Good business

Learning Express’ Rick Grossman

receives small-business award
By:Roger Alvarado
   Bridgewater resident Rick Grossman, owner of the Hillsborough toy store Learning Express, has been building his business by giving his customers more as well as giving to community groups.
   In recognition of his efforts, Mr. Grossman received one of 15 awards given to small businesses throughout the state by a local community college.
   The Small Business Development Center (SBDC) at Raritan Valley Community College (RVCC) recognized Mr. Grossman with its New Jersey Small Business Development Center’s 2003 Small Business Success Award.
   Mr. Grossman, a client of SBDC, was chosen as the most deserving recipient from Somerset and Hunterdon counties.
   "They helped me researching the business before I chose it," he said. "They also helped me write and evaluate a business plan and given me guidance through seminars on how to market it. They’ve also put me in touch with lenders and professionals that have really helped me."
   Mr. Grossman, 50, a former AT&T employee and high school biology and science teacher, launched the franchise toy store in April at the Hillsborough Promenade and is already realizing sales figures 21 percent higher than projections.
   "I love it," he says. "I’m having a blast and am so happy. I’m tired, but I’m happy."
   He says he’s most proud of what he can bring to the community.
   "What I was looking for was to do something socially responsible that I would be able to hold my head high with," he says.
   He’s able to do this by catering to the educational needs of children.
   "I don’t sell the mass market toys that you’d find in big box stores," he says. "The toys we sell are not only fun for children, but they help them develop in some way."
   Mr. Grossman’s store sells toys that promote growth in children.
   "Even a ball is a developmental toy," he says. "We stay away from things that are heavily promoted on TV and gear ourselves more towards building toys and games that help the child acquire social skills."
   His store strives to carry toys that are recommended by teachers.
   "If a teacher recommends something I want to know about it," he says. "We loan games to teachers and all we ask is that they give us back feedback on whether it was good or not. I’ve gotten my vendors to help out and contribute to that. I make sure I’m carrying as many materials as possible to help the schools."
   He also carries materials for adults and children with disabilities.
   "We’ve found ourselves to be experts in toys that a child that has special needs can use," he says. "I have toys that, for instance, would be appropriate for a 15-year-old who functions at a 6-year-old level or for an adult who has had a stroke and needs something to help with fine muscle coordination."
   Through his association with SBDC, Mr. Grossman says his first year was remarkable.
   "It was great," he says. "What is so interesting is that I knew that we would always thank our customers for coming, but what is great is how many times a day someone tells us ‘we love your store.’
   "It’s not something you expect to hear as a store owner," he added.
   According to Mr. Grossman, the success is due to "good planning, hard work and a 200 percent dedication to customer service by all employees."
   Programs, such as the store’s frequent buyer club which gives customers a 4 percent rebate, are helping build customer loyalty, Mr. Grossman said.
   In addition, the store offers all patrons free gift-wrapping. The store offers a birthday registry program and hosts a number of events for children, including a fire safety day, a Harry Potter Party, a Groovy Girl Party, as well as weekly story times.
   In the coming year Mr. Grossman said he’d like to close ties with other businesses in the community.
   Mr. Grossman said he’s not just in business for the profit; he’s also concerned with giving back to the community.
   "Every week I go through the local papers and look for fund-raising organizations," he said. "I donate a basket of toys to them. I also tell them that if there’s an activity they’re doing to please come here."
   He spoke of why he feels the need to give so much back.
   "It’s the right thing to do," he said. "There are two keys as to why I chose this business. One was to sell a product that I could hold my head up high and the other is to help people by giving them something that they need. I don’t sell cholesterol for the veins or junk.
   "It’s important for me to contribute and be a part of this community," he added. "It’s part of who I am and I don’t mind giving my time, money or space."