that’s OK because it gives us a chance to make changes. Toy fairs begin in the new year and that’s when I start reordering. And I analyze numbers and products and dig deep into the previous year’s data and really focus on what our goals are for the next year.”
On the toughest part of the job:
“People still consider a quality toy a luxury item so they sometimes say, ‘you know, we probably don’t need that right now’ and then they’ll go spend the money on a video game. The hard part of my job is trying to convince people that yes, you do need it. Or something like it. Because the importance of toys and play can’t be understated. It’s really how your child learns before they begin school.”
On the reaction of adults who walk into Timeless Toys:
“People light up. They may be stressed out from work or the news but when they walk in here, it goes away. They take the time to pick things up and show them to their kids and play with them, and when they leave, I hope they think ‘You know? I’m happy I stopped there. I’m happy I did that.’”
During this holiday season, Scott Friedland shares his career experiences operating Timeless Toys in Chicago’s Lincoln Square.