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Partner Spotlight: Marley & Moose

Partner Spotlight: Marley & Moose

Partner Spotlight: Marley & Moose

In Northern Colorado, you'll discover Marley & Moose, a charming children's shop. This family-operated business, nestled in nature, is committed to providing eco-friendly toys that nurture children through every stage of development. The palpable warmth and passion the store exudes are attributed to its owners, Brittany and Mike Baron, along with their four children. With Brittany's educational background, Mike's entrepreneurial expertise, and their shared passion for family inclusion, the store offers a unique and delightful play and retail experience.

Our interview delves into the origins of Marley & Moose, what sets it apart as a community treasure, and the diverse offerings available both in-store and online.

PT: Could you give a brief introduction about your shop? What is Marley & Moose for those who may not be familiar. 

Brittany: We are a family-owned sustainability children’s shop inspired by nature and culture in Northern Colorado. At our shop in-store and online our customers come back again and again for our curated collection of wooden toys, puzzles, games, books, art supplies & clothing. We also just added a “do more outside” segment of the store carrying hiking carriers, scooters, helmets and more! 

For our local customers, right outside the store is an outdoor patio that serves as an outdoor classroom and community space. Our most popular events are our new parents meet-ups, music & art classes and a monthly free community “Party on the Patio”. 

The Front of the Marley & Moose toy store
Marley & Moose front store view

What inspired you to start Marley & Moose? 

    Mike: I’ve always been entrepreneurial and wanted to start another business, but could never put my finger on anything I could offer that was different and made an impact. I finished my MBA in December of 2019 and we were ready to do something new and bold together, but just couldn’t pull the trigger.  Then COVID happened, Brittany was laid off, and we left the big city to live with relatives and focus on time with our kids.  Like a lot of other caregivers, Brittany homeschooled the kids at that time.  We quickly found that people really, really trust Brittany and value her opinions because of her education and background as a teacher, working at child development focused non-profits, and as a mom of at the time 3.  Friends and family wanted their kids off screens, wanted connection, had a million other parenting questions and were coming to Brittany for advice.     

    Brittany: Exactly. I am an obsessive researcher and love sharing my journey with others, and I needed a more tangible outlet to do that in a way that was meaningful. At home, and now in the store, we focus on play that is grounded in sustainability and tools instead of machines and I think that resonates with people. Children have a magical computer between their ears. If we remove all of the plastic, lights, batteries and noise they can show us what it really can do.

    Mike: When our kids were back in school and Brittany was ready to tackle something new, we talked a lot about how running our own business would be a great opportunity for us to start something together that makes an impact, allows Brittany to pursue her passions, and also affords us more control over that balance of work and home.  We talked about different value driven start-up ideas oriented on our parenting philosophies and lifestyle and Brittany came up with the idea of a value driven children’s store that acted as an anchor in the community.  

    Brittany: It was a blend of my commitment to sustainability, passion for early education and play, and our family grounding in time spent outdoors- the idea and concept was the easy part. Actually running a small business is the hard part for sure. 

    Where did the name Marley & Moose come from?

      Mike: The name Marley is gender neutral and represents our commitment to serving and celebrating all people and the name Moose is an ode to the outdoors and one of the more fascinating animals in our current home in Colorado.  

      Inside view of the Marley & Moose store showing various toys on a shelf
      The store's variety of eco-friendly and developmentally appropriate toys

      What have you learned from the journey thus far?

        Mike: I think the big lesson so far has been more of a reinforcement of something we already thought to be true, which is, relationships matter.  From a business standpoint, we have some really loyal customers who have become great friends and advocates.  From a wellness standpoint, it’s super fulfilling to see families grow and evolve and feel like we are part of their journey.  The same holds true for our business connections.  The connections where we’ve prioritized good relationships based on shared values have become true partners.

        Brittany: 100%, we aren’t anything without the customers and the community of friends and family that cheer us on and are always there for advice and support.

         Family photo in front of snowy mountainsBaron family photo

        What are some of your favorite memories since opening the shop?

