It's good to talk. Especially when you're a toy wholesaler!
14 Jun 2013
We spend our life communicating with retailers. It's what we do. If you are a toy wholesaler then your job is to talk to toy shops, and since we wholesale baby and fair trade as well we have a lot of shops we need to talk to.
So communication is key to our wholesale business and something which takes up the majority of our time.
Luckily we can now talk to our customers via Twitter and Facebook as well as email and, best of all, face to face at trade shows.
When we first started our wholesale business you either picked up the phone or you wrote to your retailers which was a bit tricky. I can't think of many things which irritate a retailer more than being rung while they are trying to serve a customer, so things are a lot better now.
However although the ways in which we can communicate have increased significantly the things which cause problems have stayed exactly the same.
As a wholesaler what gets our goat is when we get a mass email. There is no reference to our crochet or knitted toys, just a resume of their own business. Normally these emails are sent out because the proposition they have is such that the majority of suppliers are going to say no to them. They therefore need to play the numbers game. the more people they approach, the more likely it is that someone will say yes.
We try not to be too vain about our fabulous range of fair trade and organic toys, but when you don't even mention them in your email we do get a bit sniffy.
The thing which irritates our new retail customers the most is being refused a discount.
We don't mind being asked for a discount on our toys and baby clothes but it's very rare that we will say yes (if you are interested ordering 196 of any one toy, in one colour, is the usual parameter).
However when we refuse many retailers then stop talking to us altogether. We have got off on the wrong foot and its suddenly awkward. We have started our relationship off with a refusal and thats never a good place to start.
So if you do want to ask for a discount, please don't be offended if we say no. We don't want to embarrass or insult you, it's just we have to be fair to all our existing customers. and if it's any consolation we say no to multiple retailers as well as new starters!
What is interesting is that both wholesaler and retailers are annoyed by the same thing, which is not being made to feel special.
This is particularly true with new customers where we do not have any history or personal knowledge to fall back on. Like a bad first date this first communication can mean the end of what could be a great relationship.
Even the newest of businesses know that they will stand or fall by the relationships they build up with their customers. The first thing you do when setting up a business is establish a way to talk to customers, and a way in which customers can talk to you. Thankfully the internet has made this a lot easier with a proliferation of ways to talk, and to listen.
It is also in the area of communications where Independent companies thrive. You try talking to a large corporate through social media and mostly you will find that its a way to broadcast a message rather than a way to communicate. If you ring them you can spend hours listening to different options for different departments, and an email query can result in no reply at all.
Compare that to a smaller company where the phone is answered, tweets replied to and emails responded to promptly.
Perhaps we can both learn from each other. Multiples can see how two way communication can be run, and us SME can be less sensitive about our businesses and our products (even when they do have the best range of fair trade and organic toys on the planet!)
One final point. This week we received a lovely email from a shop complimenting us on our toys and baby clothes. It made me feel so good that I finally emailed a trade show organiser and told them how much i appreciated the way in which they organised and ran their very small but focussed trade show.
Perhaps we should have a pass it on policy? Use social media, email and all these fab new ways to communicate to tell people when they are doing a good job?
What do you think? Please comment on our Facebook page
Wholesale Baby. New Fair Trade and Organic Ranges for Xmas 2013
11 Jun 2013
We are proud to announce new arrivals to our wholesale baby ranges for Xmas 2013.
Firstly Pebble are introducing a new fair trade and organic range. All the Pebble toys we wholesale are fair trade, but previously we have only had a small range of organic toys, rattles and hats.
We are therefore very pleased that for Autumn 2013 Pebble have a new range of wholesale organic toys, rattles, hats and blankets.
In vibrant colours so rarely seen in organic ranges the range has been designed for modern parents, or even a royal baby.
We also have an organic version of our popular funky bunny
The range will be available to buy from Best Years in autumn 2013
for more information, or to see our wholesale prices, please email us
Organic Baby. New Baby Clothes for Xmas 2013
11 Jun 2013
Best Years first started to wholesale the Under the Nile organic baby clothes in March 2013, and we have really enjoyed working in a new market. Baby clothes are a new product area for us but since so many of our customers sell baby clothes as well as baby toys it seemed a natural move to make. We were also particularly pleased to get the chance to work with Under the Nile who have the same ethos as Pebble.
We are very excited about the Autumn 2013 organic baby clothes.
In soft organic cotton the range stretches from body suits to organic cotton "fleece" style sleeping bags and outer wear
We also have co-ordinating organic cotton hats and blankets
In addition to the Panda collection we have the iconic Under the Nile organic cotton long johns
For more information about our wholesale organic clothes, or to see our wholesale prices, please email us
Wholesale Toys. New Knitted Toys for Xmas
11 Jun 2013
If there is one wholesale toy which Best Years are know for it is our knitted T Rex.
Best Years have been a toy wholesaler for over 10 years now and the knitted T Rex has been our best seller for most of this time (before that it was our Moptop dogs )
We introduced the knitted Stegosaurus to our wholesale ranges in Autumn 2012 and sales were so good that we had already sold out by Spring 2013.
More wholesale stock will be available from September 2013, but emboldoned by our success we are now introducing a new knitted Triceratops
Not content with these 2 new additions to our wholesale toy ranges we also have a wonderful range of miniature T Rex planned
For more information, or to see wholesale prices please email us
05 Jun 2013
Heres a blog from Pebble about the new wholesale rag dolls which arrive in June.
We have previously sold some large organic rag dolls from a South African co-operative and we have missed having rag dolls in the range, so we are particularly pleased to welcome Elsa, Ruby and Emily.
For more information please email us
Rag dolls - a new addition to the Pebble range
Written by Samantha Morshed
Rag dolls - a new addition to the Pebble range
We've been having a lot of fun in the sample room making a completely new product for Pebble - rag dolls. A selection of three rag dolls will be available from the June catalogue this year and we hope you will like them as much as we've been having fun making them. They are very much Pebble rag dolls and feature crochet hair and accessories.
The face was taken from a doll I lovingly made myself at the tender age of 8! I still have that doll - her name is Molly and she sits around in our home in Dhaka. After nearly 4 decades I still think her face is beautiful and absolutely ideal for a Pebble rag doll. Making dolls is a new skill for the Hathay Bunano ladies and I've had a lot of fun in the past couple of weeks teaching these skills. I've been teaching both the sewing construction and the pattern making and its great to work with women who are so eager and interested to learn new skills. When Hathay Bunano first started in 2004 I used to do all the training but over time we developed teams of trainers and I then was able to take a back seat on training, and so it's been fun for me to be back in the teaching role and hands-on. I'm going to call these three dolls Elsa, Ruby and Emily.
What is fair trade
05 Jun 2013
We are very pleased to tell you that Best Years has now been accepted by BAFTS (British Association of Fair Trade Shops).
One of the many reasons why we applied is that we were becoming increasingly concerned about the amount of companies who were passing their products off as ethical (Read more about this here )
Rather than try to make our claims louder or larger thought that customer recommendations and 3rd party validation would lend more authority to our ethical claims than a smart logo or hang tag. BAFTS was the obvious choice as they have an active and aware membership and a rigorous selection process.
The process to join BAFTS includes your application being reviewed by all BAFTS retailers which is a bit scary but does mean that only those wholesalers who are really ethical are accepted.
We also liked their definition of fair trade
"All involved in Fair Trade accept that it has to include: paying fair prices to producers which reflect the true cost of production, supporting producer organisations in their social and environmental projects, promoting gender equality in pay and working conditions, advising on product development to increase access to markets, committing to long term relationships to provide stability and security and campaigning to highlight the unequal system of world trade which places profit above human rights and threatens our environment."
One of the key points to us is forging of long term relationships so that success and hard times are shared equally. No one should be bullied either by a retailer or a manufacturer as the consequences are well beyond any profit which can be gained. I am sure that the supermarket/retail buyer asking for an additional 10% off the price of their already cheap clothes did not suspect that they would be one of the threads leading to the loss of over 1000 lives in the collapse of a Bangladesh garment factory.
Unfortunately the recession has meant many suppliers to large retailers being asked for additional discounts without any thought of where this money was going to come from. Quick note to new retail buyers. There isn't a secret pot of money being hidden from you. Extra discounts get passed down the line to the person who can least afford to walk away . Please click here to read which UK retailers have recently demanded additional discounts from their suppliers. Or you read one of our more recent rants!
We have always believed that fair trade extends from our suppliers, to us, to our retailers and ultimately to our customers. Everyone has the right to be treated fairly in trade whether that is the customer getting a great toy at a fair price or the retailer who can make a fair profit on our wholesale toys and clothes.
This doesn't mean that everyone always gets on. There are bound to be times when relationships are tested, in the same way that marriages and friendships are not always smooth. But where there is mutual respect and comman goals disputes are much more easily resolved.
So we believe that fair trade means exactly that. Every one working together in a trade has the right to be treated fairly, and paid fairly.
What do you think? Please comment on our Facebook page
Wholesale Toys, to be Niche or not to be Niche?
04 Jun 2013
If you are reading this blog it's a reasonable assumption that you know that Best Years is a toy wholesaler, but do you view us as simply a toy wholesaler or do you think of us as a crochet toy wholesaler or a fair trade toy wholesaler?
Do you also know that we wholesale organic baby clothes or do you just think we wholesale toys?
The question of whether it is better to be niche businesses has been highlighted by the recession as generalist stores have seemed to struggle more than those who have a more focussed product selection.
This can be shown particularly well by the varying fortune of 2 retailers within the card business. Clintons almost went bust and had to be bought by a supplier while Card Factory have boomed and look like they are about to be sold for £700m. Could this be because Card Factory had a very clear vision of what they were selling and this showed in their product selection and store merchandising?
Certainly if you pick up any marketing book they will always advise you to identify a niche market you can operate in rather than try to take on the whole world.
Given our toy ranges comprise mainly of wholesale crochet and knitted toys, with an emphasis on fair trade and organic toys, we are obviously a fan of niche business and over the last couple of years we have definitely seen the concept of niche spreading.
For instance, as a wholesaler we currently exhibit at about 10 trade shows a year and even here it is the niche trade shows which appear to be growing in popularity. We have recently come back from Pulse where, to our eyes, the show was visibly smaller than it had been as some wholesalers have stopped exhibiting. However we like it because of the sheer amount of London buyers we see. To us Pulse is a geographically niche show although I doubt the organisers see it as such!
However on 16th/17th June we will be at Bubble London, a childrenswear show, which is totally sold out and has definitely got bigger just in the 2 years we have been showing there.
Bubble is very definitely a childrenswear trade show. If you don't sell to kids clothing stores there is no point being there. Pulse is a general gift show where baby toy wholesalers rub shoulders with bag wholesalers and some very talented pottery producers. It appears that buyers want to focus their time at trade shows in niche shows where at least 90% of products could be listed in their shops.
Best Years proud boast is that we are one of the largest fair trade crochet toy wholesalers in the world, but to be honest we are niche enough that we do not have a huge amount of competition in our particular niche!
When we were a traditional soft toy wholesaler selling "normal" soft toys we continually struggled to differentiate ourselves from a whole host of much larger competitors. Now I would guess that there are 2 or 3 other wholesalers who we could view as competition but their products have such a different look and feel to us (and only 1 other is fair trade wholesaler) that we concentrate on perfecting our own ranges rather than worrying our pretty little heads about what they are up to.
Not that there aren't some drawbacks about being a niche business. We do have a minority of customers who do not want to see our new organic ranges. To them we are crochet and nothing else, despite the fact that we have always had cotton toys in our ranges. It can be frustrating to see buyers pidgeon hole us in to very specific market but this is far out weighed by the freedom you get working within a niche you know and can dominate.
So as for the question as whether niche is good or not, as a toy wholesaler we have thrived in our niche but we would also advise not getting so comfortable in your own little area that if fashion changes you can be left stranded.
Are you a niche business? We would love to hear your comments on our Facebook page
Toys Fit For A Future King or Queen
31 May 2013
So as we begin the count down to the birth of the royal baby wholesalers and retailers are holding their breath in anticipation of the toys and clothes the Duchess of Cambridge will chose. Rumour has it that anything that is chosen for the royal baby will enjoy instant and constant success for years to come.
So what do you think will make a suitable gift for a royal baby? What makes a toy fit for a King or Queen?
Somehow I don't think the royal family will chose the same cot as the Beyonce baby which is rumoured to have cost $20,000
Or how about this Swarovski baby bath?
So I think we have established the sort of thing the Royal Baby will not be getting, but what then does make a toy suitable for a royal baby if it is not conspicuous consumption?
The Duchess of Cambridge has already shown that she is not afraid to shop on the high street so its not likely that she will have exclusively designer products.
What the Royal family will want for the new royal baby is quality, safety and great design.
We think that the Duchess of Cambridge will also want her baby toys and clothes to be organic and fair trade
All new mothers want the very best for their babies which is why organic baby toys and clothes are so popular. The less chemicals you can expose your baby to in its first few months the better.
As a toy wholesaler we agree that a toy fit for a prince or princess should definitely be organic. Its always nice for a very young baby to have a comfort toy so our first choice for the new royal's baby is this organic cotton baby buddy. Suitable from birth, machine washable and organic makes it a great comfort toy
Or how about these organic, fair trade, crochet rattles?
Whatever the Duke and Duchess chose for their baby we hope they get them from a small business. If there is a sales boom attached to the royal baby it would be nice if the benefit was felt by a small UK company rather than a multinational!
Why High Street Retailers Are Not Dead Yet
29 May 2013
I have decided that when I finish being a toy wholesaler I am going to make a career out of releasing sensational reports. That or I could become a journalist and publicise perfectly solid pieces of research with sensational head lines which in turn lead to a feeding frenzy. What do you think?
The reason for this career change from toy wholesaler to writer is this week's reporting of the imminent demise of the high street.
The headlines chimed out the last days of high street retailing as if it was due to close this weekend. However on further investigation it appears that the report, published by the CRR (centre of Retail Research) made a couple of good points but none of them spelled out the end of high street shopping as we know it.
The first one is that over the next five years, if current trends continue, the number of UK retail stores will drop from 281,930 to 220,000.
Well forgive me pointing this out but we have been in a savage recession for the last 5 years and if the current trends continue we will all have a lot more to worry about than shopping! As a wholesaler we have seen many things change with the recession, some of them good, and some not so good.
The recession has culled a lot of retailers who were surviving on a wing and a prayer, or who buried their heads in the sand about crucial changes in shopping such as online retail. I remember working at Dixons HO when the online store was viewed as being so unimportant it was run by a student on industrial placement. I am sure that there were a lot of large high street retailers who were even less convinced about online shopping than Dixons.
Similarly when we first started our wholesale business Best Years 10 years ago, most Independent retailers thought we were mad when we asked for their email address, and if they did have email addresses they were normally along the lines of "firstname.lastname@example.org"
Now it would not be thought possible to start a business without an online presence. Certainly a lot of our wholesale business is done online which would not have been thought possible even 5 years ago.
The recession has also punished retailers for arrogance and complacency. My personal choice for this category is Clintons Cards whose terms and conditions for suppliers were so ludicrous only certain companies would deal with them. As a consequence it's product offering got narrower and narrower. Shoppers want choice and if you don't offer it to them they will go else where.
The CRR then goes on to say that "The share of consumer spending going to high street stores is falling - it was 50% in 2000 and is predicted to drop to 40.2% by next year"
There is no doubt that online shopping is growing, but for an independent retailer this is not necessarily bad news. As a wholesaler we attend many trade shows and recently at Pulse we met many of our regular customers who had more than tripled their turnover by setting up an online shop in conjunction with their high street presence. It was heartening to hear stories of increased sales, profit and footfall.
In the same way that we wholesale different products and have different retail customers online than at trade shows different products sell online and on the high street. Having an online presence not only increased turnover for the retailers it substantially increased the geographic reach of their shops and flattened the seasonality so that sales were more evenly distributed through the week and through the year.
I do agree with the statement from CRR director Professor Joshua Bamfield who said
"Retailers have to make clear and strategic responses to the changing pattern of how consumers shop, which includes tactical decisions about store numbers and locations. They also need to fully integrate these physical stores with their websites, smart phone offerings and social media community coherently."
However we are already seeing this happening all around us. Last week I went to see 2 retail chains who are expanding rapidly in their chosen niches. The concept of them investing purely in bricks and mortar would be ludicrous, but their plans would similarly not be complete if they concentrated all their expansion plans online without including additional stores.
To me its a bit like in the 1960s when it was confidently predicted that we would all wear paper clothes and space travel would be an every day occurrence. Turns out that paper clothes never caught on and space travel is stil the preserve of an elite few.
However good your title sounds, and however grand your research facility is, its all just supposition in the end.
We can dictate our own future and a clever retailer (and their wholesalers!) can still survive and thrive in today's conditions. In fact I think there has never been a better time to have the flexibility and agility that being independent gives you. And lets not forget that people like to shop, and until that changes then it is always possible to be a successful retailer.
What do you think? Please comment on our Facebook page
Organic cotton toys
22 May 2013
Best Years started working with Under the Nile at the end of 2012 and we received our first delivery of organic cotton toys and clothes in March.
At once it became obvious that the Under the Nile organic baby buddies were going to be best sellers.
This should have come as no surprise. The baby buddies are made from organic cotton which is left over from the manufacture of organic baby clothes. We call this upcycled as we use cloth which would otherwise have been thrown away.
Organic cotton is obviously better for babies especially for a toy which is likely to be in the baby's mouth. It also washes beautifully!
However in addition to being organic all the Under the Nile organic clothes and toys are also fair trade so not only are their toys good for babies, they are good for the workers making them.
Our first 5 baby buddies sold out within 6 weeks so we are very pleased that we now have new designs in stock
For more information please email email@example.com
Why its better to be a cheerful toy wholesaler
22 May 2013
While we were at Pulse last week we had some very positive comments about our blog about making and selling our fair trade and organic toys, which was absolutely fab. We are a toy wholesaler not a professional blogger so sometimes it can feel that you send your thoughts off in to the ether never to be seen or heard by anyone. Realising people actually read your words is a real boost!
One of the compliments was specifically about a blog with feedback on a recent trade show. Unfortunately we normally write about our knitted toys or our fair trade suppliers and we have never done a review of a trade show so the compliments were not deserved.But it has prompted me to write this review of Pulse and other tradeshows.
Trade shows are actually very emotive places for wholesalers. Underneath the suited and booted exteriors there is usually a level of hysteria never experienced in the office.
This is due in part to the sheer cost of the trade shows which is always £000s and is always a disproportionate percentage of a small company’s marketing spend. Unfortunately there are no hard and fast rules about which trade shows will be good for your company so however many you attend it is always a gamble as to whether you will get any return on your investment.
But perhaps more importantly, however irrational it is, most wholesalers start trade shows somehow believing that THIS IS IT. This is the time and place when you will meet the buyer/company/partner who will transport your business to a totally different level.
When you are in the office you know that no one person can make or break your business and it would be mad to run a wholesale toy business like this but there is just something about trade shows which encourages that feeling.
Now the upside of this feeling is that every visitor to your stand is greeted with cheery enthusiasm and hopefully made to feel both special and welcome.
The down side to this is that when things don’t go to plan exhibitors can very quickly give up.
Its human nature that if the show starts badly then energy wanes and enthusiasm levels decline. This year visitor numbers at Pulse seemed to be down (although the exhibition company said they were up on last year) and by Tuesday many of the wholesalers were visibly deflated. Someone opposite us spent most of the day reading their kindle on the last day of the show, oblivious to the visitors passing their stand.
Originally I was going to write a post about whether doubling the size of our stand at Pulse had made a difference to the sales of our knitted and fair trade toys. My conclusion after 3 days at the show is that while increasing the size of our stand definitely made a difference to the visibility of our wholesale toys what really made the difference is us. How can we expect visitors to be enthusiastic about our fair trade and organic toys if we can’t even stop reading our book to talk about them?
I can make no fantastic claims about the sales we made at Pulse but I do hope that everyone who approached our stand was met with same high levels of enthusiasm. We have a great product range. Our toys are handmade, fair trade and/or organic (or sometimes all 3!) and they sell well across a wide range of retailers. Trade shows are one of the best ways to spread the word as well as being the best place to catch up with existing retailers.
We will be exhibiting our fair trade toys and organic baby clothes at Bubble on 16th/17th June and then Independent Kids on 7th/8th July. Our stand at these shows will not be as big as the one we had at Pulse but our cheery smiling faces will be the same so please come along and see us!
NEW. Hand made Xmas baubles and stockings from Nepal
08 May 2013
In Nov 2012 Liz and I travelled to Nepal to see felt making and explore whether we could bring in a range of felt toys.
As a toy wholesaler we have wanted to work with felt for a long time. It fits with our other knitted and crochet toys being hand made in wool but we were concerned whether felt would be a suitable material for a baby toy.
Kathmandu was a complete shock after the warmth and space of rural Bangladesh.
We arrived at a time when there was major work to widen roads to alleviate the traffic congestion which was threatening to strangle the city. This meant that many buildings had been part demolished in order to widen the roads. And when I say half demolished I mean that the front part of the house had been demolished leaving the back part still there and, in some cases, still inhabited.
However we were soon won over by how vibrant Kathmandu is. Loads of western tourists come in to Kathmandu before leaving to hike in Nepal and the city feels very welcoming. There are many street markets and windy streets to explore
We had appointments to see 3 felt makers in Kathmandu and disappointingly it soon became apparent that we would not be able to develop a range of felt toys.
Felt is made by mixing wool with soap and water and then shaping it while the mixture is still wet. It is then dried and the soap keeps the wool in what ever shape it has been moulded in to.
While wool is no risk we could not track where the soap was being sourced and since it is not rinsed out of the wool it could be ingested if a child chewed on a toy. All the ladies we saw worked without gloves and were good enough (if somewhat amused) to let us inspect their hands when we asked. There was no sign of rashes or soreness but we could not guarantee the contents of the soap they used which effectively rules toys out.
Making felt is a totally manual process. The electricity in Kathmandu is so sporadic (it once cut out 8 times during the course of one shower I was attempting to take!) that it would not be possible to make anything if you were dependent on electricity to do so. In someways it reminded us of the Pebble workers as the ladies sat together making felt
Because it is hand made there are a huge diversity of products which can be made in felt so while we couldn't do toys we could develop a range of either homewares or Xmas decorations and stockings.
The reaction to the new Pebble fair trade Xmas decorations had been very strong and so we decided to bring in a range of Xmas stockings and Xmas baubles to sit alongside the packs of Pebble knitted baubles.
We have therefore been working this year to develop a small range of Xmas stockings and baubles. We are working with a company run by a brother and sister on the outskirts of Kathmandu. They are not the most sophisticated of manufacturers but they are exactly the sort of people we like to work with
We will be showing this range for the first time at Pulse London, 12th - 14th May.
We are on stand G54 and hope that you will come and see the range
Or you can see it on our website
Gorgeous Wholesale Baby Toys Made in Beautiful Places
30 Apr 2013
After the shock of the grament factory collapse in Dhaka I thought you might like to see the various beautiful places where we make our Pebble toys.
As a wholesale we are happy to prove that it is possible to create fairly paid jobs and beautiful products without explotation.
Wholesale Baby Toys
25 Apr 2013
Do you want to see some fantastic wholesale baby toys and rattles?
