Being a mother inspired this enterprising entrepreneur to set up a thriving toy rental business.
INTERVIEW LOW LAI CHOW
Nickie Steele, the 37-year-old entrepreneur behind online toy rental store Toy-Shelf, vividly recalls how she once found herself growing impatient with her eldest child Kylee when the two were making their way back home — and so told her to hurry up.
“It resulted in her running, tripping and hurting herself,” she recounts, adding that she felt terrible at the time. “I look back on that now and ask myself, ‘What on earth was the rush?’”
These days, she catches herself before she snaps at Kylee and Jack for taking their time. “I now let my kids stop and count the ants on the pavement on the way to the park. I let them ask a million questions even if it’s the same questions I answered the day before. They are, after all, learning, exploring, experiencing and growing, and through them so are we as parents, and we can’t put a time limit on that.”
“Life can become too fast paced. I feel we sometimes need to slow down
and have a bit more patience.”
That said, moving quickly from task to task, thanks to a fixed routine which Nickie has established — after all, she comes from an events management background — has served her well in staying on top of things. “I try to manage my time by setting goals so that I can get most of my work done when my kids are at school.”
Moving to Singapore from Johannesburg as a newlywed nine years ago (“We had just bought a house so we quickly got tenants in, put all our newly bought furniture into storage and off we went with only two backpacks in tow”) when her husband was offered to work here, Nickie became pregnant shortly after and decided to focus on her first child as a stay-at-home mum.
“As a first-time mum, of course, I went crazy buying all the new fancy baby items and toys,”
she admits wryly. “Gary (Nickie’s husband) would often come home to our small
apartment and ask me where I thought all these baby toys would fit.
“Of course, the toys weren’t used for very long and when the time came to store the toys, especially something the size of a huge Jumperoo, it was near impossible. There was just nowhere to store such big toys in our small apartment.”
The Beginning of it All
This got her thinking: what if other parents like her could rent toys for a month at a stretch, so they need not be stuck with the toys that their kids will invariably outgrow and be bored of?
She started identifying common pain points to make her service hassle free — such as having an online store for time-strapped parents and offering delivery straight to their doorstep — and started Toy-Shelf in March 2014.
But not without some initial hiccups.
“When I first started Toy-Shelf and when I was sourcing some of my earlier products, I bought some toys, only realising afterwards that they were recalled products, so I was unable to list them on my website. I am now meticulous about reading product reviews before I purchase any toys. I always keep up to date with the latest product recalls.”
As Nickie is always onto the latest toy craze and hunting down new products, she curates the toy collections herself. “I strive to find something unique and different and I especially love coming across toys you wouldn’t find in Singapore,” she says, adding that while she continues to expand the product offering for both toy rentals and party hires, she is also working on launching new services in the months to come.
It’s all about Teamwork
Parenting-wise, Nickie works as a team with her husband as a “united front” to act as role models for the children. Kylee and Jack turn eight and six this year respectively.
“We want to teach our kids to be independent and adventurous; courageous and curious; to be humble and honest; to always be kind and respectful to themselves and to others; to believe in themselves and to follow their dreams; and no matter what happens, to know they are loved by us unconditionally.”
She relishes the fact that Singapore is a diverse environment for raising her children.
“Like South Africa, Singapore is such a multicultural country and living here as a parent has taught me there are so many different pathways to raising children. I am surrounded by mums and dads of so many different cultures and nationalities. I’ve realised that though we may do things differently and have different ideas on discipline, routine, education etcetera, we are all doing it for the same purpose: ensuring the well-being of our children.”
As she readily confesses, learning is a two-way street. Her children, too, have taught her to
be more courageous and adventurous — as well as take things less seriously.
“As adults, we often fear the unknown but I love how my children are always so keen to try new things, things they’ve never tried or experienced before. They’ve taught me to worry less, to laugh more, to be carefree, to be more creative, and most of all, to have more fun.”
“I love dressing up, playing board games, riding my scooter to the park, making things out of
Play-Doh, dancing in the rain and jumping like a hooligan on the bouncy castle.”