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A Red Giraffe comes to town

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Jill Swanson's best sales rep has to be her five-year-old daughter Joely.

It was Joely who walked up to a customer who was musing over which potty seat to purchase for her child, pointed at one and declared, "I love that potty seat.

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"We are using that potty seat to train my brother right now."

As the customer then told Swanson, who was trying to apologize, "How can you ignore that recommendation?"

It's just as well that her children display an aptitude for sales, because Swanson's children's store, The Red Giraffe, which has opened up in City Walk, Woodbury, is somewhat of a family concern.

Swanson moved her four kids, all under the age of seven, to Woodbury last August, flushed with the ninth successful year of her first Red Giraffe store in Onalaska, Wis.

Spurred on to open up a second store in Minnesota by her faithful clientele who would travel the 160 miles from the Twin Cities to browse her stock, Swanson settled on Woodbury due to its location as a retail center for the East Metro and the Wisconsin towns of Hudson and River Falls.

Her children are familiar faces in the store, greeting customers if Mom's out back while they're not at school or day care, and trying out the new stock to see what works best.

It's a grueling work day for Swanson, who will rise at 6 a.m. with her children, see the eldest two on the school bus by 8:15 a.m., and the other two to day care, pre-school, or accompanying her into the store before it opens by 10 a.m.

Then it's a full day of serving customers, holding play and learning sessions in the store, unloading new stock, collecting her kids at the end of the day, getting them their evening meal, cleaning, laundry, then a night of bookkeeping, ordering new stock and other business management before she gets to bed somewhere between midnight and 2 a.m.

Selling children's toys, furniture, Stride Rite shoes, and offering a professional service fitting kids' car seats and advice on breast feeding, Red Giraffe aims to cater for kids aged from birth to nine.

One of the most innovative ideas at the Red Giraffe has to be its free programs, Music Mondays and Fun Fridays, which take place at 10 a.m.

The 20-minute sessions are for children aged two to five and their caregivers ("If you bring the children, you have to participate!" warns Swanson), and encourage kids to make their own music and get involved in craft activities.

And the name?

"I couldn't come up with a name, so I gave the job to an advertising class at one of the Winona colleges," explained Swanson.

"One of the students came up with the name Blue Giraffe but I thought that was really sad, so I changed it to Red Giraffe and started mentioning it to people.

"A week later, they were asking me, 'Is it still the Red Giraffe?' and that was the only name that stuck, so I picked it."

For more information, call (651) 714-5427.

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