You need to come to Pulse London at Earls Court from 12th - 14th May.
We will be showing all our wholesale fair trade Pebble toys and rattles, thewholesale, fair trade and organic under the Nile toys and clothes and obviously our own knitted and crochet toys.
We have some new T Rex
Some funky chickens
and some fabulous new toys for Xmas
To see these toys, and many more, please come and see us at Pulse, stand G54, 12th - 14th May
Positive Thoughts and Why Change is Good
12 Apr 2013
Anyone else noticed that things seem a bit glum at the moment? The weather isn't helping things but it also feels as if we have been in the economic doldrums for decades now.
Best Years are in the very lucky position of experiencing sales growth due to the fab Pebble fair trade toy range, the new organic Under the Nile toys and clothes and the wonderful new knitted dinosaurs we have coming to join our iconic T Rex.
However this doesn't mean we are protected from the chill winds of realism which are still whipping around the retail environment.
So far in 2013 HMV (238 stores), Blockbuster (528 stores), Republic (121 stores), Jessops (200 stores) and Dreams (171 stores) have all gone in to administration so you would need to have your head well and truly buried in the sand not to realise that things were still tough.
But perhaps that's my point. Many retailers who have failed have done so because at some point they have either not realised change was happening or simply chose to ignore it. Blockbuster stuck to their retail based business while Love Film changed the way we rent films (and continue to change their business model as technology changes). Jessops and HMV also ignored the internet for too long and allowed competitors to occupy their space.
I was reading a blog today from a lady who sells her hand made products at craft fairs. She has moved from viewing craft fairs purely as a sales function to more of a marketing function for her website and has reaped the benefits. She realised things were changing and adapted to the change so that her business continued to thrive. She then shared her learning so other people could benefit ( I love small business!)
Similarly on Twitter this week there has been a discussion on retailing versus wholesaling with some wholesalers who we have met at trade shows for year now concentrating on retailing and ending their wholesale operations. Why? Because they took a good long hard look at their business and realised that this was the most profitable avenue of business for them. Its a big change, but if that's the best thing for your business then definitely worth it.
Finally I was reading in the FT (impressed?) that the founder of Waterstones has invested in a business called Read Petit which is like Spotify but for short stories. "Readers" will pay a monthly fee in order to access a steady stream of short stories. i don't know whether it will work or not but isn't it great that he is embracing change rather than sitting King Canute like in his bookshops complaining people don't buy books any longer.
So although the weather is miserable and things are undeniably tough I am feeling particularly positive today. Business can continue to thrive we just need to keep up with what our customers want to buy, and how they want to buy it. Change is good. Lets face it Organic cotton and Fair trade manufacturing were big changes when they were first introduced and now they are seen as main stream.
What do you think? You are our customers so if you have any ideas as to how we can change for the better please let us know or comment on our Facebook page.
When is a brand eco or fair trade and when is it just marketing?
10 Apr 2013
One of the best things about being a small business wholesaler is that there is not the same rivalry as there is in big business. We compete with many different wholesalers across toy markets, childrenswear and baby wear and then in the organic market too. We share many customers and we all pretty much get on with each other.
To be honest we stand or fall by the quality of our toy and clothes designs and our service so there is no point in getting upset with a competitor if they are doing better than we are. We need to get upset with ourselves and do a better job!
However there is one thing which gets my goat and that's the practise of claiming your products are eco, fair trade or made in Britain when if you look a bit closer these things are simply not true!
Firstly Made in Britain. We have struggled with this as we have never been able to source toys which are made in the UK, tested to EN71 and CE and affordable. So a big hats off to Funky Feet who manage all these things with their baby shoes made in Shropshire. Great designs, made in the UK and sold at a great price. Fab
However when is Made in Britain not actually Made in Britain? I see products where they call themselves something like " A Great British Brand". The products are made all over the place but the brand is UK based. Am I being small minded resenting that? Am I jealous that their marketing is better than ours? Or should I jump on the band wagon as Liz and I are definitely based in the UK!
And then there is fair trade. Our Pebble toys are fair trade and we have the Ecota certificate to prove it. Our organic Under the Nile toys are also fair trade, made under conditions where the primary aim of the co-operative is to provide jobs and training to people who previously had no hope of a skilled job.
We see wholesale products sold as fair trade when in fact they are hand made. Our toys from China are hand made but we would never call them fair trade as the concept simply does not exist in China. Hand made and fair trade are two very different things to us but are we too close to the subject to be realistic?
I could go on for ever about organic labelling where it's only the box which is organic, or fair trade where it is so obviously nothing of the sort, but i think you probably get my point by now!
How well do you know the Sale of Goods Act?
28 Mar 2013
As toy wholesalers we are huge fans of Trading Standards.
Over the years they have continually offered us straight forward advice about a range of issues.
Toy testing is complicated and emotive. Although we have a lot expertise and experience in this area it is always good to be able to bounce things off an impartial 3rd party. If you ask a testing house to test a toy they will come back with a list as long as your arm. We were once quoted £5000 to test some fair trade and organic dolls!
However when we ask Trading standards they look at it from the point of a parent or customer and while they are not easy on us they certainly bring a hefty dose of comman sense to any answer they give you
So we think its great news that Trading Standards are now responsible for The Sale of Goods Act (previously it was the Office of Fair Trading)
We should not be surprised then at the fantastic website they have which explains clearly the retailers responsobilities
So how well do you know your rights and the rights of your customers?
Heres a great quiz from Trading Standards who now administer the Sale of Goods which we thinks gives clear advice on where your responsibilities lie (and where they don't!)
Answer - It's a shame Mr Fix-it tried to fix the toaster himself. He should have returned it as soon as he knew there was a fault. He's not entitled to a full refund because he has tried to repair it and caused damage.
Customers have the same rights regardless of whether the price of the item they buy has been reduced in the sale or not. If the skirt was sold as perfect then you must listen to Mrs Bargain’s claim and consider what she is entitled to under law (either full refund, or repair or replacement). To decide this you will need to assess whether Mrs Bargain had accepted the skirt – has she had a reasonable time to examine it? Mrs Bargain only wore the skirt once so it’s likely that she is still within a reasonable time to examine and reject the skirt and claim a full refund.
Answer - You are entitled to ask Miss Missing to prove the vacuum cleaner was purchased from the store before you deal with her complaint – but this doesn’t have to be a receipt. If she can show you a bank or credit card statement, or similar proof, you should accept this.
Answer - Because Mr Magic bought the item online he does have an additional right – that he can cancel his order and receive a full refund anytime up to 7 working days from the day after he received the item. As your online terms and conditions state that goods ordered online can be returned in-store, then you have to deal with Mr Magic’s return. So he is entitled to the refund he is asking for.
Answer - You clearly pointed the scratches out to Mrs Faulty before she bought the TV, and she still bought it, so she does not have a right to a refund or replacement TV under the Sale of Goods Act.
Answer - Under the Sale of Goods Act, the goods must be of satisfactory quality and fit for purpose. This may not be the case here, as you would expect a pair of wellington boots sold as waterproof to last longer than two weeks under normal conditions. Unless Mr Wellie has accidentally damaged the boots himself, you will need to consider if he has accepted the wellington boots and whether he is entitled to a full refund, repair or replacement, or if these are not suitable, possible partial refund or price reduction.
Answer - Some goods are not covered by the seven-day limit to return goods bought online. This includes food items, which are classed as perishable goods and so Mrs Mother-of-the-bride isn’t entitled to change her mind and return the cakes for a refund.
Answer - Yes, Miss Silk has rights under the Sale of Goods Act. You have not conformed to your contract with the customer, as the dress does not match its description. As the retailer, you are responsible for what the label says, even if the manufacturer made a mistake. You need to consider if a reasonable time has passed for her to inspect the dress and this will decide if she is entitled to a full refund, partial refund or price reduction (as a repair or replacement would not be suitable).
Answer - If Mr Big has simply changed his mind about the goods and they are not faulty, he is not entitled to ask for a refund under the Sale of Goods Act. Customers do not have a right to reject goods and receive a refund, simply because they change their mind. Some stores may offer a refund, exchange or credit note as a gesture of goodwill, but they are not obliged to do this by law.
Answer - Miss Refund is entitled to a refund or exchange (if that is what she prefers) under the Sale of Goods Act. She has inspected the item, which is faulty, and rejected it in reasonable time. It may be unlawful to mislead her by displaying a sign or relying on a sign that does not reflect her rights.
Trading Standards have a fab new website which explains pretty much everything you need to know about the legislation which affeects retails.
I know we are wholesalers but we would high recommend it!
You can see it by clicking here
What are £5 Fridays?
28 Mar 2013
A couple of weeks ago I was trying to find a retailer for one of our products as I needed to give stockist details to a journalist.
I became very frustrated at the amount of our retailers who were out of stock of many of our toys and put a comment up on our Facebook page
The response was immediate and left me in no doubt as to the variety of reasons why retailers don't replenish all their stock immediately they run out.
There were certainly many reasons and none of them were because the retailer didn't know or care! We can't help with some of them, but one we can address is the delivery charge.
We subcontract our warehouse so we have some set charges we can't avoid and don't change irrespective of the size of the order. It would not be possible for us therefore to offer free delivery as it would be just too expensive for us.
However we can offer a discounted rate and that is what we propose to do.
All through April we will offer £5 delivery if you place your order on a Friday.
We will monitor how sales go and if successful we may roll the scheme out.
And what is the meaning of success? Success to us is if our smaller customers are able to keep in stock of our toys, or if they are able to stock a wider range.
Working in Partnership is More Effective than Demanding Discounts
25 Mar 2013
Best Years design and manufacture knitted and crochet toys and also have a new range of organic toys from Under the Nile. As a wholesaler we made a decision some years ago that we would rather work with Independent retailers and while we have never regretted this decision this month we are even beginning to feel a bit smug about it!
First it was reported that Monsoon and Debenhams had allegedly increased their payment terms while increasing their discounts but if the story about Laura Ashley is true it makes them looks like amateurs.
Supposedly Laura Ashley wrote to all its suppliers demanding a back dated 10% discount. If suppliers didn't pay then Laura Ashley would be forced to look at its supplier base, the implication being that non paying suppliers would be culled.
So how does this happen and what happens next?
The first question is Have Laura Ashley's suppliers been overcharging them? Do Laura Ashley feel that their suppliers have been offering them uncompetitive prices? Is that the reason they want to levy such a large discount?
A spokesman is quoted as saying “We have very strong and long-term relationships with our suppliers and always have done.
“We work closely with them to deliver the right products at the right prices for our customers and are having ongoing positive conversations with all our suppliers to ensure we keep doing this.”
If they have long term positive relationships with their suppliers surely they can't believe that the prices they have been paying were too high.
So if they haven't been overcharged where is this money going to come from?
After almost 5 years of recession I suspect that Laura Ashley's suppliers have pretty much pared their costs and margins back to the bone so it is unlikely they have 10% left to give.
If it was a one off demand then perhaps it would be feasible to raise the money but this is an ongoing discount. If you were supplying a style of dress or furniture for £10 then going forward it will need to be £9. How is that going to happen?
Laura Ashley's suppliers will have to cheapen their manufacturing process somehow. Pay less for their materials or pay their factories less.
And as you know this is exactly how you end up with unauthorised horse meat in your food chain and 100+ dead workers iin a Dhaka factory fire.If you pressure people to take costs out without understanding how this is going to happen then you need to understand that there are consequences.
Cheaper prices don't just happen, something has to give and unfortunately we all know what happens next.
What make this story particularly stupid is that if your shop has the right quality product at the right price then people will buy! Just ask John Lewis. Or Cath Kidston. They are not known for being the cheapest but they sell products people want to buy and their sales have been very positive
So my suggestion is that if this story is true Laura Ashley might be better to ask their suppliers for ideas how they increase sales by 10%. Work with them. Use their expertise. Its so much better to work with people than to make demands which make you look rather silly.
As a wholesaler we work with Independent retailers. We take new ranges to trade shows. Our customers comment freely on them and the range evolves using our knowledge of toys and the independent retailers knowledge of what their customers want.
We lend out our supersized dinosaurs free of charge to shops because that way our products are given more prominence.
Our retailers have a mountain of knowledge that we are able to access just by asking questions. It's a partnership and one which hopefully works for us all.
We also work in partnership with our suppliers too. Even the thought of writing to our fair trade co-operatives and demanding 10% discount is just ridiculous. They want their toys to sell as much as we do and so price them as low as they can while still paying their workers a fair salary. They need to make a healthy profit or they will not be able to thrive and grow.
And thats the point, we all want the same thing, and if we work together we are more likely to achieve it.
The Small Things Count, but its the Big Things Which Really Matter
18 Mar 2013
Although our wholesale business is based in Northampton, and our toys are warehoused in Manchester, I am lucky enough to live in Oxford.This is a good enough in its self, but once a year we have the Oxford Literary Festival right on my doorstep which is an amazing privilege.
An international array of writers and journalists come in to Oxford to talk about their books and promote sales. Over the years I have seen writers as diverse as PD James and Peter Jones and they have all been excellent.
However this year the organisation of the Festival was changed slightly. Normally there is a large marque in the grounds of one of the Oxford colleges and the talks are in rooms off this marque. Most of the talks were done in the marque and this was serviceable but not particularly decorative or easy to heat.
So for 2013 the organisers have scheduled the talks in to iconic Oxford buildings such as the Sheldonian and the Bodlean Library. Not only do these venues give a much more Oxford feel to the Festival but they are incredibly beautiful and its a pleasure to be able to visit them.
Now all this sounds great, but like many things the devil is in the detail. I suspect that the organisers probably know Oxford very well, and have assumed that visitors are bound to know where the huge Sheldonian is so signage was sketchy and not always very useful. What made me laugh was a sign saying "pick your tickets up from Tom Gate". I have lived in Oxford for 10 years and had no idea what this meant so Good Luck to any visitors trying to work it out! My trip to Oxford on Sunday was punctuated with questions from bewildered tourists searching for various venues.
In addition although the marque was not very pretty it did mean that there was a central meeting point for visitors to use, and it had a lovely coffee shop and a book shop so it was also a great place to wait.
It did make me realise that the decisions we make in Best Years are based on knowledge that not many people have. As a toy wholesaler we have to have certain information in key areas such as toy safety, legislation and importing. There is no point making gorgeous toys if they do not conform to EN71 and CE!
I will certainly be looking at our communication to ensure that we are not making assumptions based on my own experience.
I also want to examine our decisions from the eyes of the people most affected by it. Theres no point giving with one hand if you take away with the other. Even if we have to make unpopular decisions we should at least explain beforehand why we are doing it.
However, although the minor irritations made me grumpy when i first arrived at my venue within 5 minutes of the speaker starting my irritation was totally forgotten.
The content was so good I would have stood in the rain to hear it. Without a coat!
So yes, the little things do matter. They have the potential to lose you business and customers. But if your content is good you will be forgiven. As long as Best Years supply you with good quality toys which sell well you will hopefully forgive us if we sometimes don't get everything right.
Its good to get the details right, but much more important to get your product or content right!
Large Retailers are Responsible for How their Suppliers Behave
12 Mar 2013
I am spitting feathers this morning and its not even because of snow in March.
It appears that both Debenhams and Monsoon have decided the best way to increase their profitability is to squeeze some more money out of their suppliers
Supposedly Monsoon has imposed a blanket 4% rebate on suppliers and pushed its payment terms out from 60 to 90 days from receipt of goods. Supposedly this was imposed rather than negotiated.
Now it is reported that Debenhams have joined them in this outrageous behaviour by delaying payments from 90 to 120 days and taking a further 2% cost reduction.
I am not in the know and cannot say if this is true but I am reminded of our last visit to Dhaka when the terrible factory fire killed almost 120 people. Retailers such as Walmart who supposedly bought from the factory quickly distanced themselves from the tragedy. They pointed out their various procedures and policies which, if they had been adhered to would have made the fire impossible and so exonerated themselves from all responsibility.
The question I would like to ask is how much were you paying for the clothes you were buying from that factory? Was it enough for the factory to properly invest in all the safety features you so proudly pointed out?
When retailers demand money from suppliers where do they think it comes from? Do they think there is a lovely pot of money labelled "In case of emergencies"? Or does Tinkerbell wave her little wand?
When suppliers are asked for more money there is a fair chance that it will have to come from the production cost.You can always find a way of making a product cheaper if you really have to and that is where suppliers have to turn to when their margins are cut.
What happens next is that the good suppliers, and those in a financial position to do so, leave and find customers who will work with them to produce quality goods and then the less scrupulous suppliers creep in to the process.
There is always someone who will do it cheaper but as we have been so clearly shown with the horsemeat scandal, that isn't always the best policy.
I hope that Debenhams and Monsoon's suppliers tell them to take a running jump. I hope they are in the position where they can survive the loss of their volume long enough to build a customer base who values them.
What would be better is if large retailers realised that they are responsible for these disasters. Not totally, probably not legally, but if they promote a culture of cheapest is the only way they cannot evade a moral responsibility.
If you are sat there thinking, well its ok for you to say that, we have discontinued customers who changed our payment terms in the middle of an order, or who needed another discount. We even had one customer who demanded we warehouse their own brand product for them until they wanted to take it. We don't deal with them any longer.
The first time you discontinue a customer it feels as if the world will collapse in on you. However as the dust settles and you work out exactly how little you actually made from their orders it feels a lot better. It hurts but it doesn't hurt as much as staying!
What makes it easier to do this is our fair trade suppliers. They make a great product at a fair price. The price we pay for a product means that peoples lives are improved. Their children get an education, their parents have an alternative to constant hard labour. We would rather lose a customer than take money from them.
Simples as the Meerkat says!
Calling all London based Pebble retailers
05 Mar 2013
We have been offered an opportunity to take a stand at the Southbank Centre fair
It is from Friday 12th -Sunday 14th April, 12noon until 8pm.
Traders will be charged £200 per pitch payable in advance to SC to cover the costs of the weekend.
SC will provide trestle tables, marketing support, security, hosts, cleaning and importantly advice, support and enthusiasm. SC will also offer a central card payments service on your behalf if you do not have your own- the proceeds of which will be distributed after the event back to the makers- Southbank Centre will not charge any handling fees for this service.
Each trader will be allocated a standard market trestle table measuring 6ft x 2ft (2metres x 0.66m). Traders are welcome to bring props to enliven their space- these should be free standing and fire retardant. Nothing should be affixed to the wall spaces behind each table (artwork may be on display in the area-tbc).Basic directional spot lighting will be provided.
The product must be Pebble as the show is themed around products from the Indian sub-continent and should preferably be fair trade
This sounds like a great opportunity for any London based Pebble retailer so please email us if you would like to be involved
End of an Era - Say Goodbye to Knitted Elephant and Monkey
04 Mar 2013
We love our knitted monkey and elephant
They were the 2nd and 3rd knitted toys we introduced to the range and are actually older than our iconic T Rex. Since the day that they arrived they have been among our best sellers so not only are they old friends, but very successful ones too.
Why I am telling you this is because due to the devaluation of the £ against the $ we have had to take the sad decision to discontinue them.
Tracking the dollar is the worst part of my job, but integral to the profitability of the business. To give you an indication every cent that the dollar moves has 10p impact on the trade price of our knitted toys. We do try to buy forward but in order to do this you have to give a 15% deposit so you can only secure so many dollars before impacting on your cash flow (things are never easy are they!)
Normally its a win some/lose some situation as the exchange rate is not that volatile, but recently the £ has dropped from 1.60+ all the way down to 1.49.
Luckily we have just bought the T Rex so we have stock of that but we were just about to place an order for the knitted elephant and monkey when the exchange rates went mad.
Sometimes things come to a natural end so rather than trying to increase the price to the point they lose their popularity, after almost 10 years we have decided to retire our lovely friends.
The upside of this sad decision is that rather than sit on stock of discontinued lines we have also decided to reduce them to clear
For your last chance to buy the knitted monkey and elephant please click here
Under the Nile organic clothes for autumn
22 Feb 2013
The new organic Under the Nile AW 2013 collection is now available to view
We will be buying in the fullcollection of panda prints, stripes and fluffy fleece style fabrics.
If you wish to see the line sheets please email us and we will send them straight out to you
Independent Kids - the UK's friendliest childrenswear show!
11 Feb 2013
Our final trade show of the season is the wonderful Independent Kids, Cranmore Park, 17th - 18th Feb.
Its like all trade shows should be! Small, very well organised, free parking next to the trade show and free 5* lunch!
It also has all the best childrenswear brands all in an accessible and friendly location.You can see the full list here
As a show it is not well known because it is not trying to attract a volume of buyers, no students, tyre kickers and other people to make up the numbers. Definitely quality over quantity.
Having said that you do not have to have a large shop to attend, everyone is welcome as long as you have a shop (high st or internet) to buy for.
If you try one new trade show this year, please make it this one, its lovely!
We will be showing the Under the Nile organic clothes including the Spring summer collection for immediate delivery
And we will also have the whole of the Under the Nile AW2013 collection to show
If you want amy more information on the show please email us
Horse Meat Lasgna - Can You Trust Your Suppliers?
11 Feb 2013
Its fair to say that 2013 has not started particularly well when it comes to the issue of trust.
Lance Armstrong finally admitting he had taken drugs and theallegations of drug abuse being wide spread in Australian sports tarnished sports reputation just a little bit more, but this was nothing next to the scandal of food supply which is currently enveloping us.
Whether you have an issue or not with the concept of eating horse, the more worrying thing is that the current crisis shows quite clearly that we do not know what is in our processed or pre-prepared food.
It is a very clear reason why it is better to buy meat from a local butcher who knows where his goods come from than a larger retailer who clearly does not know everything about their elongated supply chain.
But the issues which affect our food also apply to other things as well. As a shop owner are you certain that you know where the goods you sell come from?
We have said it before and we will say it again. You can trust us. We know where our toys come from. We have been to the mill which dyes the cotton for Pebble toys. We have visited the fair trade workers co-operatives which make the Pebble range. We spent 2 fantastic weeks at the end of 2012 visiting Pebble workers and I am very happy to tell you that we know where our Pebble toys come from.
We have also visited the Chinese factory which makes our kniitted dinosaurs, and again I am happy to assure you that their working conditions would stand up to even the severest critics. You can see images from the factory here. I was challenged about this at a recent trade show when the owner of a fair trade shop said that our Chinese factory probably cleared all evidence of human rights abuses out of the way before we arrived. The answer to this is quite simple. We are too small for them to make the effort. I am sure that if Mattel visit your factory you would spend a lot of time and effort preparing for them. However the amount of business we generate for a Chinese factory we are grateful that they put the kettle on for us when we turn up!
Now is the time to stand up and reassure your customers that you know where your stock comes from and we are very happy to help!
New fair trade, handmade and gorgeous products for Xmas 2013
11 Feb 2013
As it snows outside and winter seems determined to hang on until the very last moment I thought I would show you some new development we are working on for Xmas 2013.
Firstly we have some fabulour new rag dolls from Pebble
The rag dolls will be limited edition, handmade, fair trade and cotton. They are approx 40cm and should retail for around £15
And if that is not exciting enough for you then we also have some fabulous neww toys and clothes from Under the Nile
Finally we have some wonderful handmade felt Xmas items to sit with the Pebble Xmas range we introduced last year
What do you think? Love to hear your comments on our Facebook page
The big one - Spring Fair!
