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Sandy and Doug Powell have always had each other’s back. They raised six kids together in the small town of Eureka, CA, and met life’s many challenges in stride. When Doug’s commercial fishing boat sank and the family lost their income, Doug said to Sandy, “I’ve had my dream. Maybe it’s time for your dream now.” Sandy explains, “Even as a kid, I dreamed of running my own store.” Over the next decade, the couple opened a gift shop, a baby store and a toy store, all right there in Eureka.

Right away we could see that there were huge possibilities with this."

Sandy Powell, co-owner of Toy Barn

“We had pretty good success up until the last two years,” says Sandy. “Then the economy hit our area pretty hard. Stores were closing left and right. The mall was getting emptier. Despite everything we tried, we could see our business slipping away. We had to do something drastic.”

The couple closed one of their stores. They also tried starting their own website. “I’m not really tech-savvy,” Sandy admits, “so that didn’t work out so well.” Then a frequent customer, a woman who sold used books online, recommended Amazon. “She kept raving about how easy it was and how successful it was for her,” says Sandy. “I was intrigued.”

In the spring of 2011, Sandy and Doug began listing products from their remaining store on Amazon. Sandy was impressed by how “incredibly easy” it was to open the Toy Barn Toys and Gifts store online, and orders started to trickle in. But Sandy says it wasn’t until they started using Amazon not only to sell, but also to store and ship their products that the business really took off.

“It was like a switch got turned on. When you’re doing the shipping yourself, if you’re a small business, it’s hard to get that customer trust in there,” Sandy explains. “By using Fulfillment by Amazon to do your shipping, you have instant credibility. The customer already has the trust in Amazon. Right away we could see that there were huge possibilities with this.”

Before long, Toy Barn’s sales on Amazon were double what they had been in the brick-and-mortar store, with significantly lower overhead. When the lease ran out on their physical toy store, Sandy and Doug were happy to let it go.

For Sandy, the unexpected upside to all this has been the flexibility that she now has. “We were really tied down seven days a week at the store…We have six kids, and we were seeing that their last years with us at home were going quickly. That time with them is precious, so it’s been really nice to have more flexibility with our schedule.”

So what’s next? “Now we’re just trying to increase our stock,” says Sandy. But with their new freedom, Sandy and Doug are also considering some big changes that would have been out of reach before. “There’s no limit. We can go anywhere with this business. My husband keeps looking every day at different areas where we might move in the future.”

One of thousands of small businesses thriving because of Amazon customers

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