From Sticky Notes to Shopify POS: How a Funeral Symbolized New Life at Dollhouse Junction

Lynlott Miniatures storefront

Have you ever seen a funeral for a cash register?

Recently, Dollhouse Junction in Aspinwall, Pennsylvania, held a funeral for its old cash register. Check out the ceremony below (with sound on—the bagpipes really set the tone).

While the funeral was a somber affair, it was time for the old cash register to go. As Debbie McManus, owner of Dollhouse Junction, shared, the store had been using that cash register since 1977!

We’ll circle back around to how Debbie and the team at Dollhouse Junction came up with the idea to hold a funeral for a cash register, but first let’s learn a bit more about this small business in Aspinwall and the big footprint it has within the miniatures industry.

Thriving with brick-and-mortar in an (largely) online space

Dollhouse Junction has been in business in Aspinwall for 44 years, and Debbie McManus has been running the store for 36 of those years.

Debbie’s mom started the business after attending a class at the Art Institute of Chicago.

By the time the plane landed back in Pittsburgh, they decided to open up the city’s first dollhouse store.

Debbie McManus, owner of Dollhouse Junction

Debbie explained that Dollhouse Junction was really the first, and the last, dollhouse and miniatures store in western Pennsylvania.

Dollhouse Junction has managed to keep its physical space open over the years by providing an unparalleled in-store experience, where customers can ask questions and rely on 40+ years of knowledge to guide their decision-making. Dollhouse Junction also keeps a massive in-store inventory, so customers can see and touch the pieces they’re interested in buying. Customers often come to the store with a list of items they found online, and they can literally audition their furniture and wallpapers in the dollhouses on display.

“People travel far to visit a dollhouse store. We had one woman come from Australia…two times! I asked her, ‘Was it because you were coming to Pittsburgh for some other reason,’ and she said, ‘No, I came specifically to see your store.’ We have people drive, fly…because they do really want to see and touch everything.”

However, Debbie also shared that having an online store is essential to their success as well.

“We couldn’t keep our doors open if we didn’t have the internet to do two things: one is it shows everybody who we are and what we have, but it also allows us to sell to people all over the world and increase our sales. One of our tag lines is: Worth the Trip from Near or Far.”

The versatility to sell in person at its store or online has given Dollhouse Junction a unique advantage in the market, and the ability to sell online became particularly helpful once the pandemic hit.

Surviving a pandemic with omnichannel selling

Dollhouse Junction already had a Shopify store set up before the pandemic began, which made it easy to shift sales online during the initial shutdowns and restrictions.

“Early on, we were able to tell our landlord, ‘We’ve got this!’”

The pandemic actually increased interest in Dollhouse Junction’s products, with more people at home and with more time for hobbies like miniatures. And because Dollhouse Junction’s site is set up to provide a similar experience to shopping in-store, it was able to sell online effectively.

“I think our store might be somewhat unique, because it’s the same online as in the store. Our customers are looking for hundreds or thousands of different products, and they will spend all night looking at miniatures online. It’s why we describe our site as ‘the next best thing to shopping in person.’”

Debbie explained that they were able to leverage their website not only to sell to customers from out of town, but also to customers who were local, through curbside pickup and buy online pickup in store (BOPIS).

Dollhouse Junction wasn’t alone in this regard, as Debbie had referred two of the other boutique shops in her town to Shopify (thank you, Debbie), and they were able to continue selling online as well.

“They hadn’t really embraced [Shopify ecommerce]...but then when the pandemic hit, they were like, ‘Ooh, OK, good thing we have this!’”

In fact, Debbie’s local community in Aspinwall didn’t lose any stores during the pandemic, as strong community support and an investment in buying local helped businesses stay afloat during these challenging times.

Learn more about resilient local businesses

If you’re interested in hearing more of these stories about local communities rallying together to support their local merchants, check out our podcast Resilient Retail!

Listen to Resilient Retail

Debbie explained the special bond that Aspinwall businesses have with their local community:

“Locally, people know these are real people in there with real jobs and they’re part of the community—and we’ve seen so much more support since the shutdown. Like with Melissa and Doug Toys—we sell them. Tons of people sell them online…but if you want to be part of your community and help this store be in business, you’re going to go buy it from them.”

The community of Aspinwall even has its own Instagram, where you can see why it hasn’t lost any shops during the challenges of the pandemic, as the community shows strong support for its local businesses.

Still, throughout all of this, Debbie and the team at Dollhouse Junction were using a 44-year-old cash register to execute and track sales…until it died.

RIP old cash register, hello Shopify POS

After 44 years, Dollhouse Junction’s old cash register finally gave out. So the staff decided to hold a funeral.

“We were joking that it would be a big deal to let it go, and we would have to hold a funeral. But we knew that if you want to tell a story on Instagram or Facebook, you want it to be funny. Because there are so many ads out there that most people just don’t have time for it. But if you can make people laugh, you get their attention.”

And with over 450+ likes on Instagram, it’s clear the funeral video was a hit. 

Debbie received multiple messages and even had people stop her on the street to tell her how great the video was, as it provided some humor and joy during a tough time.

But jokes aside, Dollhouse Junction had a real problem with its cash register that they needed to solve.

“Literally, we couldn’t get parts for it anymore. It wasn’t rolling the register tape at all, and it barely printed and it barely opened up. And in terms of dysfunctionality, we would literally have little Post-its all over the counter saying, “We have to take this item off the website.”

Think about that. A store like Dollhouse Junction, with a massive inventory (over 10,000 unique items), was using Post-it notes to track sales and manage its stock.

Debbie explained how challenging this was: “We had to constantly keep track of pieces that we had sold in the store, but we do not have time to gather our sea of little Post-its at the end of the day and update the website. Or if we do a tradeshow and come back and we’re like, ‘Oh my gosh, there’s all these things we sold at the show, now what do we do?” Debbie and her staff had to go so far as writing the letter “L” on a Post-it when an item was the last one in stock.

Enter Shopify POS.

Shopify POS at Dollhouse Junction

The combination of the pandemic and Debbie’s cash register giving out prompted her to make the switch to Shopify POS. While the Dollhouse Junction team is still spending time getting their inventory updated, the transition is going very smoothly, and they have already noticed a huge improvement.

“As we’re doing [updating inventory], it’s just so awesome when we ring up an item and the POS automatically removes it from the website. It is super helpful in terms of managing inventory and knowing what we need to reorder.”

The ability to merge online and physical sales and inventory through Shopify POS is a massive improvement for Dollhouse Junction. One of Dollhouse Junction’s competitive advantages is the fact it has a physical store where customers can come see its miniatures, so being able to track that large inventory seamlessly between online and in-person sales is critical.

Another feature of Shopify POS that Debbie and her team have found valuable is the ability to collect customer information from in-person sales. Previously, Dollhouse Junction could only collect information from online sales, but Shopify POS gives it the ability to learn the purchasing history of its in-store customers.

“I love it that it’s got all their information there, and we can look at it from one week to the next. The important thing is that it’s not just our online customers, because we’ve been able to know their history, but our in-store customers. We don’t have a record of their history.”

Learning these histories and customer behaviors empowers Debbie and her team to provide even more personalized experiences for their customers, which is essential when you have customers flying across oceans just to visit your store.

Dollhouse Junction is a resilient store that has persevered for over 40 years, through technological innovations, increases in competition, and, of course, a global pandemic—and it managed this with the same cash register through it all. We hope that Shopify POS can help it navigate through the next 40 years!

Lastly, Debbie offers this advice for those considering the switch to Shopify POS:

“Don’t wait until your cash register dies. Just do it!”

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