09 Jan 2013
There is one very distinct thing about Spring Fair - its huge!
3000 exhibitors, 14 halls and 64,000 visitors. It is the largest UK trade show if its kind and a show that you need to visit at least once in your career.
It is on for 5 days (3rd - 7th Feb) rather than the normal 2-3 so that there is plenty of time to come and see the many and varied ranges available.
We would definitely recommend planning your visit before you come. Without labouring the point too much the sheer size of the show means you will not be able to do more than a couple of halls in a day.
This is a great show to come to if you only have the time to do one show, or if you are contemplating moving in to a different product range. It will give you the chance to have a comprehensive view of the suppliers in any area you may be interested in.
We are exhibiting in Hall 6, Stand Q40 so please plan to come and see us
Why Best Years go to Formex and should you go as well?
08 Jan 2013
Second in our series of Spring trade shows is Formex in Stockholm.
We first did this show January 2012 and coming straight after Top Drawer Spring it was a bit of a shock.
At Top Drawer we see literally hundreds of people every day. We are incrediibly busy mostly speaking to existing customers. There are few things more enjoyable in wholesaling than catching up with customers who you know and who enjoy success with your range.
Top Drawer is our comfort zone. We know the show, we know many of the other exhibitors (who are lovely) and we know most of the people who come and see us.
Formex is in Stockholm and is the complete opposite. No one knows us, we have very few regular customers in Scandinavia and we can count the amount of people we see in a day in dozens rather than hundreds.
So why do we do it?
Obviously we want to expand our brands in to Scandinavia and that is primary reason. However there is also the fact that if you are standing still then actually you are moving backwards. If we stick to shows where we know everyone, and speak only to existing loyal customers we run the risk of getting stale.
Given how hard business is at the moment its too easy to stay in your comfortable rut, but that shouldn't be an option if you want to keep growing your business.
One year on and we have learnt an extraordinary amount. Different methods of communication work, merchandising is different, even the way we approach customers has had to change.
Its not been easy, but it has been rewarding especially as we see our number of Scandinavian customers increasing steadily.
Until Formex we had never exhibited at a show outside of the UK so the last year has been a very steep learning curve. However now we feel confident about our plans to bring our brands to the attention of European retailers.
If you fancy finding new suppliers then a European show could show you products that will make you stand out from the crowd. And if you chose to attend Formex please come and see us on stand AG-152. It would be lovely to see you there!
Why don't Best Years exhibit at theToy Fair?
08 Jan 2013
While we talk about all the trade shows we are attending during January and February there is one noticeable absence in our list.
Best Years have never exhibited at The Toy Fair, and currently have no plans to do so.
Given that we are a toy wholesaler that may seem like a stange decision, however there are some very good reasons for this.
The Toy Fair has a great reputation for attracting buyers from major retailers. Just looking at the testimonials on their website they have quotes from high profile retailers such as WHSmiths and Amazon. They also have some amazing exhibitors including many well known brand names such as Lego and Hornby
Many of the larger exhibitors have closed stands and operate an appointment system not just because they are crazy busy but also the new products are so top secret they cannot just show them to everyone.
Ironically the same reasons why most people want to exhibit at the Toy Fair, the great buyers and brands, are the reasons why we don't want to attend!
The toy market is a high volume market dominated by large players on both the supply and retail side. Licensed product dominates and can be the making or breaking of companies.
It is the product equivalent of fast food driven by volume, licenses and price point promotions.
If the Toy Fair is the equivalent of fast food Best Years are the exact opposite. We are the tortoise to the toy market's hare.
Many of our products are not made in factories, we can't turn production on and off, and knitted and crochet toys do not work well with the character integrity needed for character licensing. We just don't fit the toy market.
So we wish everyone exhibiting at the Toy Fair the very best of luck, and visitors an interesting and productive show, but if you want to see our fabulous ranges of fair trade, organic and knitted/crochet toys please come and see us at Top Drawer, Bubble or Spring Fair
Why go to Top Drawer Spring?
03 Jan 2013
We start 2013 with 5 trade shows back to back which is fun but a little hectic!
All the shows are different enough to make us spend £000s on attending them all so which ones will you be visiting?
Obviously the geographical location makes a difference to your choice but then it comes down to whether the exhibitors have the stock which will suit your particular style and method of retailing.
So why would you chose to go to Top Drawer Spring?
Top Drawer Spring is at Earls Court and runs from 13th - 15th January
Top Drawer styles itself as "The UK's leading event for design-led gifts, lifestyle and fashion accessories"
Put simply they view themselves as a bit more upmarket than other trade shows aimed at gift retailers! You used to have to "audition" to get a stand at the show. There was a committee which supposedly examined your ranges in order to make sure they were suitable for the show. I don't know whether this still applies but there is significantly less entry price point merchandise (tat!) than other trade shows
This is very visible in the kid's area as they do not have the range of large wholesalers whose business model is based on volume that you often see in other trade shows.
There are many wholesalers who sell a wide range of giftware at accessible price points so you don't need to worry that the stock will be too posh/expensive for you. However what is particularly good about Top Drawer is that there are also many, many small companies with small ranges of absolutely gorgeous products.
Top Drawer is the first show of the season and as such gives you the chance to see new ranges before everyone else. If stock is limited it therefore gives you the opportunity to order before everyone else which always helps!
The show is small enough to be done in one day, but large enough for even the fussiest of visitors to find some great new products. If you have more time there are a range of very good FREE seminars to attend. I haven't been able to listen to one myself (for obvious reasons!) but the standard of guest speakers is consistently high.
If you have a retail outlet which prides itself on having a range which is different to every other retailer in your area/field then this is a great show for you. It is equally suitable for high st and internet retailers, and certainly if you sell at craft markets etc it will be very useful
Any drawbacks? If you are only able to go to one trade show then it might be better to go to the much larger Spring Fair at the NEC. Also if you are a specialist retailer then this is a very general show with merchandise stretching from jewellery to teddy bears so it may not have many exhibitors in your specific area.
We are on stand M12 and would love to see you there. Email us if you are planning on attending and we'll send you some exclusive images of the new Pebble 2013 range we will show for the first time.
Don't forget to register before the show starts!
How to Grow a Successful Toy Wholesale Business
11 Dec 2012
Anyone reading this blog hoping for top tips as to how to get your toy listed in Argos or Tescos is, I'm afraid, about to be very disappointed as this is all about computer systems.
Best Years is now 10 years old and has reached a key stage in the business.
We have gone from initial boom through large own brand business, to almost bust when the recession and the subsequent de-valuing of sterling hit us like a train, and now back again to boom with a stable and successful business based on fantastic ranges of knitted and crochet toys and great Independent retail customers.
However what has not grown and changed over the 10 years we have been in business are our computer systems.
During the last 36 months we have almost doubled the number of lines we have in our range. We have moved from buying a small range in bulk from China to buying hundreds of lines in small quantities from a variety of small, fair trade producers. During this time we have not invested at all in our computer system.
Our growth, and change of business model, has put an almost unbearable strain on our systems, and only the arrival of the wonderful Donna has kept us from chaos.
In 2013 we will introduce the first of the organic clothes and toys from Under the Nile and this has been the final push we needed to upgrade our systems.
In order to continue to continue to grow we need to ensure that we have a tight grip on all our KPIs. There is only so long you can manage using scraps of paper, spreadsheets, Outlook and various other cobbled together systems. You only have to look at large retailers such as Super Dry who have previously stumbled due to system problems to know how critical a successful computer system is.
Like most small companies when we first started out we bought a Sage package and it has served us well. Our accounts have always been ordered and on time.
But as companies grow their requirements change and it has become very apparent that we need more management information, in particular about our stock movement.
We have therefore decided to move to a system called Bright Pearl which is cloud based and appears to have all the attributes we need to move our business to the next level.
This is why we will be closing on 14th December so that we can move all our computer systems from Sage to BrightPearl. We need 2 weeks without processing orders in order to to ensure that all data is moved across successfully and tested thoroughly before we hit the busy trade show season in Jan.
So apologies for any inconvenience caused, and please keep your fingers crossed for us for a successful transition
The People behind Pebble Toys - Assad
06 Dec 2012
So far in these blogs about our trip to see Pebble toys being made in rural Bangladesh we have concentrated on the makers of the toys. However as you can imagine Pebble also has a head office function to administer the orders.
All the toys are made in centres across Bangladesh and then sent in to the head office in Dhaka to be finished, washed and dried.
Finishing includes things such as the faces being embroidered on to the toys, or the wheels being put on to the train. The tags are then sewn on to the toys before they are sent off to be washed and dried.
Finally the swing tags are added and the toys are bagged before being dispatched.
This picture is of Assad who is the QC manager. He has a Masters degree,has been working for Pebble for almost 3 years and loves his job. He manages a small team whose job it is to ensure the quality of the toys. As the toys come in to Dhaka from the centres they check they are good enough to go to finishing. He also checks that there are no comman errors. So to put it simply if the octopus rattles come in from one centre with 12 legs instead of 8 he will then visit the centre and work with the supervisor to rectify the error.
What I like about this picture is that Assad could be a young ambitious business man anywhere. Apart from the sunshine he could be an estate agent or solicitor in London.
So often we allow the little things that are different to distract us instead of seeing all the things which are the same for us. So the fact that a lady wears a sari instead of jeans and a jumper creates an artifical gap between us.
The people behind Pebble toys in Bangladesh are the same as the people behind Pebble toys in the UK. We all want whats best for our families and our customers without wanting to trample people underfoot to achieve it.
We did not meet a single person in Pebble who is not aware of what their organisation is doing, and the impact it could make on their country if it continues to grow. They are very proud of the company they work for and they are also very proud of the toys they produce. They love the fact that the toys sell well in the UK.
And its the same for all our customers - All the retailers we talk to love the story behind the Pebble toys almost as much as they love the toys themselves.
In a world where bankers manipulate the cost of borrowing because it suits them, and where large organisations seem to think its ok to lie to us, isn't it good to work with people who you can trust and who feel the same way about life, where ever they live and whatever they wear.
The People Behind Pebble toys - Bulbuli
04 Dec 2012
Pebble toys are made by a fair trade organisation which aims to provide fairly paid employment to people in rural Bangladesh. we thought it would be interesting to show you some of these people and how Pebble has been able to improve their lives.
This lady is called Bulbuli. she is 60 years old and one of the best workers in her group as she is very expert in crocheting.
Life in rural Bangladesh is very hard as everything has to be done by hand including the farming. It is back breaking work and one which is very precarious. It doesn't take much to tip a family who rely on the land in to poverty as they produce enough food to feed themselves, but not enough to build up reserves against a rainy day.
Bulbuli has 8 children but not surprisingly they want a better life for themselves. However in Bangladesh this means that inevitably they have to leave their village and they have all moved in to Dhaka to work in the garment factories. This has left Bulbuli without the support she would normally expect from a large family.
However by working just 4 hours a day for Pebble she can make 2 octopus toys which is enough to buy 2 kilos of rice. This might not sound a lot but it makes a huge difference in the security of her life. She is no longer treading the thin line between poverty and destitution, and if she needs for anything she can increase the hours she works for Pebble. As it is 4 hours a day works well for her as the rest of the time she works her plot, and minds her home while still earning enough money to make a significant difference in the quality of her life.
If Pebble insisted on Bulbuli working set hours, or working outside her village she would not be able to do it which is why they concentrate on setting up lots of little centres in remote villages.
It was pleasure meeting Bulbuli and hearing her story, (especially as she kept crocheting the pink octopus all the time we talked) and we would be happy to provide photos if you want to share her story with your customers.
Please comment on our Facebook page
The People behind Pebble toys - Mita
04 Dec 2012
I think it is fair to say that Mita has no idea of how much she impressed us.
Pebble toys is structured so that workers are loosely organised by a supervisor who checks the quality of their work, fills in the paperwork so that head office know how many pieces to expect and administer the payments to the workers. It's a very responsible job because they can't afford to make mistakes.
For this they are paid a set amount per piece made by their centre, plus they also crochet themselves and earn a piece rate per item. They have to be responsible, organised, literate and prepared to be unpopular.
During our visits to the Pebble rural centres we were accompanied by Morshed, the CEO of Hathay Bunano. As far as Pebble toys is concerned he is the top dog, you don't get any more senior than that.
Mita is 19 years old and currently works at a centre about a mile away from her village and walks in everyday. She wanted to set up a centre in her own village and act as supervisor and had already accumulated 15 women who would be happy to work for her.
In order to start the process Mita had to stand up in front of dozens of women and make her case to Morshed. She was so nervous that not only were her hands shaking but also her mouth trembled, but she made her case and answered the subsequent questions calmly and well. You can see in the picture that she had to clasp her hands together in order to stop them shaking but she did not allow this to stop her.
She had already identified a place they could work, and a potential work force to make the toys and prepared her case as to why she was good enough to be a supervisor.
How many 19 yr olds do you think could do that?
If Mita gets her centre and builds up the workers she will earn the sort of money which is significant in her area. One of the impacts of this is that she will marry later, have her children later and provide them with a better standard of education than the norm. In a country where women are still married at 14 years old because their families cannot afford to keep them any longer this is all good news.
We can't wait to go back next year and see Mita's new centre. it takes up to 6 months to start a new centre and train the workers but with the amount of toys UK retailers are buying there is more than sufficient work to justify the investment so thank you
For comments please see our facebook page
See Pebble toys being made in Bangladesh
16 Nov 2012
On 22nd november we are off on our annual trip to see the producers we work with.
This year we are very excited because we are going in to rural Bangladesh to see 2 centres which have been set up since we first started working with Pebble. These ladies have fairly paid, flexible and skilled work because of you!
The first place we are visiting is Dinjapur which is about 280 north of the capital Dhaka
And then we will be going toSirajgon which is 70m north of Dhaka.
We will obviously be full of stories to tell you when we get back but hope you like these images form the centres
Felt Soft Toys from Nepal
06 Nov 2012
As a toy wholesaler our toys, and their producers are obviously critical to our success. That is why we spend a lot of time looking for new toys and baby toys and manufacturers and also why we like to visit our suppliers every year.
This year we are going to visit some new centres set up by Pebble to make their fair trade, hand made toys (more about that later) and we are also going to visit some felt manufacturers in Nepal.
We have some fundamental beliefs behind Best Years and our toys, but also a deep seated pragmatism.
Our customers prefer toys to be made from natural materials and if possible we use them, but we also understand that this is not always possible.Some designs just do not suit natural materials however much you want them to (and trust us, we've tried!)
There cannot be anyone who would not prefer toys to be fair trade, and this is key when we are looking for new suppliers. However we use the words fair trade in the truest sense of the words, i.e that workers are treated well, paid fairly and are at liberty to leave as and when they want to. This does not mean that we always buy fair trade, but it does mean that we don't just buy toys from somebody because they are cheap.
Shops like us to keep our toy ranges original and to stay ahead of the market place and "Me too" companies, but they also know that with soft toys traditional designs are usually the best. We therefore like to combine fresh thinking with tried and tested designs.
We are passionate about toy safety. And there are no compromises with this belief.
With all this in mind we are very interested to see how felt toys are made in Nepal. Felt is an interesting material in that it is wool based so tactile and hard wearing. However we are not totally convinced about its suitability for use in baby toys. Certainly we know many craft people like using felt for their toys but this is something we need to explore further. We may look to use it for gifts/toys for older children rather than baby toys which is where our current ranges are centred.
What is great about felt is the designs and shapes it can be used for which gives it a very unique look and feel which we think would sit with our current ranges very nicely.
Nepal is definitely a place we would like to work with. Like many of our current suppliers it has a tradition of craft, especially with felt and we would love to be part of a process which gives this land locked country much needed exports.
We aim to spend 2-3 days in Nepal talking to potential suppliers and exploring whether we can successfully make and sell a felt range. We hope that we will be able to show you a felt based range at the Spring trade shows.
What do you think? Please comment on our Facebook page
Waldorf Steiner toys
02 Nov 2012
We are often asked why the crochet Pixies do not have faces and this article is my attempt to explain why.
The decision not to have faces stems in part from the Waldorf Steiner concept of education. The Waldorf Steiner schools believe in a more holistic style of education with more emphasis on feeling than thinking. Teaching of reading and writing is delayed until the child is 7 while the child grows in to themselves
I am not going to go in to huge detail about Waldorf Steiner education as we are soft toy wholesalers and not teachers or psychologists, but we do like their idea of nourishing toys
Imagine the sensory experience of a toddler cuddling a rigid, hard plastic doll with synthetic hair, and then cuddling a tactile and soft cotton crochet or knitted doll. Not only is our doll more aesthetically pleasing (well we think so anyway, but then everyone knows my views on Barbie!), but its softness and warmth will also have a calming and soothing effect on a young child.
Rudolf Steiner, the founder of Waldorf education, suggested that children’s playthings should be largely unformed in order to stimulate a child’s imagination so Waldorf toys are often simple, without a lot of detail. The more open ended the toy the more flexible the play can be. If you have a doll with a painted on face then if you want her to be happy, excited, sad, thoughtful or grumpy this is constrained by its pre-existing expression
Waldorf dolls have minimal facial features, and sometimes no faces at all. As is the case with most aspects of Waldorf education, the reason is not arbitrary. Waldorf dolls have minimal or no faces in order to encourage the imagination of the young child—to cultivate her “inner picturing” abilities.
We don't know enough about Waldorf Steiner ethos to make many comments. However as a soft toy wholesaler we do believe in the importance of play, and we believe that knitted and crochet toys which are tactile, robust and machine washable are the perfect soft toy for babies and young children
Heres a list of Waldorf Steiner schools in UK and Ireland. If you have one near you then our knitted and crochet toys would be a perfect range to stock!
And to quote Plato “the most effective kind of education is that a child should play amongst lovely things.”
Couldn't agree more!
Join the debate on our facebook page
Organic baby clothes - Less is more or why you don't need 56 outfits for your baby
30 Oct 2012
Marks and Spencers issued a press release today in support of its Shwopping campaign.
After surveying over 1000 parents they revealed the following
Marks and Spencers are horrified that parents throw away clothes if they don't like them rather than donate them to charity, but as a organic clothes wholesaler we are more disturbed by the fact that outfits are only worn 12 times.
This could be because the baby has so many outfits that they have out grown many before they get to wear them more than 12 times, or it could be because the outfits bought are so cheap that after 12 wears they are showing advanced signs of wear and tear.
When you can buy a whole outfit for under £10 from a supermarket you can understand why people do not want to spend the extra on organic cotton clothing, but infact in the long run they are better value for money.
After 12 washes organic cotton clothing is softer and just as beautiful as it was on the day it was bought. It is perfectly suited for a baby or toddlers needs not just in regulating temperature but also it is very hard wearing.
Organic clothing does not conform to the throw away society of buying an outfit and wearing it only once. Not only does organic cotton protect the environment by not using so many chemicals in its making, but it also does not end up as landfill after 3 months.
So if its true that parents are feeling pressurised in to emulating Victoria Beckham and Penelope Cruz when buying clothes for their kids why not do it by buying organic instead of cheap? I can't see Harper Beckham being dressed in cheap man made fabrics can you?
What do you think? Please comment on our Facebook page
Stock of Pebble toys, rattles and hats for Xmas
25 Oct 2012
Anyone who has been working with us this Autumn cannot have failed to notice that stock of some key Pebble toys, rattles and hats has been very short.
We have detailed previously the issues of buying from fair trade workers co-operatives. Things do not work as smoothly as when you work with normal factories, but thats fine and we eventually get there.
However the problems this Autumn have not all been about natural disasters disrupting production as we have had the additional problem of boxes of products simply not reaching us.
When Pebble toys dispatch an order to us we normally receive it within 7 working days. Sometimes there is a small delay but normally we could rely on receiving it a week after it left Pebble.
This is currently not happening. We have orders which were picked up from Pebble on 1st October which have still not reached us, and the problem is only getting worse.
As you can imagine this is incredibly frustrating as the stock is available but just not reaching us.
It transpires that we are not the only people suffering and it is not an isolated problem but countrywide.
We have therefore decided that during the Xmas period we will re-source our deliveries of key products away from the Bangladesh service to an international courrier. This will be more expensive and there may need to be a temporary price increase on the products shipped this way.
This will not apply to orders already placed, will be a matter of pence not pounds and will not continue after Xmas.
Please accept our huge apologies for this but I am sure that you would rather have the option to buy at a slightly increased price than not have the ability to buy at all.
We will confirm details as soon as we know them
Where To Buy Knitted And Crochet Toys This Xmas
23 Oct 2012
the following is a list of local and craft fairs where Pebble and our Best Years toys will be sold
Please buy local this Xmas
Caroline from Serenluna (www.serenluna.co.uk ) will be at the following fairs in Cheshire
3rd Nov St Peters Hall Crewe gift & craft fair, St Peters Village Hall, Middlewich Road, Leighton-cum-Minshull, Crewe, CW2 4RD
17th Nov Nantwich civic hall greyhound rescue Fair, Nantwich Civic Hall, Market Street, Nantwich, CW5 5DG
25th Nov Alsager light switch on, Market stalls open at 4:00pm, Alsager town centre, Cheshire, ST7 2DB
1st Dec Stafford Xmas extravaganza, 11am-4pm, Indoors at Stafford Rangers FC, Marston Road, ST16 3UF
8th Dec Sandbach gift&craft fair, 9am-1pm, St Marys Church Hall, The Square, Sandbach,CW11 1AP
15 & 16th Cheadle Hulme Xmas market, Cheadle Hulme Shopping Centre, Station Road, Cheadle Hulme, SK8 1AX
Nursery & Nik Naks
3rd Nov Xmas baby and children's market, The barn, Goosecroft Lane, off Beech Rd, Purley on Thames, RG8 8DR
8th Dec, 2.30 - 4, Woodlands Park Village centre, Baby and Children market
Little Gift House (www.littlegifthouse.co.uk ) Wales
1st & 2nd Dec Usk Christmas festival - Monmouthshire
5th, 6th, 7th Dec, St Fagan's National Museum Dec between 6 and 9pm
Little Button Bay (www.littlebuttonbay.co.uk )- Torquay
1st Dec, The All Things Vintage And Lovely Christmas Fair At The Imperial Hotel, Torquay
15th Dec, The All Things Lovely Christmas Fair At The Gallery, Fleet Walk, Torquay
22nd December, All things Lovely Christmas Fair, The gallery, Fleet Walk, Torquay
Hardy Rose (www.hardyrose.co.uk ) Sussex
10th Nov, 11-4pm, Mansion Markets, Forest Row, East Sussex RH18 5JA See mansion-markets
17th Nov, 2-5.30pm, Cuckfield Christmas Fair, The Old School, Cuckfield, West Sussex
18th Nov, Shopfest - Denbies Wine Estate, London Road, Dorking, Surrey, RH5 6AA
24th Nov, The Grange Christmas Market, Midhurst, West Sussex, GU29 9HD
2nd Dec, 10.30 - 4pm, Sussex Family Xmas Fair, Worthing, West Sussex BN14 9HS
Mum123 (www.mum123.co.uk ) Midlands
22nd - 25th Nov NEC The Festive Gift Fair, stand no B6
Mum123 ( www.mum123.co.uk )Exeter and Truro
30th nov - 2nd Dec - Westpoint Exter Christmas Show stand no E05
11th - 16th Dec DME Victorian Market Truro on Lemon Quay
28th Nov, 5th, 12th, 19th Dec Late Night Shopping Boscawen Street 5-9pm and the 8th,15th December 9am-5pm
21st & 22nd Dec, DME Lemon Quay in Truro from 10 am
Naturally Little (www.naturallylittle.co.uk )
6th, 13th and 20th Dec, 10 - 4, The Christmas Torbay Family Markets outside The Torquay Town Hall, Castle Circus
Olivers Aunty (www.oliversaunty.co.uk ) Cambridgeshire
16th & 17th Nov Ely Cathedral Gift & Food Fair, Ely Cathedral, Cambs 10am-4pm
Roobub and Custard (www.roobubandcustard.co.uk) London
17 Nov - Maple Village WI, Sutton.
25 Nov - Primrose Hill Christmas Fair, Regents Park Rd, London.
01 Dec - Ealing 135 Xmas Fair, St John's Church, Ealing,
08 Dec - Reigate Xmas Shopping Event, Woodhatch Centre,Reigate.
Build Rwanda (Build Rwanda ) Scotland
1st & 2nd Dec, Inverleith Christmas Fayre, Edinburgh part of the Challenge Scotland 2 day event - Santa will be popping by aswell!
