When you walk into one of the four Wonder Works specialty toy stores in the Lowcountry, you are entering an ecosystem that begins and ends with customers who are a critical part of making magic happen across the country. Every toy, game or book you encounter is brain food, selected to engage children (and adults) in thoughtful play, and each has been molded in some way by the very customers who eventually purchase the products.
Enter a Wonder Works in West Ashley, Mount Pleasant, in the City Market downtown or at Freshfields Village in Kiawah and you’ll stumble upon Noochie Golf, invented by two children under 10, where kids can play on 25 different indoor miniature golf holes by rearranging just four segments. The inventors solicited advice from Wonder Works founder and owner Christine Osborne when they were preparing to bring the game to market.
Turn around to see BULZiBUCKET, an improved version of “cornhole” that keeps the beanbags but replaces the heavy and cumbersome board with three stacked canisters that weight just 8 pounds. Wonder Works encourages you to grab the game and start tossing— right there in the store. Doing so turns you into a little market research project, where your reaction helps determine its future.
Walk farther to the Swurfer exhibit and watch the video of children playing on a tree swing that moves in any direction along the horizontal plane, as opposed to ordinary swings that only move back and forth. It was invented by a local entrepreneur, Rob Bertschy, who consulted with Osborne and sought her feedback based on her years of experience with toy buyers.
“Consequently, you, the customer, are changing play from what you’ve known in the past to the future,” says Osborne. “You’re actually hands-on in developing products.”
Wonder Works is like the Lowcountry’s Disney World of toys, an always-happy place that has thrived for more than 26 years. The franchise continues to expand and will soon move its Mount Pleasant location to a larger space in the same shopping center.
Osborne and her staff are now go-to industry experts, and their company has been named one of the best toy retailers in the country by the American Specialty Toy Retailers Association. They owe their success to the first-class mix of products that fire up the imagination and intellect and to the social nature of the stores. Osborne and her staff encourage play, which makes Wonder Works a community hub for families— something not seen in big box toy retailers.
“One store is next to a Harris Teeter, so families do their grocery shopping and then mom brings the kids here for hands-on play. They meet up with other families doing the same thing. They have so much fun! They can even have a themed birthday party here in our birthday room, where more magic can happen,” says Osborne.
If Wonder Works is a locomotive, ideas and enthusiasm are the engines that propel it. For the Christmas season, Wonder Works is once again sponsoring Elfstravaganza, a free street fair of toys, games, food and entertainment where every child attending receives a free toy. It’s slated this year for November 12 at Belle Hall Shopping Center in Mount Pleasant.
All this initiative comes, in part, from Osborne’s late partner, Dan Morissey, who advised her, before his passing, to follow her own passion and not his. As a result, everything you see at Wonder Works has been handpicked by the “head magic maker” and her team, not just for the ingenuity of the products but for their quality and safety as well.
“If we don’t help develop and promote the best toy ideas and bring them to Charleston, who will?” Osborne asks. Find Osborne in one of the stores and ask her what other ideas are on the horizon.
Barry Waldman is principal at Big Fly Communications, a PR firm.