Student Entrepreneur—Do What You Love
Beyond the Gate sat down with Woodward Academy senior Aaron Brown to learn more about his business, Tin Toy Arcade. In December, his company was featured in The Wall Street Journal's Holiday Gift Guide: 50 Nostalgic Finds. The guide featured 50 retro gifts, one of which included a 1950s Cyborg of Yore from Aaron's website, tintoyarcade.com. The gift link from the Wall Street Journal guide produced the busiest and most successful day for Aaron's store.
Aaron Brown: I started Tin Toy Arcade (TTA) in second grade at the College Park Art Fair selling artwork of my toys along with the toys themselves. My parents were super skeptical about selling toys at an art show, but I had a successful day in my booth—I not only earned back my entry fee, but also won best in show. I had a gut feeling that I wasn't the only one who loved these retro, wind-up toys, so I proposed to my parents that I start a website to expand my market to the entire world through the internet.
BG: What was the most challenging part of starting a business?
AB: In the first few years of TTA, my inventory was small and I had little storage space, which at the time worked just fine, but as the volume of orders increased and I began to offer same day shipping before 2 p.m., my simplistic order fulfillment systems began to fail. The trial and error method of discovering more efficient ways to process orders was quite challenging. I am still exploring better solutions to warehouse management and shipment methods.
BG: What plans do you have for the future of your company?
AB: I've stumbled upon solutions to inventory management and database organization through owning TTA. As I learn the math behind the engineering, I wish to continue TTA and use it as a testing ground for future industrial engineering endeavors.
BG: What advice would you give to other young entrepreneurs interested in starting a business?
AB: The greatest piece of advice I've received and have embraced with TTA is to not worry about time—ignoring "time is money" in a way. Playing the long game, carefully and thoughtfully making changes to the webstore, rather than trying to cash in quickly and become a Zuckerberg overnight, is how to make a successful business. And, if you don't love what you do, you're doing it wrong. I really love these toys and the whole business revolves around my desire to share my own unique childhood toys.
BG: How has your Woodward experience helped shape you as a business owner?
AB: Through frequent group projects and leadership opportunities at Woodward, I understand that everyone on a team should have equal say in project development and everyone should have the right to voice their opinions. Some of the best solutions to problems may come from anyone on a team—this is especially true in running a business. In my case, all of my employees have different angles and views of each function of the business. A major flaw could potentially be accessible or only seen by one employee, so I must check in with them and make sure they feel welcome to share their thoughts.
AB: Through collecting these retro toys, one toy maker whose mindset and fantastic products have continually inspired me is S.S. Adams—probably the best known name in toy making. From New Jersey, he made fun and silly pranks like rattlesnake eggs, the joy buzzer, snapping gum, whoopee cushion, and many many more. He developed these cheap gags during the great depression and sold them for a nickel. His motivation was to cheer up as many people as possible by creating a happy environment with his affordable toys. I aim to continue his love for toys and simple desire to make others happy with TinToyArcade.
BG: Where will you attend college and what are you planning to major in?
AB: I plan to attend Georgia Tech and major in industrial engineering, specifically supply chain management and operations research.