Little Ones Clothing ( www.littleonesclothing.co.uk )
25th Nov, Holmfirth Xmas Gift Fayre, local Sports Centre ,
1st Dec, The Cooper Gallery in Barnsley
15th Dec, The Venue , Stocksbridge
Penistone local market stall every Saturday
Knitted Carrot Rattle
22 Oct 2012
Given how glum this Monday morning is I thought that you might like something for nothing.
So, courtesy of Samantha Morshed, founder and CEO of Pebble toys, here is the pattern and instructions as to how to knit your own carrot.
New Pebble fair trade and organic crochet cupcakes
21 Oct 2012
Pebble are updating their fair trade cotton crochet cup cake rattles and introducing new individual rattles in the following colours
They are all available to order now but if you need the sets please order quickly in order to avoid disappointment.
Excitingly we are also expecting new organic cupcakes soon. If you are interested in being one of the first to stock these please email firstname.lastname@example.org and we'll reserve stock for you
Do you like the changes? Please comment on our Facebook page
Chain Stores Closing, but Independent Shops Growing
18 Oct 2012
There has been a lot of news today about the number of multiple stores which have closed in the first half of 2012. We have previously commented on retailers who have gone bust this year ( Do you remember these shops?) so we are not at all surprised at this latest report.
The LDC report highlights some particular sectors which have suffered. I have listed them below and also put the name of any large multiple which has closed this year which could be the main influencer of these numbers
Clothes shops -276 (Peacocks closed 600 stores)
Computer Games -177 shops (Game closed which had in total 600 stores although not all closed)
Home Furnishing -54 (Habitat)
Card shops -37 (Clintons had almost 700 stores)
As a soft toy wholesaler we are passionate about the Independent retailers and what the news is not generally reporting is that while Multiples were closing at a rate of 30 stores a day the number of indepenent retailers increased by 852 in the same period.
This is obviously not enough to make up for the loss of the multiples but it is significant that while what is described as a perfect storm for retailers is crippling multiples independent shops are weathering this storm.
There are a lot of reasons why multiple retailers are suffering so badly in 2012. They over extended in the boom years and were left with a disproportionate amount of unprofitable stores. The recession also meant a fixation on selling products cheaply which then impacted on their margin, and restricted the variety and quality of goods they could offer. so sales also declined.
As a wholesaler its no surprise to us that while many multiples are suffering John Lewis and Cath Kidston are doing really well. Their emphasis on quality and design is well known and appreciated.
And this is where I think the good news about the headline figures has been lost. Multiple stores have been dominating our high streets for too long. Their ranges are decided centrally and rarely reflect the locality in which they are placed. The british consumer is then offered a "one size fits all" range. In addition in order to get the best price the multiple retailer buys in significant quantities so the ranges are not changed as frequently as perhaps we would want. Perhaps one of the reasons consumers shop from the internet is to get the variety which has been lost on the high street?
Compare this to a local independent shop. They buy ranges little and often so there is always variety. They buy products which reflect the region in which they live and work. They also provide more local employment. It has been discovered that 3.5x as much local wealth is created when you spend at a local shop than when you spend the same amount is spent at a multiple. This is because a local shop in turn uses local services and people when they need professional advice or staff.
As the multiple stores shrink their store numbers perhaps the landlords will start looking again at local independent shops instead at chasing for the highest rates from over expanded multiple retailers?
Along with many other wholesalers who are dedicated to independent retailers, we have no minimum order quantity and you can order our wholesale knitted and crochet toys in single units so that you don't have to invest too much money in any one product. We are proud to be part of the independent sector's success.
What do you think? Please comment on our Facebook page
Under the Nile OrganicToys and Baby Clothes at Best Years
15 Oct 2012
We are very pleased to tell you that from Jan 2013 we will be selling Under the Nile organic toys and baby clothes!
Some of you may already know of Under the Nile. In a similar fashion to Pebble in Bangladesh the toys are made by a workers co-operative which was set up to create jobs in a poor rural area of Eygpt. As the founders Janice and Mohamed Masoud says "We believe that providing work, as well as education and health care, is necessary to help impoverished communities become self-sustaining. In doing this, we are keeping our promise to support our community and foster health and harmony"
Under the Nile workers co-operatives - How Veggies are Helping Villages
"At Under the Nile, we believe that a toy’s past is just as important as its future.
That is why we chose to be a part of The 13 Villages Project—because every toy has a story, and we’d like to make it a good one.
Our story goes something like this….
In a far away land called Egypt, in a remote rural area on the outskirts of Cairo, there are 13 villages. These villages were once known for widespread unemployment, poor living conditions, and drug abuse. It seemed like there was no way up, and economic opportunity was just a whisper of a dream.This all changed in the year 2006, when a project was formed by SEKEM, our partner in Egypt, to help. Based on a vision for sustainable human and societal development, this project laid out a two-step solution for the problems faced by these 13 villages: The first was to create awareness around hygiene and better health; the second was to create economic opportunity.
In training the inhabitants of these communities in water and waste management, and in providing free health and dental care, the villages began to transform. Through life skills coaching, the people learned what it meant to put thought into their work and to take pride in what they do.
Then, through the distribution of microloans, many of these villagers were able to start their own businesses. Some liked to cook, so they started their own restaurants. Some liked to build, so they started their own carpentry shops. The success rate was so high that 98% of all loans were paid back, and more loans were given to expand their businesses. Some of the women who had a penchant for sewing began to sew toys for Under the Nile. We started to send our fabric and raw materials to them in order to be sewn into fruit or veggie toys, and paid them fair wages for their work. As a result, they started become more independent, more confident individuals.
Today, we are happy to say that there are 540 new enterprises in these villages.
This is the story of the project we have endearingly come to call The 13 Villages Project. It is the story behind every fruit and veggie toy you pick up at Under the Nile."
However what is particularly exciting for us is that we are not only stocking gorgeous organic Under the Nile toys we will be stocking their organic baby clothes too!
Stock will be arriving in Feb 2013 but I am sure we will have lots more to tell you before then. Can't wait!
What do you think of our new ranges? Please comment on our Facebook page
NB If you can think past Xmas we've got a great seaside theme going on for next summer...!
Best Years Knitted Toys
12 Oct 2012
For a couple of years our knitted toy range has been mostly stable as we worked with Pebble to bring their fair trade crochet toys, hats and blankets in to the UK.
However this year we have seen significant changes which are now drawing to a close
At the beginning of the year our range looked like this
There are only 2 products which stay unchanged from this range and thats the large and small T Rex!
We have discontinued and sold through the knitted mice, the pink monkey and blue elephant, the funky knitted range, the dangly puppy and the knitted monster.
We have less than 20 knitted owls left and approx 100 pieces of the knitted croc and the dangly lamb. If you would like to take this stock before it goes please email email@example.com
We had a very clear idea that we wanted to mix the range up, add some newness and update our old favourites such as the knitted monkey and elephant. In particular we wanted to build on the strength of the range, and that definitely meant the knitted dinosaurs.
So for 2013 we have the following dinosaurs
And new for 2013 will be the triceratops
We have also introduced some miniature knitted rattles
And some hand made crochet toys and rattles
The knitted monkey has been updated and he has a much larger companion as well as his normal pink elephant friend.
As you can imagine we do not intend to change the range as much in 2013 but we are looking forward to introducing some new crochet dogs, and and adding to the crochet bird range.
We hope you like our new range. Please feel free to comment on our Facebook page
Halloween sales and lovely Halloween products.
25 Sep 2012
Although Halloween in the UK is a lot smaller in the UK than USA (£0.28bn against £3.7bn and I wonder how much of that is sweets!)it is definitely getting more important to UK retailers.
Tesco has declared Halloween to be the 3rd biggest retail opportunity for them after Xmas and Easter. It reckons that it will take £55 million in sales from Halloween products,
In comparison on Mother's Day it takes £37 million, Valentine's day £28 million and Father's Day just £20 million.
The biggies are Christmas at £320 million event, and Easter £110 million (wow how many Easter Eggs!)
As a soft toy wholesaler we have a lot less Halloween products than those wholesalers who sell traditional soft toys and teddies. We specialise in toys that are made to last for years so seasonal products don't really fit with our strategy. However we do have lovely witch and wizard dolls as part of our Once Upon a Time range, our crochet monsters and a pumpkin rattle all of which would look great as part of a Halloween display but would sell as well after the day
There are also some fab products from other independent wholesalers which would sit very well in a Halloween dispay
How about these spider badges from Snapdragon
Or these wonderful Halloween sleepsuit from Stardust kids
Wholesale Baby Hats, Fair Trade Baby Hats and Organic Baby Hats
25 Sep 2012
Did you know that in addition to being a toy wholesaler we wholesale fair trade and organic hats? Most people know us for our T Rex and our Pebble crochet rattles but we hve an extensive and growing range of kids and baby hats too
Our fair trade hats for baby start with the stripy hats and co-ordinating blankets
We have these wholesale baby hats available in pink,blue and in pastel stripes
In addition we wholesale organic baby hats with co-ordinating blankets and toys, available in pink and blue
However at the beginning of 2012 we branched out from wholesaling baby hats and co-ordinating blankets in to baby hats and co-ordinating toys. The results are, if we say it ourselves, absolutely brilliant!
We have monkey baby hats
Frog baby hats (or should that be baby frog hats?)
But still my favourites are the owl hats
We have also updated our wholesale organic hats
And finally we have some wholesale baby hats which are so gorgeous they don't even have co-ordinating toys or blankets!
I hope i have shown you that our wholesale baby hats are every bit as fab as our toys, and they are all fair trade and/or organic.
In addition they are not just for babies! Our hat sizes go all the way up to 5 yrs old so just great for pre-school kids as well.
What more could you ask for?
Do you still remember? A list of retailers who have disappeared from the High St.
22 Sep 2012
Update Nov 2012
So now its Comet's turn. It has been in the offing for a while since it was bought for just £2 by an investment company but that makes it no less sad when administration finally happens especially as 6000 jobs may be lost.
It looks like the final straw was the same as for Game. Credit insurance was pulled and suppliers would only supply if paid up front. Too many people have lost too much money to risk supplying a retailer with such a big question mark over its head.
It does make me wonder about credit insurance. Surely its purpose is to protect suppliers and retailers in just these sort of circumstances. Comet may have had a chance of survival (and 6000 people would have kept their jobs for at least a couple more months!) if the credit insurance had stayed in place and they were able to trade through Xmas. What exactly is the use of insurance which gets pulled as soon as things get dodgy. Its a bit like having house insurance which is taken away if it snows, or if the wind picks up
Update Sept 2012
I originally wrote this blog at the beginning of the year when the first of the post Xmas casualties were closing their doors.
Since then Clintons Cards (approx 700 stores) and Peacocks (just over 600 stores) did in fact go in to administration. HMV is still struggling on but Game (600 stores) has collapsed.
Now JJB Sports (250+ stores) has given up the struggle and will probably go in to administration today.
Its already been a tough year for retailing, but on a more positive note note lets not forget that stores such as John Lewis are having a great year, Kiddicare is having a great time and moving from its digital base in to actual stores and the regional supermarket Booths is doing so well it is thinking of expanding outside its heartland of the North West.
Heres hoping that all our independent customers have a busy and profitable Xmas.
As the latest casualties of poor Xmas trading lapse in to administration I thought I would stir some memories of retailers who have disappeared just over the last 2 years.
La Senza, Past Times, Tobar, D2, Barratts shoes, Alexon, Habitat, Alworths, Walmsley, TJ Hughes, Jane Norman, Officers Club, Focus DIY, Oddbins, Floors 2 Go, Borders, Confetti, Faith Shoes, Adams Childrenswear, Principles, Sofa Workshop, Allied Carpets, Dewhursts
Admit it, how many had you already forgotten?
To put things in perspective here are the numbers
2007 - 25 retailers in administration with a total of 2600 outlets
2008 - 54 retailers go with a total of 5793 outlets
2009 - 37 retailers with 6536 outlets
2010 - 26 retailers with 944 outlets
2011 - 31 retailers with 2469 outlets
Reading that you wouldn't think there were that many left to go but the newspapers are already speculating about Peacocks, HMV and Clintons Cards.
As a toy wholesaler we wish all you independent retailers a successful and profitable 2012. We certainly are looking forward to the year and wish you the best of luck in these challenging times.
Why we are banning sales of Pebble and Best Years toys on Amazon and Ebay
20 Sep 2012
As a toy wholesaler Best Years have always been very open to the different ways small retailers find to sell products and establish their business.
We have therefore been very happy for our toys to be sold on Amazon and Ebay
Unfortunately in 2011 we had to ban sales of Pebble toys on Amazon and now, Sept 2012, we have decided that we will ban sales of both Best Years and Pebble toys from both Ebay and Amazon.
The reason for this is very simple. The level of discounting on Ebay has reached epidemic proportions and we simply cannot believe that the toys they are selling are not counterfeits. We do not recognise the names of the sellers, we know that we have not sold to many of them and they cannot have bought them at our trade prices unless they are selling at a significant loss.
We have always been very clear as to why we dislike discounters and counterfeiters, and its not that we are trying to inflate our retail prices and make excessive margins, but we have to ensure that our brand name and values are not corrupted.
The Pebble toys are made by a fair trade workers co-operative in Bangladesh which was set up to provide fairly paid employment to women in rural areas. It is not a charity, it does not receive any hand outs. It makes money by making gorgeous toys and selling them at fair prices.
In order for Pebble to expand we require a network of retailers across UK and Europe to sell the toys. These retailers are not charities either, and they do not receive any hand outs from anyone. They make money by selling toys at a fair and profitable price.
Discounters mean that ordinary retailers cannot make enough money selling our toys to make a profit and so they drop our ranges. We therefore sell less, and are able to provide less fairly paid and flexible employment in Bangladesh. It also means that the Pebble and Best Years' brand names are de-valued. Nothing is going to put you off a brand quicker than buying a counterfeit and poor quality toy.
When we have had previous issues with re-sellers and explained our values they have been genuinely sorry, and either removed our toys or rectified any issues.
However over the last 6 months we have encountered an increasing amount of selfish individuals who think its more important for them to make a quick buck than for Pebble's fair trade workers co-operative to thrive. We are pretty sure that we have not sold to these people so the only theory we have is that they are not selling genuine Pebble toys, especially as some of these people would be making a loss on these toys if they had bought at our trade prices.
Its such a shame because we have worked quite happily with some wonderful ebay sellers for many years now. Ebay is a great way to sell and we never thought we would experience the level of issues that we are now encountering.
However due to the behaviour of these companies/individuals, and to protect the brands of our fair trade workers co-operatives, we now have to ban sales of Best Years and Pebble toys from Ebay and Amazon.
Q. Do you have the right to ban sales on Amazon and Ebay.
A. Yes, we do! Under a European directive passed in April 2010, which is valid until June 2022, it states that "The basic principle remains that companies are free to decide how their products are distributed, provided their agreements do not contain price-fixing or other hardcore restrictions, and both manufacturer and distributor do not have more than a 30% market share"
Best Years do not have 30% of the soft toy market in the UK so we are quite withinin our rights to say where our toys can be sold
Q. I sell your toys on ebay at the moment. Do I have to stop? What will I do with my stock?
A. We are giving a sell off period between now and 1st December 2012 for existing retailers to sell through their existing stock. If you think you will not be able to sell the stock you have during this time please email firstname.lastname@example.org and we will sort something out.
Q. I have always fully supported the aims and ambitions of your workers co-operatives. Why should I be banned from Ebay as well?
A. We are looking to work with a couple of authourised Ebay dealers. Please email us if you would like to apply to be one of these authorised dealers.
Q. How will you stop people selling on Ebay?
A. From 19th September 2012 it will be part of our terms and conditions that you will not be able to sell Pebble or Best Years toys in Ebay or Amazon, and we will take legal action to enforce this. We will have to assume that all Pebble and Best Years toys sold on ebay, not through one of our authorised dealers, are counterfeit goods and we will take immediate steps to stop the auction
We apologise that we have had to take such a drastic step, but the most important thing is that the various fair trade workers co-operatives we work with continue to thrive and grow
Why you do not discount Pebble toys on Ebay
12 Sep 2012
As a toy wholesaler we have always been very open to companies finding every which way to sell our toys. In a recession people need to find all the routes to market they can. They also need to be imaginative in how they attract people to their website or shop and its been great to see some innovative ways retailers have achieved this.
However what make us really cross is when companies simply discount prices in order to sell our toys. Any fool can sell something cheaply, but whether they make enough money for their business to flourish is another matter.
Recently I seem to be spending a disproportionate amount of time emailing Ebay sellers telling them to put their prices up. To put it bluntly if you buy something from me at £5 and sell it for £7.99 on ebay you are not making a £3 profit, you are making a loss.
You will pay VAT on top of my trade price, you will pay carriage charges from Best Years, you will pay Paypal or credit card charges and you will pay listing fees or website charges.
Why we are particularly annoyed at discounting on ebay is that it starts a downward spiral. Once one company reduces their retail then everyone else follows suit and it is a lot harder to get the retail price back up than it is for it to go down!
Pebble toys are made by a fair trade workers co-operative. The women who make the toys are paid a fair wage for their work. The cotton is also bought and paid for fairly. This means that the toys have to be priced to reflect this, but given prices start from just above £2 they are still very good value for money.
In order for the toys to be sold in retailers they have to make a profit for the shops. Retailers need to pay their bills and their staff. they need to pay rents and rates, and they need to sell products which make them money in order to do this. Pebble toys is sustainable commercial organisation not a charity or hand outs. It works and its growing and we do not want this threatened by discounters.
You may think its ok to sell a Pebble toy for £3 off the normal retail but if the price falls too far then many retailers will simply stop selling the toys. This means that we sell less Pebble toys and we are not able to offer as many poor women fairly paid jobs.
Please be aware that we will not accept discounting on ebay. If it continues we will simply refuse to allow Pebble toys to be sold on ebay and that would be a great shame for our many hardworking and honest ebay sellers.
Don't Disount Pebble!!!!
Best Years Hand Made Cotton Toys
12 Sep 2012
We are very pleased that our popular cotton Elephant, Giraffe and Teddy are finally back in stock
The toys are made by an organization called Pilseli. Based on the south coast of Sri Lanka, Pilseli was set up to help local families and, more recently, survivors of the tsunami of December 2004. Today it employs more than 10 rural families directly and about 20 more indirectly. Many of the final products are hand-sewn by women working in their homes many of whom lost husbands in the tsunami. Pilseli provides sewing machines so that they can work from home thereby making family life easier and guaranteeing good working conditions.
The toys are made using hand-woven cotton fabric that is specially made to order for these toys – which makes them rather unique and special. The toys are stuffed with natural kapok and local raw materials are used wherever possible.
To see the full range please click here
Working with Fair Trade Workers Co-Operatives
12 Sep 2012
We have spoken before about the issues you face when you work with fair trade workers co-operatives. EN71 and CE do not make much sense if you are living in poverty in Peru. Its hard to get a sense of urgency in to an order shipment when the order is held up by floods or another natural disaster.
You may know that we have been trying to get a delivery of knitted Llamas from Peru since May and so were delighted when some boxes finally arrived. We were even more delighted when we saw that although we had ordered a staid 3 colours in 3 sizes we have actually received an eclectic mix of Llamas. The admin might be difficult but don't they look great!
Pebble toys in the Press Again
11 Sep 2012
We are very proud that Pebble toys are in the Press again, this time with the knitting patterns for the veg rattles. If you give it a try please do send us pictures of what you have achieved because we would love to see them!
Pebble toys in The Telegraph
10 Sep 2012
We're in the news!
Heres what Daisy Bridgewater of The Telepgraph had to say about Pebble toys
By Daisy Bridgewater
11:44AM BST 07 Sep 2012
Woolly thinking The more I think about it, the more convinced I am that indiscriminate toy-giving to children who do not live with you is irresponsible. Responding to a child’s demands for a plastic television character will do them no favours in the long run, nor will it result in anything more than disgruntled parents and landfill. Look instead to companies with a conscience: Pebble is a community business in Bangladesh that employs more than 5,000 women to knit and crochet toys. Alongside its bestselling fruit- and vegetable-shaped crocheted rattles (£5 each) is the new Once Upon a Time range of storybook characters: this ballerina and soldier cost £23 each (roobubandcustard.co.uk).
Ballerina and soldier, £23, roobubandcustard.co.uk;
Many thanks to Daisy and to The Telegraph for their kind comments
Oliver Heath recommends Pebble Toys
10 Sep 2012
Best Years will be exhibiting at Top Drawer from 16th - 18th September, and once agian we have been included in Oliver Heath's Eco-trail.
Oliver Heath sums up his participation in Top Drawer Eco Trail, and his interest in eco-friendly products here
TV presenter and environmental champion Oliver Heath will return to Top Drawer 2012 to lend his support to our accredited Eco-Trail.
He comments “Knowing how a product was made, by whom and under what conditions brings us closer to a product through narrative.
Understanding how we will use it, how it fits into our lives and even how we can dispose of it allows us to choose products that f t into our moral and practical beliefs.
The Eco Trail at Top Drawer edits this search for you helping you to find cutting edge products and retailers that believe, like your customers, that there are better ways of doing things, ways that are really worth telling the world about. Follow my Eco Trail to find the products that are making a positive di?ference today.
You can follow the eco trail straight to our stand at D108 to see our full range of fair trade and organic toys!
Regrets, I've had a few... A Toy Wholesalers version of My Way
06 Sep 2012
September is a funny old month with Back to School and the advent of Autumn. It feels a bit like a time to make a new start but with a very different feel to the January New Year Resolution sort of way.
As a toy wholesaler September is a good time to review things before launching in to the hurly burly of Xmas. If you haven't got your Xmas ranges sorted by now there is not enough time (and in our case money!) to get anything new sorted so unlike January where you actively need to pick holes in your ranges and strategy it's more a time to look at the good things we've done, and the positive aspects of our business. It's definitely a time to celebrate positives rather than regret anything.
