ROCKLAND — Tucked away within Rockland's Industrial Park sits an unassuming white building with an attached 3,000-square-foot warehouse packed with natural and wooden toys. It's like Santa's workshop in there with rows of industrial shelves holding toys, books, music, board games, and boxes of wooden play kits.
Bella Luna Toys is owner Sarah Baldwin's dream job. At age 50, Baldwin, a Waldorf educator, decided after 15 years of teaching that she wanted to put her energies into a new direction and in 2009, began selling toys and games online, designed to encourage imaginative play and enhance children's learning.
Like many a Maine entrepreneur, Baldwin started off small, with a website and a stock of 100 natural toys, operating out of her small garage at home. Today, she runs a company with an inventory of approximately 2,000 toys and games, books and music, arts and crafts, and dolls, and ships to customers around the globe with the help of 10 employees.
Baldwin explained how it all started.
"Bella Luna Toys began in 2001 as a small, home-based business in California,” she said. “The young mother who founded the website had her hands full with young children at home and wanted to sell the business after the economic downturn in 2008. With my kids in high school, it was a perfect time in my life to devote my energy to it, so I bought the name, the website, and the small amount of remaining inventory and had it shipped to Maine."
In the last eight years, Baldwin's little toy company has become a huge success. Bella Luna Toys ships to customers across the U.S. as well as internationally. This past holiday season, Baldwin and her staff were working seven days a week to keep up with all of the orders.
The entrance of the building houses a small showroom, so that local people can enter, take their kids, and touch and play with the toys.
"We also invite them to shop our warehouse shelves in order to see our entire collection,” she said. “We love to help them find just what they're looking for. Some people have described us as 'Rockland's best kept secret.'"
Baldwin, who never had any formal business training, credits her passion for her products—as well as help from a business coach—for her success.
"I was never interested in a career in sales, but I am so passionate about these toys, having used many of them in my classroom and at home with my own two children for years that it didn't feel like selling,” she said. “It felt like doing what I loved."
Bella Luna Toys is now the number one search result on Google for "Wooden Toys"—ranking above much bigger and well-known companies such as Toys 'R' Us and Melissa and Doug.
Her business acumen and risk-taking style propelled her to acquire another online toy business, Oompa Toys in 2015. Much like Bella Luna Toys, Oompa ranks on Google’s first page on popular searches for wooden and natural toys and offers many products sourced from Europe that are hard to find in the U.S.
Baldwin sources from more than 100 different vendors and artisans, importing toys from all over the world to her Rockland warehouse. She is always on the lookout for toys made in Maine and New England and offers playthings made by a number of local craftspeople. Many of the toys complement one another. For example: Bella Luna Toys offers books on fairy tales, such as Grimm's Fairy Tales, classic stories and mythology that go hand in hand with their Camelot knight, wizard and dragon puppets.
There's also a Velveteen Rabbit Plush Toy handmade in Europe, with soft cotton velveteen, filled with wool stuffing to resemble the rabbit in the original edition of The Velveteen Rabbit, the classic children's book by Margery Williams, which Bella Luna Toys also carries.
This past week, Baldwin launched a third website to complement her two toy businesses called The Waldorf Shop (waldorfshop.net), a directory of resources related to Waldorf education.
"The Waldorf Shop lists toy sellers, schools, books, teacher training programs, home schooling resources and more," she said. "I knew when I started this business, I wanted to do more than just sell things—I wanted to promote my love of Waldorf education,” she said. “I love introducing parents of babies and young children to toys that are healthy and engage a child's imagination. Waldorf educators like myself believe that imaginative play in early childhood is essential to creative thinking later in life. Studies have shown that children who spend the most time engaged in free and creative play in early childhood grow up to be the innovators and problem-solvers later in life. Our mission is to help raise future generations of creative thinkers through the power of imaginative play."
To learn more about Bella Luna Toys and their Rockland shop, visit: www.bellalunatoys.com
Kay Stephens can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org