        Brittany: It has been such a whirlwind 10 months! So many of our early customers who were pregnant now have babies who now join storytime— as a mom of four it still absolutely blows my mind how magical that first year is. It’s such an honor to get to watch them grow.

        We have packed the patio at events I wasn’t sure anyone would show up. Our town's Oktoberfest is just a block away and while we weren’t the main event- we don’t serve beer or pretzels afterall- the store was so busy all day with half the town poking in to say “hello”. 

        And a more personal one…. a paramedic team visited the store to ask if we would join in their holiday toy drive, and we quickly all realized they were the team who had responded to one of our kids' medical emergencies just a few months before. A few tears were shed that day it was so cool to give them an update  and of course we joined their effort! (Our kiddo is okay!)

        Mike: I’m in the office mostly so I don’t get as many cool moments with our community, but I really enjoy when we have a big day or a big moment and seeing Brittany come home with her cup overflowing with good vibes.  I also really enjoy how much pride our kids have in our store. 

        I really enjoy feeling like when some of these kids grow up, they’re going to remember moments they had on our patio or gifts they received from our store that are part of core memories of their childhood.

        Children playing with PlanToys at play table
        Children playing at the store's PlanToys table

        What types of offerings are in the shop? Do you have a specific guideline you follow when buying for the store?

        Mike: Everything we offer is responsibly sourced, battery free, and has some sort of development merit. We look for toys that facilitate time outdoors or help spark conversation.  We steer away from commercialized products and lean into items that encourage creativity, spark the imagination, and are most importantly fun to play with.  We also look for toys that are meant to last both from child to child, but also through multiple phases of development

        When we look at products it’s usually a two step process.  I will often do a first pass at brands and then I pass on to Brittany who will do a deeper evaluation on fit.  The first thing I do when I look at any brand is I go straight to the bottom of their website and I look for a statement on sustainability.  Making sure we are value aligned with our brands is very important.  The next place I go is to the About Us and I look at the leadership team.  If the team has no diversity then we question if the company is walking the walk or just writing what people want to hear.  Once I do that, then I start researching product market fit.  When I’ve narrowed down a few brands per season, I pass the list along to Brittany where we discuss overall fit and she does a deeper dive into developmental benefits.  We’ll then do even more research into manufacturing processes, read reviews looking for practical feedback from other customers, and scroll through the brand’s social feed to get a good sense of their commitment to their values.  Fortunately for us, we have experience as parents, and Brittany has experience in the field actually using our core brands, including and especially PlanToys, so we know they are high quality, practical, and super fun!

        Brittany: All of this. We aren’t looking for quick sales, we aren’t looking for big profit, we truly stand behind our products and a lot of thought goes into our purchasing decisions. 

        What led you to discover PlanToys and how does it integrate into your shop? Could you recall a memorable personal or customer experience that has resonated with you?

          Brittany: We are long time PlanToys fans, I had a PlanToys shape puzzle and kitchen sets when I was teacher many, many years ago– as a teacher on a budget we stretched that tiny budget for items we knew would last. For early birthdays for our own big kids (now 8 and 10) we got them a rocket stacker, Tree House, and Alligator which we still have in our toy room!

          Our store centers around our PlanToys play table with rotating activities for little ones, Wooden Blocks, Stacking Rocket, My First Dollhouse…. They are all such popular toys for our customers for such a good reason. This year has been overflowing with sweet memories. I especially love how long little ones will sit and play with the dollhouse while their parents shop– its fascinating to see everything I preach about open-ended toys just being lived out everyday in the store. 

          PlanToys selection inside the Marley & Moose store with the My First Dollhouse in the front view
          The My First Dollhouse and the entire PlanToys collection at Marley & Moose

          What are your go-to tips for people shopping for a special occasion gift and don’t know where to start?

            Brittany: There is something really special about giving a gift and feeling confident it will be loved for years to come. We love brands, like PlanToys, that make the developmental age for the toy super easy to find right on the packaging to help customers narrow their options. Shop a small shop and ask for help, we love helping our customers choose a gift! 

            What we love about play is everyone has experience in it - we’ve all had a childhood after all. What advice do you have for people who want to start a business in the play industry, particularly those who don’t have a background in toys or education?