So in this spirit here are just a few things we don't regret
We don't regret sourcing toys from China
The majority of our wholesale crochet and knitted toys are now sourced from fair trade workers co-operatives from countries as diverse as Bangladesh, Sri Lanka and Peru but we still make a fair chunk of our toys in China. Many people have negative attitudes about products made in China and Chinese factories in general, but Best Years are a great advocate of Chinese toy factories. Many years ago when workers had to move in from the countryside and live in factories for 10 months of the year then there was certainly room for abuse and you had to be very careful who you worked with. Now things have moved on significantly. The factories we work with are on the equivalent of a large industrial park. The workers live close by and commute in. If you don't treat your workers fairly, and pay them well, they simply leave and go somewhere else to work. Skilled workers are a highly prized commodity because it takes time and money to train new machinists so there is now a very healthy relationship between management and staff. EN71 and CE testing is a given as are needle books, magnetic scanners as a final check and thorough QC process. We have also found companies where the workers work from home to create our fab crochet toys which was wonderful to see. Working with the Chinese factories is very straight forward process. You place the order, pay your deposit and they give you a ship date which is inevitably very accurate. Lovely!
We don't regret leaving the corporate world
Liz and I both used to be retail buyers and between us we have worked for a fair chunk of the shops on the high street. We went to lots of meetings, played politics with our co-workers and did everything we could to be the No 1. When I was in Dixons we had a poster on the wall which said something like "Respect your Colleagues, Value your customers and Kill the Competiton" which pretty much summed up how we felt about other retailers. As an independent wholesaler we regularly meet our competition at trade shows and really look forward to seeing them. I have had a wholesaler, who in theory was in direct competition with us, bring a major buyer on to my stand because he knew I wanted to meet them. We stand and fall by the decisions we make and the ranges we offer and our success is down to us and nobody else. If someone else is doing well thats great news and a big well done to them. Its much nicer this way.
We don't regret giving up Google Ads
I love it when I get one of those regular emails from companies claiming they can half the cost of your google ads. They'd have a job as we don't have any! Over the years I have come to understand that we need to understand how things work before we can trust a 3rd party to do it for us. That way we can have an intelligent conversation about what is and isn't working. With google ads we had agents spew words at us, we'd hand over a big wad of cash and then we'd get a nice report showing that the google ads were working. I am a great advocate for the many different agencies (UKTI, British Library and Business Link to name a few) who offer cut price courses on a wide range of business essentials from PR to SEO to EN71.
We don't regret not selling to consumers or large multiple retailers
As a toy wholesaler we know who we are and what we do. We design, source and wholesale knitted and crochet toys to independent retailers. We are very focussed, and very clear about this. We are constantly being told about the untold riches we are missing by not targeting consumers or multiples. However if we were to start selling to consumers or court the large multiples we would be stepping out side of our very clear and well definied niche. We would need more staff to concentrate on these additional parts of our business. We would probably need different websites. We would certainly need a posh office from which to dispatch consumer orders and welcome the buyers from these multiple retailers. We believe that the most successful businesses are those who know who they are and where they are going as customers can then trustin them. So we'll stay on the yellow brick road, and stick to our knitting, and stay a very focussed business.
We definitely don't regret giving up the Spring Fair
When we were retail buyers Liz and I would never miss the Spring Fair so when we first set up as a toy wholesaler we automatically booked a stand at the Spring Fair every year. It was invariably the least successful of all our trade fairs but that didn't matter because everyone who was anyone was at the Spring Fair and therefore we had to be there. I don't remember when we first started questioning this strategy but 10 years down the line we don't do exhibit there any longer. That doesn't mean to say we won't do it in the future but may of our pre-conceived ideas and sacred cows have long since been abandoned. Its good to question how and why we do things and our business is much stonger for the regular sense checks we make on decisions and policies which were once set in stone.
And is there anything we do regret?
I personally regret not being braver.
When we bring in a product range we know very soon if there products in it which are not going to be successful. What you should do is acknowledge that sales are not good enough and reduce them to clear. What you shouldn't do is pay for warehousing for 2 years before finally accepting that they are not going to sell. It takes a brave person to cut and run immediately, but hopefully that will be me next time.
I could also be braver in doing trade shows in new countries, trying new suppliers and using new ways of reaching out to customers. Perhaps that could be my New Years Resolution for January!
Do you have regrets? Please comment on our Facebook page
Wholesale, Fair trade Llamas
04 Sep 2012
As you know Best Years are always looking for new fair trade organisations to work with. We spend a fair bit of time on the internet trying to track down potential new suppliers and it was on one of these searches that we found our new knitted llamas.
They are made by a small group of women in Peru - These women have incredible abilities to knit but previously were unable to channel their talent in a marketable way. In order to make a living they took on poorly paid jobs which inevitably meant they were never able to escape the cycle of poverty. They live in Huancavelica which is among the poorest areas of Peru
They were approached by an umbrella fair trade organisation in Peru, which is a member of the IFAT, the global network of Fair Trade Organisations, who aim to harness the creativity and talent of women in poorer areas and enable them to actually make a good living from it. They seek out the gifted artisans in the poorer areas of Peru and offer them practical help to create a sustainable and profitable living. Mostly this takes the form of helping them to find customers such as ourselves. The aim is for each group to have $100,000 of export sales.
Working with such organisations takes time and patience. It is difficult to explain to an artisan in Peru what EN71 and CE are and why we have to have sew in labels, but it is also important if we are to continue to buy from them that certain processes are adhered to.
The other difficulty is deliveries. We placed our first order in May and so far we have not received our delivery (there is a sweepstake on our Facebook page if you want to join in!). We are hopeful that they will arrive by the end of September as they have been dispatched and we even have a tracking number, but if you like the Llamas then you will need to order your requirements for Xmas in one go as we can not guarantee when we will next get stock.
Distance Selling Regs and The Consumer Rights Directive
31 Aug 2012
Best Years do not sell direct to consumers but we do keep in regualr contact with our Trading Standards office and we thought their updates would be of interest to you if you sell either on line or at shows.
In preparation for the start of your Xmas sales how aware are you of the Consumer Rights Directive?
It is aimed at putting an end to certain bad practices such as hidden charges ( I recently got caught for an £11.50 debit card charge on a purchase of tickets of just £80! As someone who know what credit/debit charges actually are I was particulalry incensed at such blatant robbery)
It will also clarify rights for both retailers and consumers
The Consumer Rights Directive contains provisions on:
Information to be given before a consumer buys goods or services on the trader’s premises
Information to be given before a consumer buys goods or services away from the trader’s premises (eg at home or at a fair), or at a distance (internet, telesales)
Cancellation rights and responsibilities where the consumer buys goods or services away from the trader’s premises or at a distance
Delivery times for goods, clarifying what deadlines for delivery should be and where responsibilities lie if there is a problem
Post-contract customer helplines, where existing customers must be charged no more than the basic rate for phone calls
Additional payments (on top of the main price of a purchase) which would need to have active or express consent of the consumer eg pre-ticked boxes which the consumer must ‘untick’ will no longer be allowed
Fees charged for a particular method of payment (eg credit card surcharges). This will be the subject of a separate consultation, to be published shortly.
You can read more about it here
However as a rule of thumb the following is considered good practice
1. Provide a full geographic address
2. Provide a proper email contact address
3. Flag up hidden or unexpected charges early in the buying process
4. Be clear and open about cancellation rights
5. Provide a full refund plus refund of delivery charges when things go wrong
The European Court has ruled that consumers buying from a website must be given information on refunds and cancellations. It is no longer enough to have the information displayed on your website, you must actively give it to the consumer (in the confirmation email, with the delivery etc).
In theory this extends the time period in which a consumer can ask for a refund to up to 3 month
And did you know that if the consumer does not like the goods, and returns them within 7 days, then the retailer must refund not just the cost of the goods but also the delivery charge
However they do not have to cover the actual cost of return.
Next were caught out as they gave the consumer free returns but did not refund the original delivery charge. So even if it costs more to return the goods than it did to send them back you must ensure you refund the original delivery charge or you'll end up being liable for both!
This is because the consumer is judged not to have sufficient information at point of sale (ie the website or catalogue) to make a decision.
This not include personalised goods
For more information please see the Trading Standards website because they are fab!
New wholesale knitted and crochet toys for autumn
31 Aug 2012
Just in time for autumn the new Best Years toys have arrived.
These toys started last November when Liz and I went to China to find new partners to work with.
One of the places we visited was a company who made hand crochet items. The factory itself comprised of half a dozen people who made samples, hand finished toys and the QA team. This included the MD who was a whizz at hand finishing! The toys are hand made by home workers who accept work from 3 or 4 different companies in the area. This ensures that they are paid fairly for their work as it is a skilled job and there is more work than people able to do it.
Our crochet bunnies were made here
And now we have some lovely crochet bird rattles
We also visited a traditional chinese factory. When we first started working with Chinese companies they all had live in workers. Now all the factories we work with have workers who come in from their homes in a way we would view as more normal here. You can see pictures of the factory here
From this factory we have the blue Stegosaurus, new stripe knitted monkey and stripe Gorilla
We hope you like our new autumn ranges, this is just the first lot as theres more on their way!
Happy 5th Birthday to the Recession
09 Aug 2012
So apparently today, 9th August, is the 5th anniversary of the recession starting. I know that there are some economists and politicians who call it "double dip" but for those of us on the ground its been pretty constant for the whole 5 years!
I don't know what event led to 9th August being the offical start to the recession but for me it was September 2008 when reality struck. We had been exhibiting at Top Drawer and when I emerged from the tube in to Paddington the papers were all screaming about the collapse of Lehman Bros bank. I remember the feeling in the pit of my stomach, similar to when you got dumped as a teenager, as I saw the pictures of people leaving the bank with their possessions in cardboard boxes.
I'll be honest and say that if I knew then exactly how tough it was going to be I would have gone back to Top Drawer the next day and sold off every piece of stock we had at knock down prices and walked away! The recession meant that consumer demand declined, the big boys slashed their prices to try to maintain volume, the pound crashed against the dollar making purchases much more expensive and all in all 2009 was a really grim year.
But here we are, 5 years on. Our business has changed completely and all for the better. We always had knitted toys in our range but now we have no traditional soft toys. We always cared about who we sourced our toys from but now we actively source from fair trade suppliers where ever we can. Our customer base has also changed and we mainly work with Independent retailers. We still manufacture toys for other companies but they are not multiple retailers. They are smaller companies who need our expertise and we work very well together.
Possibly the biggest change is that we work in a very different environment. The rumour was that Woolworths only made a profit in the months of Oct/Nov/Dec but this was sufficient to keep them going for the rest of the year. Can you imagine running a business like that now? Every product you sell, every customer you sell to must now be profitable.
Our high street has changed out of all recognition. So many household names have disappeared we can't even remember them all (Woolworths, Game, Clintons, Borders, Habitat to name just a few).
However UK retail sales are still around £300bn, 1 in 10 of those in employment, work in the retail sector. There are 450,000 shops in the UK owned by 300,000 companies. Internet sales represent under 10% of retail sales but are still growing. Next up is shopping by phone which is set to boom as we all adopt smart phones.
The recession has created a new business environment but it is still possible to thrive. You cannot depend on a strong £ to buy cheap products from China, or a stong Xmas to make your annual profit but there are still opportunities to run a profitable business.
Now all we need is for some of the larger companies with their entrenched views would catch up with our Brave New World. Upward only rent reviews and 3 months payment in advance do not belong in our new economy. Growth and sales do not come automatically you have to work for them and part of this should be ensuring that the high street is accessible to new starters.
So how has the recession been for you? Please comment on our Facebook page
Toy Wholesale, Aggregation of Marginal Gains and Olympic Gold
08 Aug 2012
Like everyone else in the UK everyone at Best Years has been glued to the Olympics for the last couple of weeks. In particular the cycling has once again captured all of our attention as Chris Hoy, Victoria Pendleton and the rest of the UK cycling team have swept the medal board.
Along with their success the GB cycling team have also gathered rumours of witchcraft and black arts. How else could they be so good?
I was listening to this issue being discussed by the cyclists and commentators and was struck by the phrase coined after the Beijing Olympics. "Aggregation of Marginal Gains"
So rather than trying to improve in great leaps the cycling coach believed that to continue to get better they needed to focus on dozens of tiny little details which, when they are all put together, make a big difference to performance.
There is no one thing which has made the cycling team so much better than the rest of the world but dozens of tiny little things which when amalgamated have made sure they stay a head and shoulders above their competition. This means taking their own pillows on tour with them, and having heated shorts to keep their muscles warm. On their own they don't make a huge impact, but if you put them together they make that little bit of difference which gets you the gold medal.
As always, because I am obsessed, this made me think about how this could be used by Best Years, a toy wholesaler and by retailers in general.
When we started our company we always used to think that if we did one more trade show, or brought in one great new product, or met that one big retailer our company would make the leap in to greatness.
It is why new suppliers always want to know how to approach multiple retailers. They have their eyes on the great big prize of one huge order.
However we much prefer the Aggregation of Marginal Gains. its unlikely that we can keep introducing more products quite as successful as the T Rex or octopus rattles, but we can keep our ranges fresh by bringing in little new ranges. We will not supply supermarkets or most multiples but we can start supplying one new independent shop a day.
Bit by bit, day by day, we can then improve and grow our business. Its not glamourous but it does work.
I was going to think of 5 tiny little things I could do to improve our business and see if they make an impact on my Xmas trading, but I realised that was still thinking too big.
So instead I am going to think of 5 tiny things i can do to improve our performance at Top Drawer in September. I'll let you know what we decide to do.
What do you think of this?
All comments hugely welcomed on our Facebook page
Do you keep up to date?
30 Jul 2012
Many years ago, before kids and the entrepreneurial spirit hit us, my husband and I were very well off. We both had well paid corporate jobs with all the associated trimmings and it was great.
During this time I visited the Chelsea Flower show and almost bought a sundial for £5000 (told you we were well off!)
The reason why I am telling you this is not to irritate you but because every year since then I have received a lovely glossy brochure from this sundial producer.
Now if I said that my eldest child is 15 and Best Years is about the same age you will know that this company has been writing to me for a long time despite the fact that I have had no other contact with them since those halycon days.
My circumstances have changed substantially and my outlay on the garden is now confinded to £2.95 for 6 bedding plants but this company continues to believe I am a potential customer.
Even if my circumstances hadn't changed its feasible that my spending power during this recession might have declined but like clock work my glossy brochure contines to turn up.
So how often do you check whether your contacts are still potential customers? Brochures are expensive to produce and to post so do you check that everyone who gets them is still likely to buy?
Digital communications are cheap, but there is still a cost associated with having unwanted contacts in your lists, especially if you use a 3rd party email software.
I know from bitter experience just how boring it is to tidy up your database but it is something I will be doing over the next couple of weeks while I have the Olympics to entertain me in the back ground.
All comments gratefully received on our Facebook page
Meet Best Years new wholesale rag doll and doudou producer
26 Jul 2012
Our new rag dolls and doudous are finally in stock so we thought you might like to see how and where they are made
The range is the inspiration of Alice Poli, who is originally from Italy
She graduated in Fashion Design but then went to live in India
There she worked for 5 years at a Kindergarten until the birth of her son, Kamil in 2008
It was then that the idea of the dolls came, and why the range is called Kamomil. Alice wanted to combine her knowledge of design and her experience with children to create dolls and puppets.
The dolls are designed and made to the Waldorf Steiner method and where possible they are made with natural materials, like cotton, wool etc with no small parts used.
Each doll/puppet is unique because they are made completely by hand. The dolls may have the same colour of the hair, or the same dress, but, even between “twins” there are some differences.
Here are pictures of Alice hard at work making her lovely rag dolls
And here are pictures of her team, Chitra who is married with 4 daughters and who used to make sarees
and the beautiful Sangeeta
As you can see this is a small, family run, workshop. There is no mass production and they cannot make large runs of dolls. As a wholesaler this suits us as we like to be able to offer unique hand made products like this.
If you want any more information, or if you wish to order, please email email@example.com
If France has the Royer Law, Is Mary Portas enough for the UK?
24 Jul 2012
Even wholesalers have holidays and I have just come back from a great family holiday in France.
There were two things which France had in abundance which appear to be in short supply in the UK and that was sunshine and Independent retailers.
Every street had dozens of small shops selling everything from food and gifts to clothes and toys. It was really refreshing to be able to walk through town centres and not see the same old shops over and over again.
It turns out that France passed what is called Royers Law in 1973 which restricts the growth of larger retailers. They have to ask for authorization if they have a retailing space larger than 1000 square meters if the town has less than 40 000 inhabitants (1 500 sqm for more than 40 000 people)
This has effectively kept the town centre from independents and very nice it felt too.
Its great that the government has recruited someone as passionate about retailing as Mary Portas but when you see the impact of legislation on France you have to ask is it really enough?Shouldn't we be looking to legislation to help our high streets disappearing?
The other point is that if we go to France to enjoy the choice and service that Independent Retailers offer shouldn't we all make an effort to keep the independent sector we have here in the UK vibrant?
What do you think? please comment on our Facebook page
Wholesale cotton doudous and rag dolls
12 Jul 2012
We are very excited because the first of our new hand made ranges is about to be shipped.
We were first approached by Alice back in February. Originally from Italy, and trained at a fashion design school, she moved to India and eventually ended up staying and having a son there. Having previously worked in a kindergarten she has combined her fashion training and experience with children to create her own range of rag dolls and doudous.
She designs the dolls to the Steiner method using all natural materials. The dolls and doudous are then hand made in India by her small family run unit. There are only 3 people working in total so it wold not be possible to produce thousands of these dolls which we think makes the range particulalry special.
The dolls are very distinctive and very different to the normal machine stitched rag dolls which are currently available
We hope you like them. If sales are successful we will extend the range but for now we will be bringing in 5 different designs.
Please let us know what you think on our facebook page
Wholesale Pebble toys for Autumn 2012
05 Jul 2012
Back in the old days Best Years was like ordinary toy wholesalers and sourced all our ranges from China. We also made a lot of toys for well known high street retailers.
We have never had any issues about buying products from Chinese factories as long as you have visited them and take the time to build a commercial relationship rather than chopping and changing suppliers in the eternal search for a cheaper price.
Good chinese factories are effiecient and capable and, if you understand how they like to do business, very easy to deal with.
In particular if they say that they are going to ship the goods to you on 20th of the month, they will ship on the 20th. Ok, sometimes it may be the 19th or the 21st but you get the impression. This is important if you are producing toys for multiples as they tend to fine you if they don't get their toys on time!
It was therefore a bit of a shock when we started working with fair trade workers co-operatives. They might quote a delivery date but in reality this was very dependent on Mother Nature not throwing a wobbly, local politics remaining calm enough not to cause riots or demonstrations and all the workers being able to turn up to work rather than harvesting, looking after sick relatives or any of the numerous things which interrupt life. And all this also needed to apply to the other people in the supply chain as well.
At first this flexibility drove us to distraction. We went from being able to quote a delivery date accurate to around 5 days to not being able to quote a delivery date at all! We had to learn how to do business in a completely new way where there was no certainty or production schedules and nothing you could do or say could influence how long it took to make a product.
Now we have learnt to work with the uncertainty. We hold more stock, place orders further in advance and have learnt how to be patient with new products (although I am not sure Samantha would view us as that patient!)
However all this means that we sometimes get some very pleasant surprises, and it looks like we may get one this week. The new transport toys look like they will ship in July rather than September as we had originally predicted. If you are interested in stock please let us know and we will contact you as soon as stock arrives at the warehouse.
Now all we have to do is locate those errant Llamas....
How do you make a decision, Part 1
25 Jun 2012
I have said in my previous blog that as a wholesaler we had a quiet month in May which enabled us to have a good look at our sales and marketing and make some changes.
One of the things which became apparent was that we needed a proper Customer Relationship Management tool. Currently we rely on a mixture of Outlook, memory and scrappy bits of paper which perhaps isn't the smartest way to manange the most important part of your business!
So I have spend a couple of days looking at which CRM to chose. As a wholesaler we did not seem a natural fit to many of the CRM systems available so I made a spreadsheet and compared the cost per month per user with the benefits they offered. These included number of contacts, pipeline, dashboard, reports. You name it, I compared it.
And after all this research which CRM did I chose and how did I make the decision? Easy, someone I respect recommended a company. The spreadsheet was closed, the work forgotten and I just went for their recommendation.
It brought home to me that the process of making a decision was very different when you have knowledge and when you don't. How we source new knitted and crochet toys suppliers, where we have a great deal of information, is very different to how we look for print suppliers where I have no idea what to look for. If you do not know exactly what you are looking for then recommendations are an exceedingly powerful tool.
If you think about it Facebook is trying to exploit the power of recommendations in its commercial model,and companies like Trip Advisor already make money out of personal opinions and recommendations.
If you don't have any recommendations on your website (and as a soft toy wholesaler I can put my hands up and say we don't have any on ours) then you may be missing out, especially if you are selling something complicated or unique. If you sell licensed product then the recommendation has effectively been made for you. People know that if they are ordering Peppa Pig or Marmite plates, they are going to get a certain standard of product. However if you are selling unlicensed or hand made products they made need the extra re-assurance that a recommendation would give them
What do you think? Comments very welcome on our Facebook page
Is this the last taboo?
15 Jun 2012
As a toy wholesaler we are not the most obvious choice to take on taboos but I want to get something out in the open.
Last month, May 2012, we had a really quiet month. It was so quiet one week that we actually asked BT to check our telephone line was ok.
There are many reasons this could have happened, Jubilee, half term, recession, but what it meant to us was that sales were well down on the previous month.
I am not telling you this to gain sympathy or get an order, but because I think its important that we acknowledge that there are going to be times when business is scarce, especially now as this recession drags on.
This does not mean that your product or shop is flawed in some way and the last thing to do is to take emergency measures such as half price sales. My immediate reaction when I received an email from another wholesaler announcing 50% off everything in their range was that they were on their way out which is definitely not the message you want to give out!
Having a quiet month turned out to be really positive for us. We finished work on a potential new range which we had orginally sort of planned in for Jan 2013. The reaction we got at Pulse was so positive that we are pulling it forward to Sept 2012.
We also had a good look at our sales and marketing plan. It turns out that we are only communicating with people who have approached us either via the website or at a trade show. If you haven't seen us then we're not talking to you which I don't think qualifies as the best marketing strategy I've come across! In addition 90% of our communication is digital via the website, social networks or email. Definitely time to look at other ways of talking to people about new ranges etc.
So during May we identified opportunities with both marketing and product ranges which we think will have a huge impact on our autumn sales.
Unless you are very new then having a quiet month shouldn't be a real problem. Infact its a really positive thing as it will gives us all a chance to work on our businesses rather than in them.
We can't be busy all the time but we can treat this as a positive thing rather than pinning on a smile and undermining profit margin and brand values in order to create sales.
What do you think? Let us know on our Facebook Page
Selling Pebble toys on Amazon
09 Jun 2012
As a soft toy wholesaler we have always been very supportive of retailers selling out toys in any which way they can as long as they don't discount our prices. Things are tough and not many people can stick to just one way of selling toys so we are happy to be opened minded about the creative way retailers can find sales
However we are now in a position where we are going to have to restrict retailers selling on Amazon. To be frank it has got too crowded. We ask people not to discount but someone goes 5p under their nearest retailer who retaliates by reducing their price by 5p and before we know it the retail price has slipped to a point where high st shops cannot compete.
