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It was the middle of March when the order came to close shops.
The pandemic was particularly brutal for business owners like Brad Ruoho, who owns the Minnesota-based toy store Legacy Toys. In 2012 he founded the now seven chain stores in the Northwoods of Minnesota with one focus: It is "very interactive, practical, a lot to do for the children," he tells Fortune. In fact, "In our first store, we had a full tree that we built in the middle of the store, and we built a saltwater aquarium." Interactive rates like this play a prominent role in Ruoho's 7,500-square-foot store in the Mall of America – A way to entice children to "have more hands to play, interactive play than just any video game," he says.
A shopper leaves the Legacy Toys store in the Mall of America in Bloomington, Minnesota. Photo by Kerem Yucel / AFP via Getty ImagesKEREM YUCEL – AFP / Getty Images
Three new locations were open less than a year ago when the order came to close. Ruoho's number of employees fell from 80 to just four in seven branches because he took the most leave. Ruoho says he needs to turn his business around quickly and speed up plans (which were already in place before the pandemic) to start building an online store immediately.
“Fortunately, we were able to launch the new website quickly and it immediately turned into thousands and thousands of sales that are ongoing. Then we turned to find out how we can ship all this stuff. How do we pack it all? We adapted quickly and tried to get it to work, ”he says. In addition to the quick plans to launch a website, Legacy Toys (like many retail stores) has started roadside pickup and even let employees deliver within a 10 mile radius of their stores, which reopened in mid-June.
But without financial help, the linchpin would probably not have been possible to get employees back to work on the company's new website.
The Small Business Administration's $ 670 billion salary check protection program was built as a bridging loan for small businesses to overcome the deadlocks. It was set up in a hurry to give small businesses up to $ 10 million in unsuccessful loans. However, the program was controversial almost from the beginning, as many small companies were initially excluded from the program, while funds went to large (in some cases) listed companies. So far, however, the program has provided emergency loans (which can be converted into grants if used properly) to almost 5 million companies.
Legacy Toys “immediately” applied for a PPP loan and received $ 160,000. According to Ruoho, the loan was "a huge chunk of what kept us going".
After Legacy Toys launched the new website, the company was able to bring around 60% of its employees back to COVID thanks to early sales and the PPP loan, according to Ruoho. Since launching the online shop, Ruoho has hired new IT and marketing jobs to drive the growing new part of its business. According to Ruoho, Legacy Toys is now for the first time delivering internationally to customers who "have never heard of us" and who have found the company through Google Shopping and other channels. In fact, website sales now match Legacy Toy's pre-pandemic sales in all stores.
"We grew so quickly that we literally didn't send anything and sent hundreds of packages a day," he says. A hot seller, Ruoho says: "We only sent ridiculous amounts of puzzles – 500, 600 puzzles a day."
Legacy Toys used its PPP loan to build an e-commerce business that was in high demand. Photo by Kerem Yucel / AFP via Getty Images.KEREM YUCEL – AFP / Getty Images
Although federal credit (and its employees' chewing gum) has so far helped Ruoho's business muscle through the pandemic, what happens next is still in the air. The fate of shopping centers and retail stores is a question mark, as cases are becoming more common across the country and Ruoho still hasn't been able to hire all of its employees.
But Ruoho is determined to make the best of things in the meantime. He says the company is working with educators to develop a curriculum and products for the whole family who expect their children to teach at home in the fall.
“We see this as an opportunity and a necessity for the parents. We can be a resource for them and help them, ”he says.
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