Owl Toy Craft Owner Makes Unique, Handmade Items
It’s crunch time for the elves at the North Pole, as Christmas is around the corner and they are busy making last-minute toys for Santa to deliver.
They aren’t the only ones – Owen Wingard, the owner of Owl Toy Craft in Topeka, has been getting ready for the Christmas rush for the last 10 months.
Owl Toy Craft is a company that specializes in handmade wooden toys. Their catalog contains a range of items a child would want for a toy barnyard space – barns, stockyards and rail fences, as well as machinery like pickups and trailers, skid loaders and feed trucks, horse-drawn dump wagons and more.
All of their barnyard toys are around the same size, and just about perfect for Schleich-style horses (roughly 1:24 scale).
“It’s not an exact scale, but we do scale our toys so they can all fit together – 3” to 5” animals would be to scale,” Wingard says. “Basically it’s a scale all our own.”
Wingard got his introduction to the toy business 25 years ago, when he made a toy barn for his son from leftover lumber from his day job at a local cabinet shop.
“It took me three weeks to get it done over the course of my [lunch] hour,” he says. “I didn’t have any tools at home for woodworking.”
Through the next few years, neighbors and friends asked him to make similar toy barns for their children.
“Then we added wagons and elevators, and bales,” Wingard says. “We just added new items every year.”
At first, Wingard made toys in his barn after coming home from his day job.
“I used to get home at 3:45 in the afternoons, then in the evenings I’d work on the toys,” he says. “I told my wife, ‘If we ever make a business out of this, we’re going to call it Owl Toy Craft,’ because it was a night-owl thing.”
After five years his toy-making hobby outgrew the barn, expanding into a separate building in 1998. In 2003 Wingard took a leap of faith and went full time, although on paper Owl Toy Craft wasn’t making enough money to support his family.
“We picked up 20 new stores in that first year,” Wingard says. “It’s a gift. God gave the business to us. We work for him. That is the bottom line.”
Throughout the last 17 years business has increased. Every year Wingard adds more toys to his catalog.
“Right after the Christmas rush has passed – around January, February and March – it’s a slow time, so we don’t have a lot of customers coming in,” he says. “If we have new ideas in the back of our minds or on paper, we work on those and design the new toy, and get the cut made and ready for production.”
By summertime the new catalog is ready to come out with all the latest additions.
“We do anywhere between three and six new items a year,” Wingard says.
This year the catalog has more than 80 toys in it, all of which are handmade by Wingard or one of his children.
“[My] favorite part of the business is just being at home, staying at home,” Wingard says. “My family’s here.”
His young grandchildren also enjoy coming to the workshop.
“When they come in they want a pile of sawdust, and a skid steer wagon or something to load and unload the sawdust,” he says.
Farmyard toys aren’t the only items in the Owl Toy Craft catalog. They also offer larger items like doll cribs, marble game toys, toddler pull wagons, rubber-band pistols and more. Some of their most popular items are toy kits and models.
Although the storefront has regular business hours, Owl Toy Craft also sells toys wholesale to 200 businesses across the United States and Canada. Since they begin preparing for the Christmas rush in January, it’s not uncommon for customers to consider the business a branch office for the North Pole.
“We get called Santa’s workshop all the time,” Wingard says.
As he looks to the future, Wingard hopes the business expands enough to support two families.
“We might add another set of buildings and have one of the kids move to the home place and run the shop, and I’d help them instead of them helping me,” he says. “I’m pretty confident that one of them will step in and continue with it. They’ve all worked in it.”
Owl Toy Craft is located at 9555 West 300 South in Topeka. Hours of operation are Monday through Friday 8 a.m. to 5 p.m., or by appointment. For more info and to receive a copy of their catalog, call 260-593-2651.