We will specifically ask retailers therefore to stop selling on Amazon. We have agreed with 3 current Amazon sellers that they will continue to sell on Amazon and they will make sure that if anyone else lists Pebble toys they will come running to us to tell on you. Unfortunately we cannot continue to supply retailers who continue to sell Pebble toys on Amazon after Xmas when current stocks should have been exhausted.
Please accept our apologies for the inconvenience. We did think that we could continue unregulated but on this occasion we do have to step in in order to protect our other customers
Exclusivity of Pebble and Best Years knitted and crochet toys
03 Jun 2012
As a wholesaler of knitted and crochet toys we are used to being asked for exclusivity. Normally its not a problem as we are still a small company and our ranges are not as widely distributed as companies such as Jellicat and Anne Claire Petit. However as we grow its becoming more of an problem to us.
Although we understand why stores would want exclusivity it causes us huge issues. The problem is that shops presume that if they take your range first then they have the right to have it exclusivity.
However what should we do if a shop who takes our range only buys £200 in a year? If another shop in the same area wants to place an order for £500 what should we do? Our original customer will feel that they have earnt our loyalty, but do they have the right to keep the range if their turnover is low? We have always been happy to work with smaller retailers so we do not want to start discriminating on size now.
The internet further complicates the issue of exclusivity as it makes our range available to everyone. We also deal with a couple of very nice multiples. They cannot have exclusivity but on the other hand we cannot give ask them not to stock our toys in a particular town in order to maintain exclusivity to an existing Independent customer.
We have a responsibility both to ourselves and to the workers co-operatives we work with to maximise sales. In order to provide fairly paid employment to our workers we need to sell as many toys as possible. Our loyalties are torn between our retailers and our suppliers.
Currently we have exclusivity in 3 different places all of which are market towns where customers can walk easily around all shops. These arrangements have taken literary years to sort out and ultimately it took the shops talking to each other to sort it out.
Exclusivity is a very emotional point and we would appreciate your comments on what you think is right and wrong on our facebook page
What are you doing over the Summer?
28 May 2012
Can you answer a very quick question for me? We like to meet as many people as we can over the summer, but which trade shows are you planning on going to?
Are these the best wholesale Pebble toys ever?
17 May 2012
Aren't they fantastic!
What do you think? Please comment on our Facebook page
Pebble toys for Autumn 2012
15 May 2012
Pebble toys take a long time to develop from concept to finished product. First you have an idea, then the first sample has to be knitted or crochet to see if its viable to make. If the first sample is workable then a pattern is made. We can then cost up the toy to see if it can be made at a fair price. All this obviously takes time especially as toys are made in ranges and not as individual products.
Way back in Autumn 2011 Samantha Morshed, CEO of Hathay Bunano and founder of Pebble toys, came over to the UK and stayed with me for a couple of days
She was much taken with my husband's vehicle and it has inspired her to create a new range. This should hopefully be with us in time for Top Drawer in September and I am not allowed to show photographs until we are satisified with the quality
However here is a sneaky clue as to what is in the range
What do you think? Please comment on our Facebook page
Pebble toys in John Lewis
14 May 2012
Back in March we were really chuffed to have our Pebble organic bunny on the front page of the John Lewis catalogue with this beautiful picture.
As a toy wholesaler this was obviously a very proud moment for us and inspired this lovely blog from Samantha Morshed, founder of Hathay Bunano
"We're so happy to see our Organic motif bunny on the front page of the John Lewis Spring Catalogue. Since we have an international audience on this blog I want to explain a little about John Lewis. John Lewis Partnership is a chain of department stores in the UK, but it is more than that. Founded back in 1864 and set up as a partnership where all employees share the profits, it's one of the earliest examples of a social business.
We grew up with John Lewis. As a child, my mum and I would take the bus from Cotgrave to Nottingham several times a year on a shopping expedition to buy all those things that you could only get in John Lewis. And you could buy everything in John Lewis. If you needed a special gift for someone, or a hat to wear to a wedding, or a piece of crockery to add to a set that you were collecting then John Lewis was the place. Whatever you wanted or needed to buy you would know that you would be able to find it in John Lewis: that there would be a lovely selection and that you would pay a fair price. A shopping trip to our closest John Lewis in Nottingham was always a joy and always a success.
As such, for me, the name has become synonymous with a benchmark in retail.
Twenty years ago when I first started to visit Bangladesh, I would visit the villages and see the handicraft projects that had largely been set up with international donor funding. The products were beautifully made - blankets, quilts, cushion covers - all very representative of Bangladesh and with incredible handiwork. And the women would ask me 'Do you like our products?' To which I would always reply 'It doesn't matter if I like them or not, what you must ask yourself is - will it sell in John Lewis?' and then of course, I would have to explain this comment!
When I started Hathay Bunano, I did so with the question 'will it sell in John Lewis?' at the forefront of my mind. We're all delighted to see Pebble products selling in John Lewis Partnership department stores and especially delighted to see our little bunny on the front page of the catalogue.
Clinton Cards to go in to Administration?
09 May 2012
Just a few years ago Clinton Cards sat astride the uk market for greetings cards like a Goliath and it seemed as if it would be there for ever.
It had almost 1000 stores and had also bought the Birthdays chain to add hundreds more stores.
Yet it now appears that it may be forced in to administration by its largest supplier, American Greetings. It made a loss of £3.7m over the 6 months to January 2012 and it did not believe that things would get any better during 2012.
I have commented before about Clinton Cards as I believe that their buying choices have been driven by their terms and conditions rather than by product. Not only does this means that their choice of products is narrowed significantly, but also how can the supplier afford Clinton's T+Cs without it impacting on the quality, design and material of the product?
I am not talking about cards as I have no knowledge of this market, but the gifts which must make up a vital part of Clinton's sales.
And if you think I am being a bit harsh here are the terms and conditions quoted to me by the Clintons buyer when we talked in 2009
Standard terms are
Advertising contribution: 2%:this is off cost of orders per annum – this is used for radio advertising/local press, mainly surrounding seasonal times .is not product specific and is more about promoting footfall at key seasonal times i.e mothersday
Exit strategy :SOR or a supplier writedown contribution to half price at the end products life for an agreed period. Assume 2-3 weeks then supplier uplift of remaining stock or write off in store. e.g if 10 items left in stock and original cp is £1.00 funding is for 50p x 10 items.
All lines epos bar coded and pre priced
Prices quoted to be inclusive of direct to store delivery.
We walked away at this point as we couldn't see how we could make a profit on direct to store delivery with no delivery charges,especially since they wanted a discounted price based on volume.
It also made us laugh that if they decided to discontinue something we could feasibly be paying Clintons clearance before they had paid us for the product!
Compare this business model to Cath Kidston where the product is king. First and foremost they decide whether the product is right for their stores and customers, and this is the most important decision. Sales are booming even in this recession.
I have every sympathy with the employees of Clintons who I am sure work very hard and are now facing a horrible uncertainty about their future. However I think that if you have a business model where you sell based purely on price you need to be good at it! The various pound shops do very well because they have a clear cut strategy on what their customers want.
If you are trying to sell gifts and cards then the product should be King.
What do you think? Please comment on our Facebook page
Wholesale knitted and crochet toys are on trend
09 May 2012
We are very pleased that the influential WGSN have featured our wholesale knitted and crochet toys in their life style brand analysis
Pebble toys - Objects of Desire
04 May 2012
We are very pleased to be featured in Knitting Magazine this month, in their Objects of Desire feature
Knitted blue monkey grows up
02 May 2012
As part of our knitted toy range revolution we are updating the the knitted blue monkey
Heres an image of the new fabric taken on Liz's chair. What do you think? Please comment on our Facebook page.
We will also bring in a large version as well. Stock will be available from the end of summer but stocks of the current blue monkey will sell out at Pulse June so please order now if you wish to secure stock
Knitted T Rex
01 May 2012
Our knitted T Rex has been our best selling toy since its launch in 2006 and was instrumental in making Best Years the company it is today.
We used to be a toy wholesaler. We had traditional plush and in particular the Moptop dogs. Our Moptops were extremely popular and we translated the design in to many different formats
We thought the design was so good we wanted to translate it not just in to different formats, but extend it in to different characters so we got the Moptop cat.
At this stage we were quite happy. We were a soft toy wholesaler just like many others, but we had a solid and distinctive selling design. But then we thought, how about if we use different materials, what would it look like? So we started experimenting with knitted material.
And then everything about our business started to change. Almost immediately we realised the strength of using knitted material so we rapidly developed in to having 2 distinct ranges. A traditional wholesale soft toy range which we mostly sold in to multiple accounts and a range of wholesale knitted toys which the independent retailers liked.
We continued to concentrate on building up the knitted range and very soon hit on the idea of knitted dinosaurs. However as we concentrated more on wholesaling knitted toys rather than our normal wholesale toys we finally we had to make the decision. Were we a knitted toy company servicing Independent retailers or do we stay with traditional plush and the multiples. And the rest, as they say, is history
We are looking forward to introducing new knitted dinosaurs in autumn 2012 and hopefully perhaps another limited edition knitted T Rex
Thak you for your business. We really appreciate it!
Wholesale knitted and crochet toys for the year ahead
30 Apr 2012
As a toy wholesaler our year can roughly be split in to 3 parts
Jan - April we attend a lot of trade shows in UK and Europe. Here we get feedback on what is selling in the Independent retailers, hopefully meet new customers and get reaction to samples of potential new products we have to show. Unlike in retail this is one of the very busiest times of the year for us.
May - August. This is crunch time for wholesalers. We now have to make a decision on which new products to bring in and which products should be discontinued. We also have to put down orders for Xmas stock which have to be accompanied by a substantial deposit so it is also the leanest time of year for us.
Sept - Dec. Obviously this is Xmas so its a busy time for orders but it is also the time of the year when we visit factories/workers co-operatives in Bangladesh, and China. We are looking for new sources and new products and designs in new fabrics. It is samples from these visits which we show at the spring trade fairs.
The Pebble new toys and hats have now been decided, and we also have a fantastic range of Pebble Xmas rattles and decorations and a gorgeous range of Pebble knitted transport toys. Now its the time for the Best Years range.
Our Best Years range has been very stable over the last 2 years as we brought in dozens of new Pebble toys and then Pebble hats.
Before stable becomes stale we are now going to instigate some radical changes in to our fabulous knitted toys.
We are going to continue with the T Rex (we said radical change not stupid!) and the elephant and monkey, although we are updating the colour of the knitted monkey to this as it has not changed in over 5 years.
All products which we need to re-order for Xmas will instead be discontinued. This includes the following
We have already sold out of the knitted mice and monster and we will not replace them. The organic cotton T Rex is now out of stock, and we have limited stock of the monkey and bunny which are unfortunately discontiued as the factory cannot re-make them. If you stock any of these products please re-order them asap as we anticipate running out of stock in the summer.
So what new products have we got coming in to replace them?
You have seen the knitted Stegasaurus and Triceratops (rough images here, but colours will change). The Stegasaurus has been ordered and will be in for September. the Triceratops will follow as soon as we have sorted the colour out!
We also have crochet bunnies arriving in June (apologies for the cardboard box in the picture!).
We are working hard on a range of knitted toys code named Ickle Pickle but they are still top secret at the moment so we can't show images.
Finally we are going to introduce a range called Best Years Independents. These are toys which we will initially only sell in to the Independent sector. We only deal with "nice" multiples such as John Lewis and Cath Kidston in order that there is no ridiculous under cutting of prices, but this range will not be available to even them.
As part of our strategy of trying to source from workers co-operatives we will self-certify for EN71 and CE for the first deliveries until we know whether the ranges are commercially viable. Self certification involves us checking the procedures and materials of the toys we buy rather than sending them off to testing houses after the toys have been produced. Testing costs are approx £1000 for a range of toys which has made sourcing from smaller producers very difficult as it meant we had to buy 1000s of toys just to cover the testing fees. The new toy safety legislation introduced last year makes self certification posible in exactly this sort of scenario which is great as it makes it easier to source from small independent producers rather than large Chinese factories.
The Independents range will be quirky and a bit different. Some ranges may only be in for a season and others may continue for a while but the key rationale behind the ranges is to provide independent retailers with well designed, affordable and fair trade ranges that make them stand out from the crowd. Here are a few development images but we will have all the samples on our stand at Pulse, Bubble and AIS
Pebble Toy 2012 catalogue
26 Apr 2012
This is a wonderful way to view the Pebble toy 2012 catalogue - enjoy!
Pebble toy crochet elephant
26 Apr 2012
In the same way as mothers are not supposed to have favourites among their children, in toy wholesale we are suppsed to like all ranges equally.
At risk of breaking this taboo and causing offense to our lovely Independent retailers I would like to say that I think this new Pebble toy crochet elephant is absolutely gorgeous, and is definitely my favourite!
Make it a Pebble fair trade cotton crochet Xmas
25 Apr 2012
Toy wholesale is all about Xmas but as a toy wholesaler Best Years have never yet carried a Xmas range of toys. All the ranges we have worked on have never had the wow factor needed to make a seasonal range successful.
So we are very pleased that the clever Pebble toys have come up with a fabulous range of fair trade cotton crochet decorations and rattles.
The range comprises of 3 iconic Pebble fair trade Xmas rattles and boxed sets of Pebble fair trade crochet Xmas decorations.
The designs are fabulous and the prices affordable so this is the perfect Xmas range. Fair trade, fair price and fairly irresistible!
I have attached images below but to see the full range please come and see us at Pulse London, stand D23, 10th - 12th June
Or email firstname.lastname@example.org for the full Pebble Xmas catalogue
Which do you like best? Please comment on our Facebook page
Queen Bee St Neots
16 Apr 2012
This is just a quick warning note to other wholesalers
Queen Bee of St Neots have ordered 3 times from us, each time a very small order (approx £50) and after the initial pro forma have not paid any of their other invoices
When we started chasing the invoices we then talked to 2 other wholesalers who have had a similar experience to us. Small orders but unpaid invoices
After threatening court action we have received 2 post dated cheques so we may get our money but if you are considering supplying them please be careful.
The cheques we were sent bounced. We also have had telephone calls from companies who were at Bubble and who took orders from Queen Bee. She wrote cheques to cover the orders but some have already bounced. Please be careful!
Update no 2.
Today we had a call from Queen Bee obviously very irritated about this blog which hopefully is warning other wholesalers off dealing with Queen Bee.
More sadly we had another call from a wholesaler who said she had lost almost £500. She said she took Queen Bee to court and in the process found out that Queen Bee has got county court judgements against her stretching back years.
If you supply Queen Bee please make sure you get paid before you supply the goods
And if you are chasing for money here is the number we got when she called us
Shop no - 01480 473407
update no 3.
This morning our website hosts got a call from Queen Bee complaining about the article! I presume she wanted them to take the article down.
Other brands have learnt the hard way that protecting your reputation and brand values is harder now that the internet and social media are so prevalent. We think we have a duty to our wholesale community, many of whom are small, to let them know when we have customers not paying their bills. What do you think? Comment on our facebook page
Update No 4.
I have received 3 calls in one week from people who say Queen Bee has not paid them, and one said they had received some very abusive emails from the shop
Police proceedings have therefore been started so if Queen Bee owes you money please call the police on telephone number 101 and report it under the crime number BK 4033876-12. Its unlikely that you will get your money back but it may stop other people experiencing the same issues
Harrogate Nursery Fair
21 Mar 2012
As a soft toy wholesaler we have our own areas of responsibilities. I (Liz) source the knitted, crochet and fair trade toys and ensure they are manufactured to EN71 and CE and Gaynor talks about them.
Well, Gaynor has certainly pushed me out of my toy safety comfort zone and asked ME to write the blog today.
Having never done one before (and hoping never to have to do one!) here I am talking about Harrogate Nursery Fair which is also out of my comfort zone.
For various reasons we are doing the Harrogate Nursery Show this weekend, Hall E Stand 27, the first time.
As a toy wholesaler We love doing trade shows as we get to talk to our lotsof our independent retailer customers but have always had a block about doing this one (or any one) in Harrogate.
I have also felt that its a very social trade show, good for talking about baby toys and the nursery and toy trade and but not that good for business.
However, now that we are doing it, we have put a realistic budget together, done a fair amount of research about who is going and why and now feel that its going to be a good show to show off our fair-trade baby toys and blankets.
Yes, we have had to cancel a fair few family commitments ( we only agreed to do the show about 2 weeks ago!) but the excitement is building for the start of the Harrogate Nursery Fair on Sunday.
Plans are afoot for the display (the stand is much smaller than we are used to..) and we have printed a fair few order forms to take with us. Biscuits have been bought and outfits washed and ironed! We hope to see lots of our lovely customers and some new faces too. We even have lots of new samples to show!
So now that I have stepped out of my comfort zone, what are YOU doing to challenge yourself and your business today?
Please comment on our Facebook page
Pebble stockist Baby and Bump
19 Mar 2012
This is a fab video from Pebble and Best Year's stockist Baby and Bump in Saffron Walden
What a great way to promote her fabulous baby and maternity ranges.
Toy Safety and Hand Made Toys
15 Mar 2012
As a soft toy wholesaler the safety of our toys is our number 1 concern. Liz has spent her entire career working with toys and still regularly attends seminars on toy safety. We also have a regular meeting with Trading Standards to go through current concerns and talk them through our fair trade suppliers and new wholesale toy ranges.
When you import soft toys and toys for babies, whether they come from fair trade producers or factories, you just cannot be ignorant of any toy safety legislation. Its too important.
However we did believe that toy safety regulations were primarily targeted at mass producers. In the same way that somebody producing jam for a supermarket needs to be more rigid with their safety and labelling than a WI producer we thought toy safety regulations were a little less rigid for home produced toys than for professional toy wholesalers such as Best Years.
We were therefore a little surprised to be contacted by a crafter who had been shut down by Trading Standards because her sock toys failed to exceed toy safety regs.
The saga had started when Trading Standards bought one of her sock toys from a craft fair and then followed up by buying a sock toy from her website www.socktoys.co.uk
The toy was not CE marked and her website did not completely conform to Distance Selling Regs.
Trading standards had bought one of her sock toys and found that the the eyes could come off when pulled with the weight of 7.8 kilos when the regs need 9kilos. To put this in to perspective 7 kilos is equivilent to hanging 14 bottles of lager off each eye!
In addition she did not have test certificates for flammability. The socks were bought from High St stores so they had obviously been manufactured to flammability regs but she was asked to prove them for flammability.
Julie went to a lot of work to prove to Trading Standards that her toys conformed to all CE and EN71 regs and is now happily selling her range again on her website www.socktoys.co.uk
However this is a big shout out to crafty people who make toys or any products for kids under 3, and also anyone who sells via a website.
You need to know the key points on Distance selling regs (you need to include your address and tell people they have the right to return goods within 7 days). We have a little information on them here but theres lots more information on the direct gov website
You also need to conform to Toy Safety Regulations, and when you do you need to put a CE label on your toys. As a toy wholesaler we have more information on Toy Regulations on our website but our advice would be to go and talk to your Trading Standards Officer before they come and talk to you!
And now for something different
02 Mar 2012
We have the chance to bring in some stock of some traditional teddies and we wondered whether these would be of interest to you?
They are 19cm tall and would have a trade price of approx £1.50
Please let us know on our facebook page as we need to make a decision whether to buy them!
Exporting fairtrade toys and other ranges.
02 Mar 2012
Have I told you that we are trying to increase our exports? As a way of compensating you for listening to me going on and on about our attempts to increase sales of our fair trade soft toys in Europe I want to share the notes from the recent course I went on.
The course which was led by a consultant from www.growglobal.co.uk who was very impressive
There were a couple of key facts which stuck with me
• Customers are 4x more likely to buy from a website which is in their own language
• Visitors stay twice as long on a website if its in their own language (NB this does not include google translated websites)
• 85% of business procurement starts online
• 70% of online searches are not in English
Given that the decision is made about your website within 3 seconds of the potential customer clicking on it the first thing is to make sure people know that your business is not country specific, ie use words such as International, Worldwide or Global in the title line.
As google becomes more regionalised most search results show only results from companies registered in that country, so if you search for fair trade soft toys in google.uk Best Years are shown but not if you search in google.fr.
In order to show up on search engines you either need to have a page in the applicable language which can be picked up and listed by google in the relevant country or, if you have a domain name which ends in .com or .eu you can ask google to list you on their other search engines (geo-targeting).
We have started this process and have a page in Swedish linked off our homepage and now searches to our website from Sweden are the 3rd most comman after UK and USA.
The more content you have in a language the more weight you will have in the search rankings, so translating any relevant content in to different languages is very powerful. Also if you show partners or case studies from countries other than the UK. We really need to set up our products with descriptions in other languages besides English
Meta tags should not be set up in English for these pages!
If you get serious about increasing your visibility in other countries then you should do key word analysis of your competitors in the country and incorporate them in to the translated pages although this will be a lot of work!
I really felt after the course that you can do as much or as little as you have time to do but everything you do has the opportunity to open up new markets for you.
We are now going to have an Export Communications Review done on our website courtesy of www.ukti.org and we will let you know if this is a useful investment
Look at This!
27 Feb 2012
For all those of you who are fans of our knitted T Rex we have some news about new additions to the range of Best Year's knitted dinosaurs.
These are first samples of the new toys.
Knitted Triceratops - herbivorous ceratopsid which was preyed uponby the T Rex
Knitted Stegosaurus, a new version of an old favourite
What do you think of them?
Please add your views to our Facebook page as we would love to hear all your comments.
How Social Media Leaves No Hiding Places
23 Feb 2012
Do you use Twitter? As a wholesaler we have found it has been great not only to raise awareness of our Pebble fair trade toys but also to net work with other small businesses.
Best Years is a Wholesaler so before Twitter we struggled when we wanted recommendations for printers, carriers and other valuable 3rd partners. Now if we have a question we just ask Twitter and get loads of free advice and recommendations.
However if Twitter is a useful resource for small business it is also a very quick way to raise awareness and issues which would once have remained a very small matter.
How large companies react when Twitter raises negative issues against them is very interesting.
Before Xmas I sent one Tweet out about an order I had made with RSPB. Within an hour they had rung me, located the stock I wanted in a store and the order was with me the following morning. Fantastic customer service and a great use of Twitter
We are a wholesaler so don't have staff to run social media campaigns for us (everything you hear is straight from us!) but then there are the other companies who employ people to send out chirpy little tweets about their products and who are completely unable to cope with problems when they arise.
Claires Accessories are one such company. They have been accused of copying designs from Tatty Devine, you can see the designs in dispute here
Twitter is buzzing with comments and news about it, but what do Claires do? Absolutely nothing. No comments, no reaction, no nothing.
Nobody likes bad news, everybody would prefer to ignore it but in the same way that not opening your bank statement doesn't make the overdraft go away ignoring thousands of negative comments won't make the issue disappear.
No company can exist without at some stage encountering problems and now that social media is here to stay large companies are having to face up to problems that once they would have been able to shove under the carpet. If you establish yourself on Twitter and Facebook you should have a plan as to how to deal with negative as well as positive feedback. We wholesale toys and do not set ourselves up as marketing experts but I would guess that just ignoring your social media pages isn't a good idea!