              Brittany: Talk to business owners a few years ahead of you. There is definitely a group of us who truly value community over competition and would love to collaborate and find ways to support one another and learn from each other. And then hire people who have skill sets unique to your own. Hiring staff with diverse backgrounds is a game changer for elevating the success of your business. 

              Mike: I have the same advice. Talk to someone. Talk to us. People who have walked this path before us have a lot of knowledge and are usually eager to pay it forward.  We certainly are. Related to Brittany’s point, do not try to do it all on your own.  Find partners who know what you don’t, hire a diverse staff, and listen to feedback from your customers.

              My other advice though is do not fall into the trap of imposter syndrome.  You may think you do not have relevant experience, but if you have any experience as a caregiver, if you care, and if you spend the time researching, it will go a long way.  We did months of research writing our business plan and came out of that process super confident.  You will hear a lot of the word “no” but if you are confident in yourself, it’s a lot easier to brush it off and move on to the next.

              Mother pushing child in a wheelbarrow

              More than a store, the outdoor community patio and flower and herb gardens are a labor of love! 

              How do you balance family and running Marley & Moose?

              Brittany: We don’t do it alone, that's for sure– we tried that the first 6 months and it didn’t go well! We have four kids ages 2 to 10 so everyday is a big swirl of regularly scheduled chaos. Mike coaches all of our big kids in sports + oversees piano practices, I manage homework, doctors appointments, and birthday parties. Our kids spend a lot of time at the store helping and playing and then we have an incredible store and online assistants who really hold us together and fill the gaps on sick days, etc.. And on the homefront we have the most amazing Au Pair, she is just an incredible human being. 

              Mike: I think another thing is Brittany was adamant that we got the storefront in our town versus the one in the larger city nearby.  I thought we should go with the place with more foot traffic, but Brittany was right.  The kids can ride their bikes to the store from school and we can hang out together on the patio.  The store is also walking distance to the fields where the kids play sports.  Her vision of having a community based location makes balancing family and work a lot easier when the community we serve is already the community where we live.  

              Also yeah, our Au Pair, Lucero, has been amazing.  Finding the right fit also took a lot of research, but it really has paid off in a mutually beneficial way.  She’s really become a member of our family.  Whenever she travels though we always try to convince one of our parents to move in until she gets back.  Never a tough sell!  Having someone else here isn’t as much about having someone take care of the kids as much as it is about giving us the opportunity to have more meaningful interactions with them who as individuals need attention in different ways.

              Family dressed as bears hosting a Halloween craft event outside a store

              The Baron 'Bears' handing out candy for the community trick-or-treat

              We love that you host events and classes in the shop! What are these events like? How can people stay in the know about them and sign up?

                Brittany: The dream was to have an outdoor space for classes and events and the patio adjacent to the store has made that dream come true! We host weekly storytimes and playgroups, new parents meet-ups, special workshops and monthly free community events. All of our events + registration details are on the calendar on our website + we send a weekly “Locals” emails newsletter with upcoming events as well. 

                We have a deep appreciation for our small business community and are committed to supporting them in any way we can. Can you share any suggestions for those who aim to support small toy stores throughout the year, beyond making a purchase? 

                  Brittany: Spread the word! Liking and commenting on social media posts, leaving online reviews, and telling your friends and family about your favorite small business all are such a huge support. These efforts may feel small, but they aren’t small to us! Small-business owners absolutely do a dorky little dance when they get this support.

                  What do you love most about being in the play industry?

                  Brittany: Technology plays such a critical role in our lives and we are tech nerds in many ways- Mike is a software engineer! But I often see it replacing play for young children and that really breaks my heart. Bringing them back to blocks, and pretending, and tools that spark their creativity to ask questions and experiment is absolutely critical to early development. I love getting to play a small part in championing  letting play be the center of childhood.

                  Mike: I like playing with the toys. 

                  Brittany: Hah! Yes, Mike quality controls as much as the kids.

                  Where can we find Marley & Moose on social media?

                    Brittany: @marleyandmoose.co on InstagramFacebook

                    Visit the Marley & Moose website here to shop and learn more.

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