I don't know how this particular dispute will end but it is another warning to everybody that social media is a great leveller and you ignore it at your peril. The days when large companies could just ignore the complaints of smaller companies have gone. They now stand accountable in the court of Social Media which, unlike traditional courts, does not require large finances to get a judgement.
What do you think? Please comment on our facebook page
NB If you want some advice on how to protect you designs please click here
Could this be a solution for empty shops?
17 Feb 2012
A long time ago, before we started working with Pebble fair trade toys or even before we became soft toy wholesalers, Liz and I were both retail buyers for a variety of multiple stores (you can read about it here )
One of my jobs was managing the Dixon's airport stores, and then I jumped over the fence and worked for BAA who then owned Heathrow, Gatwick etc etc.
BAA did not charge a flat rent but instead they charged a % of the turnover in each store. This dependended on the expected turnover and the margin on the products, but no one paid a flat rate.
This meant that when things were good and there was a lot of footfall through the airports everyone gained. However when things were quiet, everyone suffered together.
The reason I say this is that perhaps its time for a landlord outside of the airports to adopt a similar business model? With all the empty units now available on the high street isn't it time for the old adversorial, pay 3 months in advance, relationship to change?
By paying a % of sales shops will be able to take units knowing that if snow hits and the pavements are not cleared they will be sharing the pain with their landlords. The landlords will know that if they make an effore to encourage more footfall in to the area they will directly benefit from their efforts.
What do you think? Would it work? Please comment on our Facebook page
Have you seen Pebble Organic in John Lewis catalogue?
15 Feb 2012
Best Years have been wholesaling toys for over 10 years, and we have been selling Pebble fair trade toys since 2012. Its hard work, especially in the current economic climate. We have fun and have some fab customers, but sometimes life can feel difficult
However sometimes all the work you do comes together and you get something like this as a reward!
Pebble Once Upon a Time Toys
15 Feb 2012
Pebble fair trade Once Upon a Time toys are the most inspirational toys of the Pebble range. They include the iconic Humpty Dumpty plus the wonderful Nutcracker and Ballerina dolls. They are really meant to be a life long friend for a child, the antithesis of the throw away culture we suffered from before the recession.
Now the Pebble Once Upon a Time range has been further enhanced by a gorgeous little book which will be included with every toy. And here is a sneak preview of it
Independent retailers' sales flourish over Xmas 2011
15 Feb 2012
As a soft toy wholesaler Best Years chose to focus on Independent retailers a long time go. We like them, and they seem to like our mix of knitted, crochet and fair trade toys.
We had a very bouyant Xmas this year, and it appears that the Independent retail sector did too
The following statistics are from Bira (www.bira.co.uk)
56% of Independent retailers saw an increase in sales this Xmas against Xmas 2010, with an average increase of just over 11%
Overall Independent retailers saw sales increase by +1.57%
Given the news from the multiple sector with many chains collapsing in to administration almost as soon as their doors closed for Xmas, then I would say thats a great result.
Looking at it yr on yr rather than just the Xmas quarter 52% of retailers increased their sales, and the average across the sector was +3%
Obviously things varied across the country with the best increases coming from Wales and the Midlands while ironically it was Scotland and London who recorded sales decreases (although only of approx 1%)
Independent retailers are having to work a lot harder these days, but at every trade show we go to we see them finding the new, unusual and affordable gifts which are the key to their success. Their in depth knowledge of their customers and great service is obviously making a difference now things are so tough.
So a big WELL DONE from all us at Best Years. You did it! Now theres just 2012 to tackle......
Pebble fair trade toys brochure Spring 2012
13 Feb 2012
The new Pebble fair trade knitted and crochet brochure is now available!
If you want trade prices then please email us
Why should banks invest in small business?
02 Feb 2012
Was anyone listening to Radio 5 this morning? Wake up to Money had Adam Posen sounding off about the banks not lending to small business. Adam Posen is a member of the banks monetary committee, who a year ago predicted slow down and risk of unemployment. You can listen to the programme here http://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/b01bb9sy but he describes bankers as risk averse jerks which made me laugh
He thinks that banks have over-reacted and cut back on small business lending to mend their balance sheets
I so agree with this that if I hadn't been so warm in bed I would have stood up and cheered.
A year ago we approached our friendly and accessible bank manager to raise money to support our growth. We have to pay our fair trade suppliers when we place our orders so growing as quickly as we are causes us some problems.
Our lovely bank manager agreed in principal and then fed all the information in to Head Office. The result? Yes we could borrow what we wanted and more but at a 11% interest rate, with our homes put up as surety and a £2000 admin fee.
We're not stupid, and these terms were too silly to consider so we didn't proceed.
This is just one story from a soft toy wholesaler, but how often has this story been repeated in the last 12 months? How many more of us could be growing and creating jobs and wealth if we had investment?
The Prince of Wales' Duchy food range is a great example of how accessing finance can make a huge difference to a busines. In 2010 sales of organic food fell by 10% but Duchy Originals's sales jumped from £1.23m to £2.37m and the company turned a loss of £537,000 into a profit of £2.25m in the year to March 2011.
How did they do this? Waitrose invested money in to the brand and its range and the rewards are obvious. They were able to grow the business as they had the finance to introduce new products and market their brand
However good your business, brand or product is you need investment to grow otherwise you get caught in what we call the Elves and the Shoemaker trap. Make one pair of shoes at a time and wait to sell them before you can buy the raw material to make another. Not the best way to run a company
So heres a big cheer for Adam Posen. Hopefully people will start to listen to him and the UK's small companies can start pulling the economy in the right direction
What do you think? Comment on our Facebook page
How much are you paying for credit card fees?
02 Feb 2012
I don't have any hard proof but I am pretty sure that we must have been one of the first wholesalers to accept payments through our website as we have been processing almost since the first day we set up 10 years ago.
When we first set the website up our website developer recommended Worldpay and we were happy to follow their recommendation.
We have never really had any issues with them except a lurking suspicion that we were paying too much in credit card fees and that waiting 7-10 days for the money to be transferred to us was a bit long.
However just before Xmas we applied to Worldpay to accept Swedish Krona ready for Formex and in response, with no communication at all, they took £1000 from the monies owed to us and kept it as a "deposit"
So finally we have been given the push to look at alternatives to Worldpay and as per usual I will blog about our progress. I have no idea whether we will have the courage to move. The idea of something going wrong and being left without the facility to take credit cards quite frankly terrifies me! But we will do the preparation so at least we can make an informed decision
Worldpay charge us £160 per year service charge, 3.25% on all credit card transactions and 37p for debit cards.
If we were to change we would need to be dealing with 2 companies, one to manage the website side and the other to provide our Merchant ID
Payment providers are companies such as Secure Trading, Ogone and Sage all of which who charge approx £20 per month
Merchant ID are the banks. Since we bank with Lloyds we asked them and they are quoting 1.5% for credit cards and 25p for debit cards plus £5 per month service charge.
So we could end up paying £10 per month more in charges but our credit card fees will plummet. On these figures we currently pay £8.12 for a carriage paid order paid for by credit card and this will reduce to £3.75 so we will be even after just 2 orders
Thats the first part of the investigation completed. Now we have to look at how much work will be involved in integrating the new system in to our website, and how much it will cost.
Please let us know what you think, and if you have any recommendations, on our Facebook page
Update 5th Feb
The lovely Stephanie Carswell suggested Payment Sense to us via Facebook. Their terms, for doing exactly the same as Worldpay (ie we would only need to deal with one company, and not 2) are as follows
2% credit card fee vs 3.25% from Worldpay
35p for debit cards vs 27p from Worldpay
£10 monthly fee vs £13.30 from Worldpay
Set up fee £150
Stephanie also recommended their service which is great
We have also been given the website www.electronic-payments.co.uk which compares and contrasts the costs and charges from each service provider. I have tried it and it gives you reams of information so definitely one for those people who have not yet decided which provider to use. As a soft toy wholesaler my eyes crossed when I tried to use it to compare 2 different methods
Pretty in Pink
25 Jan 2012
Unusually for a soft toy or baby toy wholesaler we are more well known for boys toys than for our girls'ranges
I thought therefore that I should point out that we have some fabulous ranges for girls including blankets, hats, toys and rattles and here are just a few of them
Which is your favourite? Please comment on our facebook page
Something for the boys
25 Jan 2012
We have always been very strong in boys toys, driven firstly by the iconic knitted T Rex, but it doesn't stop there as we now have an extensive range of toys that boys will love, and heres just a few
Which is your favourite? Please comment on our facebook page
New Years Resolutions
31 Dec 2011
Do you make New Years Resolutions? Last year Best Years made one simple resolution and that was World Domination.
There were some who thought this might be a bit ambitious, but if you have product ranges as good as ours then why not aim high?
So how have we got on?
Well in a year when Russ Berrie, TP Toys, Corinthinan, and more recently, and very sadly, Tobar have gone in to administration, our sales have boomed.
But although our sales have been great much of our time has been spent on much more mundane things
As Abraham Lincoln said “If I had eight hours to chop down a tree, I'd spend six hours sharpening my ax”
Well we have spent a lot of time sharpening our axe.
We have moved our warehousing, moved our administrative systems on to The Cloud and built up stocks so that we can bring our service levels up. We have upgraded our website and our accounts system so that our backroom can keep up with our increased sales. We have starting working with new fair trade suppliers and new factories in China so that we can offer a diverse range of hand made toys. Its been a lot of work but will undoubtedly be invaluable as we expand.
So to use another quote, this time from Bonaparte “Take time to deliberate, but when the time for action has arrived, stop thinking and go in.”
We are now ready to take on the world. We start with trade shows in London and Stockholm and aim to be in Paris for the summer.
We very much hope that you will be able to join us
Top Drawer Spring 15th - 17th Jan, stand G18
Formex, Stockholm, 19th - 22nd Jan, stand A45:14
Bubble London, 29th - 3oth Jan, stand B25
Please let us know what your New Years Resolutions are on our Facebook page
Interview with Samantha Morshed by Trendhunter
31 Dec 2011
Heres an interview with Samantha who is the founder and inspiration behind Pebble toys
3 Questions with Samantha Morshed, Founder of Pebble and CEO of Hathay Bunano
1. How did the idea for the business model come about, and how did you decide to join this sector?
For the past couple of decades I had visited Bangladesh and seen donor-funded projects that involved village women making mostly stitched items which, while well-made, had not been geared to a specific market and did not have consistency in their quality. I thought about how I could get involved for many years before finally, for other reasons, my family moved en masse to Bangladesh and it was time for me to put these ideas into practice.
I didn’t want to make something that required the creation of a new market because that would be too costly; rather, I wanted to make something that people already wanted to buy, and then to make it rurally and by hand so it would take longer to make and thereby create employment without adding to the ever-growing commercialism in the West. I wanted to make something that would be good quality and well-made and that people would cherish; items that would be handed down from generation to generation that they would value.
I learnt to knit when I was three-years-old—before I went to school—and I’ve been knitting and crocheting ever since. So it seemed natural that the product we would make would be knitted and that I would start to teach women how to knit.
It was important that the project be sustainable since craft-style projects were no longer popular with the international donor organisations, and since we wouldn’t be able to fund a project for any length of time. It therefore started as something of an experiment. The idea was to demonstrate that with only $500 it would be possible to set up and run a project that would very quickly become sustainable, and with the proceeds, further expansion would be possible. I wanted to demonstrate that it is possible to create good quality employment for rural women who may be illiterate or semi-literate, and that this could be a viable business model that would hopefully encourage others to follow.
In 2004, when Hathay Bunano started, social business was in its infancy and so this wasn’t an influence on the model we created; rather, it was a movement that we found we fit into as time went on.
2. How do you get your inspiration?
Inspiration for products is a process. Pebble isn’t about me being creative and showing the world what I like. When you employ more than 5,000 women you have a sense of responsibility and they must be kept in work because their families depend on that work.
Pebble has a colour palette that is consistent, and which I think helps customers recognise our products. Often we take items familiar as childrens toys and then make them knitted. Other times we look for existing gaps in the market and then develop products to fill that gap. We always use customer feedback with samples before moving to production or including a product in our catalogue. We cannot afford to have a product that doesn’t sell, and so we do a lot of customer testing before releasing a product.
Once I have an idea of the type of product that we are going to make and I’ve chosen colours, then I sit down and knit or crochet the idea. I always make the first piece without a pattern and then write the pattern afterwards. This gives me the creative freedom to make changes as I work. Knitted and crochet toys are 3D and very tactile and the feel and texture are an important part of the toy. For this reason I think it’s very difficult to follow a traditional product development model with 2D drawings and patterns.
It may need several attempts to get the toy right and then once I think I’m happy with it, I like to ‘live’ with it for a while. I have it sitting around my house and look at it as I pass and pick it up and change its position for a few days before sending it to our sample room.
3. How do you reset yourself to be creative? Do you have any rituals?
I knit and crochet all the time and one idea tends to lead to another. Often while I’m making something I’ll have several ideas for new pieces I want to make and I list them. This applies both to things I make for myself and my home as well as to toys for Pebble. I started a Brown Owls group in Dhaka (Brown Owls was started in Melbourne by Pip Lincolne) and this is a great way for me to be creative with other people and I really enjoy that.
You can follow Samantha on Twitter at @samanthamorshed,
Retailers in administration
31 Dec 2011
I was really sad to see the news that Tobar have gone in to administration. As a soft toy wholesaler we had some inkling as they are a customer and we had sensed there issues but it is not the loss of a customer which saddens us.
There are some retailers which you suspect from the start will struggle - Alworths spring immediately to mind. There are others which you believe may struggle to survive a recession either because their proposition or their customer service are flawed. I don't think that many people would want to invest in HMV right now and I am personally very doubtful Past Times will survive this Xmas.
But there are others where the High St will be a poorer place without them. I still miss Borders and Habitat, and Hawkins Bazaar was a great place to shop.
As this recession grinds on unfortunately it is likely that more retailers will disappear but we just hope that there will be some inspirational ones coming up to fill the gaps. It appears that design led, niche retailers are trading successfully. They know their customers and their products and so do not need to discount in order to make sales.
Companies such as Cath Kidston are proving that you can thrive on the High St even during this recession. Whilst Thorntons are struggling Hotel Chocolate are expanding and their chocolates sell up to £160 a box.
As a wholesaler we have learnt that to be successful we need to stick to our knitting. We have discontinued and reduced to clear all products which do not fit in to our niche.
Perhaps we may end up with a High St full of thriving, niche, design led retailers instead of the bland multiples we have had lately. That would be the silver lining we need.
Have you seen how they make toys in a Chinese factory?
15 Dec 2011
As a toy wholesaler we try to give you a lot of information about where our toys are made and who makes them so that you can see that they have been made ethically.
We have had a comprehensive overview of our Pebble crochet toys and the organic toys from Peru on the website for a time but having just come back from a trip to China we realised that we have no information about the toys we buy from China.
There are thousands and thousands of well managed and ethical factories in China but unfortunately the only time Chinese factories hit the news is when there is a child labour or quality scandal.
Like anything you get what you pay for and if you are only looking to pay only the very cheapest price for your products the chances of there being an issue increases.
Industry in China has come a long way just in the last 10 years. For instance the majority of workers used to live in factories and only go home at Chinese New Year but now less than half of workers at our factory live in and the rest live locally. Workers salaries have also risen steadily to the point where China is not always the cheapest place to source goods from if you are only after bottom end product.
So this is a quick overview of the chinese soft toy company we work with and how a toy from China is manufatured
When you first ask for a toy to be sampled the factory will go to a material shop such as this to buy cloth to make up the first sample. Every material you could think of is in the stores, an amazing variety.
Once the sample has been made up and approved the actual production starts. you'll be pleased to know that this is quite a social activity
Once the skins of the toys of the toys have been sewn together the toys are stuffed. Its a bit like Build a Bear but on an industrial scale
Once stuffed the toys are weighed to ensure that the right amount of stuffing has been used
Then the details are hand sewn or glued on to the toys
the biggest safety issue within sewing factories is that a needle piece may break off the machine and inbed itself in to the toy. for this reason the toys are checked via a machine with a large magnet in it for any needles which may have broken off and there is also a needle book where all needles are counted out at the beginning of the day and then counted back in at the end. Broken needles are cellotaped in to the book to ensure all pieces have been found.
One final clean and then off they go!
So what is it that we look for when we go to see a factory? It used to be that we would be looking at how many toilets were provided and how many beds there were to a room but things have changed significantly since those days. There are so many factories that workers vote with their feet if there is an issue. This is true in the areas near cities, which is where our factories are based, but probably more of an issue in more remote areas where employment is not so readily available.
Now we check that there is somewhere to eat lunch (and that food is not allowed on to the factory floor!)
We also check how clean the floor is, we check their needle book and how many quality check points they have. But the main thing is that we can have a good working relationship with the management team
If you have any comments we'd love to hear them on our Facebook page
Saving the High Street, One Independent Shop at a Time
13 Dec 2011
The publication of Mary Portas report on how to save the high street seems like a good time to round up on how I did trying to buy all my Xmas gifts from Independent Shops
In a word - Great!
I have now finished my Xmas shopping, I enjoyed doing my Xmas shopping, I spent what I normally do and with just one exception I had the most fantastic customer service. I also think the gifts I will give this year are the best ever.
The walk of shame goes to the RSPB who coupled a complete failure to deliver my order with rubbish customer service.
I have to admit to cheating a little as we have just come back from a business trip to China where I bought some gifts (from independent shops tho!)
I resorted to the multiples just to buy PJs and CDs which I could not find at a price I was prepared to buy in Independents.
Do I have any learnings from this exercise?
The most important thing is that theres no point in whinging about the collapse of the High Street. We all have responsibility to ensure that our high streets are not swamped by multiple chains.
The perceived wisdom is that we will all spend £560 on Xmas this year. If I managed to spend over 80% of my budget in Independent shops then what would be the effect if everyone did something similar? Even if we all spent just 50% of our budget in independent shops the High Street would be thriving.
Although I spent a lot of money via the internet it was with shops who had a high street presence as well as an internet shop. The exception to this was Amazon purchases where I most sellers, I think, were internet only
However its not just consumers who have responsibility, its also the shops themselves. In the current climate there is no excuse not to have a website. Social media and optimising websites for shopping from mobile phones/Ipads are also becoming increasinly important. You can prosper but it just takes a lot more effort.
I like the comment from Lord Harris of Peckham, Chairman of Carpetright, who said that with unprecedented problems in the world's economy he was concentrating on just the opportunities under his direct control right.
As small businesses we can't step in to save the Euro but we can make sure that we are doing everything possible to gain all the business we can.
What do you think? Please comment on our Facebook page
New for Jan 2012 wonderful fair trade hats
28 Nov 2011
Just as the weather turns colder we are happy to give you a sneak preview of the wonderful range of fair trade, cotton hats which will be with us in Jan 2012
We will be showing the full range at Top Drawer Spring and Formex but just to warm you up heres some images from the range
There are more hats to come and we will post images as soon as we can
What do you think? Please let us know on our facebook page
Why crochet vegetable rattles?
24 Nov 2011
Samantha, who runs the workers co-operative in Bangladesh is an expert knitted herself which is why the Pebble toys are so beautifully designed
Heres her account of how she came up with the vegetable rattles
We've been making knitted vegetables since Hathay Bunano began in 2004. The knitted carrot rattle was one of the very first toys that we made. At the time, a wonderful woman, Jo Hanley, was posted in Dhaka as an expatriate with her husband and she made most of the patterns for the early vegetables. My children had a set of plastic vegetables in a basket when they were little and they loved them. They carried them around the house and would periodically stop and take them all out of the basket before putting them all back in and toddling off again. So when I started Hathay Bunano I felt sure that a set of vegetables which were knitted would appeal even more to small children because the knit is just so much more tactile and cosy than a plastic toy. Jo was amazing. She never questioned the obscurity of the things I wanted to make but would go off with the yarn and come back a couple of days later with a completed pattern ready to teach it to our samplers.
In those early days the first vegetables we made were smaller than the ones that followed. I thought that it would be nice to combine our knitting with the basket industry in Bangladesh. Bangladesh makes great baskets and yet sadly the export market from here has never really taken off and I thought it would be nice to showcase the baskets alongside our products. So the earliest vegetables we made were small and came in a basket. You can see one of those very early pictures below in the picture gallery.
Later that year, responding to customer ideas and suggestions we started to make the vegetables larger and add a rattle into them so that each vegetable was a toy in its own right. The range continues to develop and for January 2012 we are adding a broccoli and a beetroot to the range. For 7 years the knitted vegetables of Hathay Bunano have been a bestseller. They are a lovely way for children to learn about vegetables and colours and a perfect addition to their 'five a day'."
We will have stock of the new Broccoli and Beetroot rattles in January 2012
What do multiple retailers have which is unique?
23 Nov 2011
One month in to my Xmas shopping and I have just bought my first gift from a multiple retailer.
It was a camera for my 10 yr old reduced to just over £30 which is great because then she will be allowed to take it on school trips which is a major priority for her.
It was a Xmas promotion so the original price of £75 was obviously price establishment but it came with 36 free pictures so I'm happy with the purchase.
Since I was in the shop I thought I would have a look at the Xmas gift ranges. There were hundreds of choices and they were all on 3 for 2 offer.
What was interesting is that because everything was presented in gift packaging (a bag, tin or box), and everything was on a 3/2 offer, I stopped thinking about the value of product I was buying
For £18 I could buy a bag with travel size shampoo, shower gel, moisturiser, hand cream, body polish and moisturising mist (what are they!) and a sponge. When I was a retail buyer I would have called this a Mugs Eyeful - The actual value of the products if I bought them seperately in July I would guess at £10 but the product looked great and last Xmas, before my "Shop from Independents" campaign I would have bought 1 each for my nieces and been very happy.
Why would I need to look at the actual value of the products I was buying if they were so nicely presented and they were on offer?
So is the thing that the Mulitples have that Independents don't a comprehensive, all inclusive, all pervading Xmas promotional strategy?
When I was a retail buyer (click here for our very long history in retail!) we started planning Xmas in January and by March/April at least 75% of our working week was concentrating on Xmas
This has made me think about whether we should be putting together Xmas ranges we offer to Independents. We offer year round value for money, quality products and have therefore not previously considered offering Specific gift ranges.
Is this something you would like us to do for Xmas 2012? Do other independent wholesalers offer gift ranges at Xmas? Do you feel that gift ranges are something you can put together better in your shop?
Please let us know as, as we say in this wholesaler "Anything They Can Do We Can Do Better!"
Please let us know your thoughts and ideas on our Facebook page
Does an Independent retailer need a website or social media?
17 Nov 2011
I'm back to my favourite subject of my Xmas shopping
So far I have managed to buy 100% of my gifts from Independent rulers including some gorgeous organic skin care from Amarya Beauty http://www.amarya.co.uk
This is a new retailer to me but I cannot recommend their service and ranges enough. Not only did I get my parcel within 24 hours of ordering, but they also included some free samples for me. Not something which would happen if you ordered from Boots!
However what I have noticed is that 90% of my purchases have been purely on the internet or via Twitter.
This is interesting because I live in the centre of Oxford so it is not difficult for me to get in to a vibrant high st, and in fact I have had to go in to the city a couple of times over the last week to sort my Chinese visa out (see we're all going on a Yak hunt for more info)
It is predicted that online sales are expected to grow this year to account for almost 25% of all UK Christmas spending this year, in stark contrast to offline sales which are forecast to fall by 2.1%.
The Centre for Retail Research have forecast that UK shoppers will spend £13.43bn online in total this Xmas which is 16.3% more than last year. Sales on the high st are expected to fall by 2.1% to £55.7bn
33.7% of online spending will be on gifts,
24.5% on Christmas travel,
20.6% on decorations and
6.7% on food and drink.
Interestingly 12% of this total spend (£1.64bn) is expected to be through a mobile phone. This morning a representative from a mobile phone chain said that 97% of the phones they sell are now smart phones this can only increase.
I have not yet bought anything via a mobile device but I have researched potential websites and products, especially when they have been mentioned on Twitter. Its amazing how difficult some websites are to browse on a phone. If you want to see how it should and shouldn't be done have a look at Gap and Zara via your smart phone.
The internet is a great leveller. It is very fast moving which gives the nimble Independent a great advantage. Goodness how much time and money it will take for Marks and Spencer to get their website suitable for viewing on a mobile device, but that will only be dwarfed by the sheer quantity of meetings they will need to make the decision in the first place.
I heard Laura Tennison from JoJo Maman Bebe talking about the opportunity presented to retailers by mobile devices. She was not overly enthusiastic about mobile phones for internet shopping but saw Ipads and their competitors as a huge opportunity.
Social media feeds straight in to this trend as friends and contacts recommend shops and restaurants via social media websites.
One important point to make is that selling on Amazon or Ebay just doesn't seem to work as well as an internet site when browsing via mobile devices. These websites are too cluttered and there is too much competition for your attention.
As a toy wholesaler we are one step away from the mass adoption which will benefit retailers over the next year, but the domination of smart phones has already made us look at creating a version of our website which would be suitable for viewing from mobile devices.
So my inexpert opinion, based not on any particular research except my own Xmas shopping, is that to thrive during 2012 an Independent should look carefully at their website and take the opportunity to get a step ahead of the multiples while they are too scared to invest. That costs money but what doesn't is adoption of Social Media. Twitter and Facebook take time but no money so there is an option open for all budgets!
What do you think? Please comment on our facebook page
BBC interview with Gaynor Humphrey
10 Nov 2011
As a knitted and crochet toy wholesaler we are in an endless quest to promote the benefits of buying hand made toys, and Pebble toys in particular.
We were therefore very pleased to be invited on to BBC radio to talk about Pebble toys and our quest for Yak wool toys.
Heres the interview. I hope it gives you some idea of who we are and what we stand for. Please feel free to comment on our Facebook page
Xmas shopping from Independents - Spread the word
10 Nov 2011
My Xmas shopping has come to an abrupt halt. A combination of work, media appearances, a speed awareness course and a hideous virus which attacked and disabled my laptop has led to a distinct lack of shopping.
I have gone from smug satisfaction to a more nervous state of affairs, especially as my in laws are all coming up on 10th Dec which rather brings the deadline forwards.
However I have not been completely inactive. Whilst I have not myself bought anything I have been going out of my way to influence others towards shopping at Independent shops. This has been more successful than I could have dreamt.
If you read any marketing guide they will always advice you to predict the customer's problem and provide a solution rather than trying to sell a product.
The majority of people I know work and have children and their problem is that they want to find original gifts at a reasonable price in the time they have available.
Well, we know thats an easy problem to solve. Buy your gifts from Independent retailers!
As far as I know 17 Xmas gifts have been bought from Independents as a direct result of my nagging. Now I spend too much time wholesaling soft toys to be very sociable so just think how many gifts could be bought from Independents if we all started nagging friends and relatives?
Like a ripple effect we could influence a lot of people and once they have experienced the customer service and choice given by an Independent shop they are not going to go back.
I am still looking for a skincare range for teenage girls and any suggestions at all for teenage boys? Please comment on our Facebook page
Xmas Shopping - Is there anything you can't get from Independent shops
03 Nov 2011
This is a personal blog rather than one from a wholesaler of soft toys, so if you are looking fot information on EN71 and CE or any other wholesale questions you will need to scroll down the list of blogs!
Last week I offically started my Xmas shopping. This may not sound momentous but up until this year I normally started thinking about it once we hit December and then finally getting myself organised 10 days before The Big Day.
As regular followers of this blog you may realise that this is because I have decided to buy all my Xmas gifts from Independents this year. As a soft toy wholesaler you have supported us all year and I would now like to return the favour.
So far I have bought some gorgeous quirky jewellery from The Tate, a skirt for my sister from Seasalt and best of all a hand made knitted purse/bag for my Mum from Ginger Fig (@gingerfig, www.gingerfig.co.uk) What my Mum can't make herself she already owns so I am particularly happy about finding something for her.
All of these gifts were ordered on Thursday/Friday and turned up on Saturday. All of them were better than expected, and all of them were at a price I don't think could have been beaten by a multiple so I am pretty thrilled with the start I have made.
Whats next? I am seriously considering a knitted door stop from Orchard Home and Gifts (www.theorchardhomeandgifts.co.uk ) My teenager says she can make one but I can't see that happening in time for Xmas, and there are some gorgeous bracelets in Make fashion www.makefashion.co.uk which I think are going to be coming our way.
This has led me to think is there anything I can't buy from Independent shops?
My nieces and nephews are brand obsessed so I wondered whether I would struggle to get them anything. Last year the girls all got Clinique skincare and branded make up but this year I am looking for organic equivalents. Anyone ideas of skincare/make up Independent shops? Please email me your shop names as I seriously want to buy from you.
And suggestions for brand obsessed, sports mad boys anyone? Given I have started looking in November I feel that I have enough time to find a suitable gift rather than a time constrained compromise.
An unconsidered benefit from shopping from Independents in this year is I am definitely feeling that I am closer to how the spirit of Xmas should be. Previously I would have gone in to a multiple, put as many things in to a basket as I could to make the queue worth while and just counted off the presents I had got. Whether the gift was exactly what the receipient wanted came 2nd to having achieved a gift at all! Now I am looking more carefully at what people want to see where I can buy it. My family's requirements have crept infront of my own convenience.
So shopping from Independents is also good for your soul. is there no end to the benefits?!
Which means that so far I have come up with just two things where I think price will drive me in to the multiples - My kids always get Xmas PJs and some CDs. Please prove me wrong and let me know any Independents I can buy these from.
Please comment and post suggestions on our facebook page
We are going on a Yak hunt!
03 Nov 2011
At Best Years we are always looking for new and original products to add to our ranges
We have been wholesaling soft toys now for over 10 years and understand that to be successful a toy must be original, well designed and affordable. We don't do cheap but we do offer toys which are very good value for money
We probably talk to dozens of potential new suppliers every month. Many are Chinese factories where the product is well made but un-original and the rest are fair trade organisations where the product is either great but too expensive or not very well designed. The process is time consuming and for the most part, unrewarding
So we are really excited to tell you about our current project. At the beginning of December we are flying to China to see a workers co-operative who make toys from Yak hair.
Yak hair is warmer and much much softer than wool. Most people are surprised to discover just how soft yak wool is. and many people mistake it for cashmere. It feels every bit as gorgeous as cashmere but is harder wearing (Yaks are definitely not sissys!)This is because its not the over coat of hairs which are used but the soft, downy under coat which is combed out in the spring which is used to knit toys and clothing.
The overall effect is a soft and luxurious feel at a very affordable price.
We are going over to see more about the workers co-operative and have a look at some finished designs and hopefully we will launch the new range in Jan 2012
As soon as we have images of designs (and or Yaks!) we will post them on our facebook page
Amazon's 2010 trading terms
29 Oct 2011
About a year ago we received an email from Amazon giving us our new trading terms and conditions. It was a blanket email to all suppliers (with the exception of the big guys I expect) and increased the % rebate Amazon was taking from us by several percent
We refused and opted not to deal with Amazon. Theres something about not even getting a personal request when decreasing your profit that sticks in the throat a bit. Some of our customers had already started to sell our knitted toys through Amazon and so as a wholesaler we had inadvertedly ended up competing with our own customers. We didn't like this very much so it was a reasonably straight forward decision
I don't think Amazon trembled at our departure and in fact we can't seem to get off their systems which is why this year I received their standard demand for another increase in margin. I have copied it below and when you read it remember this is on top of normal margin. Enjoy!
We will make the following changes to your commercial terms effective from 15th July 2010:
Marketing allowance remains at the 2009 level of 3.5% payable quarterly based on net receipts for the full trading year. This is in addition to promotional funding and bespoke rate card marketing activity.
Base volume rebate - a 3.5% retrospective rebate on the total value of net receipts for the full calendar year will apply for achieving an annual turnover at least equal to the turnover of the previous calendar year. This rebate increases to 4.5% for achieving a 2010 turnover greater than £15,000. Any such rebate will be payable quarterly in arrears on the basis of the percentage of rebate corresponding to the annual turnover forecasted by Amazon. If the annual turnover achieved at the end of the annual period differs from the forecasted annual turnover and that, as a result of this, a lower or higher percentage of rebate should have been applied, Amazon will charge or credit the vendor for the difference accordingly. Net receipts are gross receipts less the amounts for products returned to the vendor.
Returns agreement – 2.5% rebate payable quarterly in arrears based on net receipts for each quarter of the full trading year. Any recalled products or faulty batches will be excluded from the rebate and dealt with on an individual basis.
The marketing allowance, base volume rebate and returns rebate will be payable within 30 days from the end of each quarter and AEU may set off each amount against invoices.
Payment terms – We reserve the right to pay up to 90 days from the end of the month that the invoice is received but if we pay within 30 days from the end of the month that the invoice is received an early settlement discount of 2.5% will be deducted.
These commercial terms will apply until new terms are notified or agreed.
27 Oct 2011
I have quite publically stated that I have resolved this year to do all my Xmas shopping with Independent retailers. As a toy wholesaler we sell mostly to Independent retailers (although we also work with the nicer multiples such as John Lewis and Cath Kidston) and I think that if you are good enough to buy my fairtrade knitted and crochet toys then I want to return the favour
I did originally think that I would set myself a target, ie minimum 50% of Xmas gifts from Independent retailers but decided that if I went for 100% then I might slip to 90% whilst if I set a target, even if it was 80%, it was still accepting that I might buy some from multiples.
So why would I buy from Multiple retailers?
The main reason is going to be price. However are they really cheaper? Or do they just offer a product manufactured to hit a certain retail price point? If I wanted to buy a certain branded product, ie an Ipod, then price would be everything. But if I want to buy a T shirt then surely I can find a T Shirt which is more attractive/stylish but not owned by 100,000 other people in an Independent shop.
As a soft toy wholesaler when we design our toys we don't start at a price we start with a concept and a colour. Some of our toys are above £10 trade but when you see how well Humpty Dumpty, our most expensive toy sells, you know that its the design that sells our toys
Which brings me to the next reason why I might buy from Multiples
Its just so easy to go in to a Multiple retailer and fill a basket of goods which are good enough for my legions of nieces and nephews. But as a retailer its easier for you to buy from a larger wholesaler with a larger range of not so nice soft toys where you can combine many product categories in to one order
So this year to make sure that I don't take easy path I am starting early, and not leaving everything to December
Today, 27th October, I bought my first Xmas presents
The reason it happened today was quite easy. I received 2 emails, one from Seasalt and the other from Tate Gallery. Even tho I have dozens of things to do they grabbed my attention. Tate Gallery gave me a voucher with 15% off until 1st Nov and Seasalt had items in a flash sale, again until 1st Nov.
That meant I had to look quickly, and so I was diverted in to browsing their websites. I bought from Tate some quirky jewellery priced from £4.50 to £17.00 and a bag at £15, and from Seasalt I bought 2 skirts, one of which was in the sale and one of which was at full price
So I have a question and a suggestion.
Question - Does the Tate count as an Independent? The items I bought were from UK designers who make the items themselves so I think that counts. Do you agree?
Suggestion - Please send me your emails. I have a large family to buy for but no babies so if you are just aimed at under 5 yrs old then its unlikely I will buy from you. I do have a lot of teenagers to buy from so if thats your market I would love to get your emails. email@example.com
If you don't currently do a sales email this Xmas might be a good time to start. It costs very little and given that industry estimates think that under 10% of consumers will not buy online this Xmas, now is a good time to start.
Just as a personal point I was motivated to open the emails and visit the website because of a money off headline. The Tate gave me 15% off everything which I think lost them money as I would have bought some of the items even at full price. Having said that they took the first £40 of my xmas shopping which won't now be spent with someone else. Seasalt had specific items in their flash sale one of which I really wanted, and once I had one thing in my basket it seemed silly not to buy something else to justify the carriage charge.
So thats me started. I'll let you know how it goes from here
I would love to hear your comments so please visit our Facebook page
Why this Toy Wholesaler is not a fan of Clinton Cards
27 Oct 2011
Clinton Cards have announced a further step in to the red with reported a pre-tax loss of £10.7 million. To compare in 2010 they made a £12 million profit.
Clintons Cards turnover £206m from just over 700 stores and since they employ over 8000 people I certainly would not want them to go bust.
However as a fairtrade wholesaler Clintons Cards represent everything about why we supply the Independent sector
Many, many years ago we were approached by Clintons who wished to stock one of our ranges.
Their terms were 100% sale or return, direct delivery to store, no carriage charge, 90 day payment terms and a substantial price discount. Needless to say the conversation was civil but very brief
Clintons could not understand why if they were waving a very substantial order at us (and it was eye wateringly large for us!) why we did not want to work with them.
The answer is that if you have a well designed, fairly made and well priced range you can sell it to shops who want to work with you as a partnership. We do not make huge profits and if we were to accept Clintons cards we would have needed to double our trade prices just to break even.
If you are able to accept these sort of terms your margin is much bigger than this toy wholesaler makes. Where does your margin come from?
As a customer the only thing Clinton's offers is price. Their shops have no ambience and the majority of their ranges seems to me have been selected because the supplier agreed to their terms rather than gorgeous designs.
Obviously you cannot sell ranges unless you make a profit on them but sometimes the search for high margin ranges overtakes the need to source desirable products
Clintons have a new Chief Exec and as a wholesaler we wish him the very best of luck. If he can keep his eye off high margins and on why customers buy cards and small gifts I am sure that their future could be bright
What would you do if you were Argos?
19 Oct 2011
Today Argos announced that their profits over the last 6 months have slumped from £54.4 to just £3m. Sales were down 9.1% but the squeeze on profit margins meant that their profits had collapsed by an amazing 94%. Even to a toy wholesaler thats quite an extra-ordinary set of figures, and to put it in to some sort of context it means that each Argos store makes less than £10,000 profit per annum.
As a small independent retailer (or a small independent wholesaler!)you may be thinking that £10,000 profit after paying all your costs doesn't sound so bad but remember that the average Argos shop is 15,000 sq metres. So £1.50 per metre per year. Nice!
But what happens now? What would you do if you woke up to an overnight drop in sales of 20% or more? Argos appears to be pinning its hope on a joint venture in China
There are a couple of times in recent history when businesses have experienced dramatic drops in sales overnight. The Dot Com boom/bust, the tragic events of 9/11 and Mad Cow disease to name but a few.
The first thing people seem to think about is how to reduce costs and certainly the City is pressurising Argos to close some stores. However if you are a retailer whose business model rests on discounted prices presumably your cost base has been scrutinised already over the last couple of years.
Which leaves growing sales or radically changing your business model. Is it possible that this recession has changed shopping habits so that discounting is no longer a viable method of retailing?
By this I do not mean retailers such as Pound shops and Aldi. Although their message to consumers is one of price their business is set up very differently to retailers such as Woolworths and Argos. They have a very slick operation behind their stores and their product ranges are not static or based on brands. Aldi will buy as much of possible of the best jam at the best price and sell it until they have none left when they will look in the market for the best jam at the best price. This is totally different to buying Robinsons jam and selling it more cheaply than anyone else.
As a knitted and crochet toy wholesaler it seems to us that after 4 years of recession shopping habits seem to have changed significantly. You can pretty much buy everything you need on line and compare prices of brands before you make the purchasing decision which makes discounting on the high street a difficult proposition
People still enjoy shopping and you can see that in the results of companies such as The White Company and JoJo Maman Bebe who are enjoying sales and profit increases because they provide the right product at the right (not necessarily the cheapest) price. But people want a good product, a good service and a good ambience. They don't have enough money not to chose carefully so there is more consideration over purchases.
This is great news for Independent retailers and the wholesalers who serve them but not such good news for Argos.
When the recession first hit in 2008 and the pound slumped agoinst the dollar Best Years had to go back to the drawing board and assess what our customers wanted from us, and why they bought from us rather than another wholesaler. It took over a year but in the end we got back to well designed, unique and ethical ranges and sales are booming.
Personally I don't think that a joint venture in China is going to pull Argos out of the mire. They should go back to why they originally set up in the unique way they are and think whether this is still applicable. If so get back to your knitting. If not you have permission to panic!
This is just a personal opinion. Please visit our Facebook page to comment
New toy safety regs July 2011
14 Oct 2011
Toy safety legislation changes 20th July
Best Years are a soft toy wholesaler specialising in knitted, crochet and fair-trade and organic toys. We are not a testing house nor do we profess to having any particular specialist knowledge on toy safety. However we do care passionately about toy safety and believe that we all have a responsibility to ensure that toys are safe and practical.
This responsibility starts with toy designers, manufacturers and importers but it also extends to parents not buying a toy from an unknown retailer at an unfeasibly low retail price and retailers having a basic knowledge of relevant toy safety legislation
Given that the biggest overhaul of toy safety legislation happens on 20th July we have been attending detailed seminars about what we need to do to ensure that we conform to both the spirit and the letter of the new regulations.
However we have been more than a little surprised about how little approachable information there is available for retailers and parents. There are huge documents detailing how EN71 is being changed but these are not designed for quick digestion! If we are all to share responsibility for toy safety then retailers and consumers should have access to informed and easily accessible information
We have therefore attempted to summarise what we feel the impact of the new regulations will be. Just to confirm again we are not a testing house, nor are we large enough to employ a toy technologist and we are certainly not the representative of a trade association. We are a toy wholesaler who cares! We have a narrow band of knowledge which covers soft toys only and what this article is attempting to do is show if you have any gaps in your knowledge.
If after reading this article you realise that you need a detailed update please contact your trade association or if you have any detailed questions about the regulations we heartedly recommend that you approach your local trading standards. They are the tops for pragmatic and clear advice and they definitely have more information than we do!
The new toy safety directives aim to ensure that safety is designed in to the product rather than being something which is tested for only after a toy has been manufactured
For this reason every toy will have a technical file which details all the components used in the manufacture of the toy and the tests which these components have had.
The technical file will include the bill of materials, safety assessment, test certificates and a declaration of conformity.
It is the responsibility of the toy manufacturer to compile this technical file. If you name and address is on the sew in label you are the manufacturer. Every toy coming in to Europe must have a European address on the sew in label
It is the responsibility of the importer to ensure that this information is up to date, complete and correct. Importers distribute toys which are either made in the EU or have an EU address on them
It is the responsibility of the retailer or distributor to ensure that all toys they sell have the CE mark on them and that the toys are kept in such a way as not to potentially damage them
Some changes to the regs which will probably be of particular interest to retailers are as follows
• Toys meant for under 3s must be washable not just surface wash only.
• If you have an internet shop then any warnings on the toy must be detailed in full under the description of the toy
• If a company shows a product at trade show without a CE mark, there must be a sign up indicating that it doesn’t comply now but will comply when its physically sold.
• The product must comply with regulations for the products lifetime and not just for the day its sold therefore when doing safety assessment, you must take into account use and abuse of product.
• Requirements are also extended to include products which, whilst not promoted as toys, are attractive to children and have play value. Obvious examples include child appealing key-rings, Christmas novelties and decorative attachments to children’s garments
Bästa år är ett mjukdjur grossist, specialist på stickat, virkat och rättvisemärkta och ekologiska leksaker. Vi är inte ett test hus eller gör vi anspråk på att ha någon särskild specialistkunskap om leksakers säkerhet. Men vi bryr passionerat om leksakers säkerhet och tror att vi alla har ett ansvar att se till att leksakerna är säkra och praktiska.
Detta ansvar börjar med leksaks formgivare, tillverkare och importörer men också omfattar föräldrar inte köpa en leksak från en okänd återförsäljare på ett unfeasibly lågt pris och återförsäljare som har en grundläggande kunskap om relevanta leksakers säkerhet lagstiftning
Med tanke på att den största översynen av leksakers säkerhet lagstiftning som händer den 20 juli har vi deltar detaljerade seminarier om vad vi behöver göra för att säkerställa att vi uppfyller både andan och bokstaven i de nya reglerna.
Men vi har varit mer än lite förvånad över hur lite lättillgänglig information som finns tillgänglig för återförsäljare och föräldrar. Det finns enorma dokument som visar hur EN71 är bytt men dessa är inte konstruerade för snabb matsmältning! Om vi ??alla att dela på ansvaret för leksakernas säkerhet då återförsäljare och konsumenter bör ha tillgång till information och lättillgänglig information
Vi har därför försökt att sammanfatta vad vi känner effekterna av de nya reglerna kommer att bli. Bara för att bekräfta igen vi är inte ett test hus, inte heller är vi stora nog att anställa en leksak teknikern och vi är definitivt inte en företrädare för en branschorganisation. Vi är en leksak grossist som bryr sig! Vi har ett smalt band av kunskap som täcker mjuka leksaker bara och vad artikeln försöker göra är att visa om du har några luckor i din kunskap.
Om det efter att ha läst den här artikeln du inser att du behöver en detaljerad uppdatering kontakta din branschorganisation eller om du har några detaljerade frågor om de regler vi helhjärtat rekommendera att du närmar dig din lokala handel standarder. De är toppen av pragmatiska och tydliga råd och de definitivt har mer information än vi gör!
Den nya leksakers säkerhet direktiven syftar till att se till att säkerheten är utformad för att produkten snarare än något som är testade för först efter en leksak är tillverkad
Av denna anledning varje leksak kommer att ha en kravspecifikation som specificerar alla komponenter som används vid tillverkningen av leksaken och de tester som dessa komponenter har haft.
Den tekniska dokumentation som kommer att omfatta stycklistor, säkerhetsbedömning, certifikat test och en försäkran om överensstämmelse.
Det är ansvar leksakstillverkaren att sammanställa denna kravspecifikation. Om du namn och adress på sy i etikett som du är tillverkare. Varje leksak som kommer in till Europa måste ha en europeisk adress på sy i etiketten
Det åligger importören att se till att informationen är aktuell, fullständig och korrekt. Importörer distribuerar leksaker som antingen görs i EU eller har en EU-adress på dem
Det är ansvar återförsäljare eller distributör för att säkerställa att alla leksaker de säljer har CE-märket på dem och att leksakerna hålls på ett sådant sätt som inte potentiellt skada dem
Vissa förändringar av regs som troligen kommer att vara av särskilt intresse till återförsäljare är följande
• Leksaker avsedda för under 3s måste tvätta inte bara ytan tvätta bara.
• Om du har en internet butik sedan eventuella varningar om leksaken ska vara detaljerad i sin helhet under beskrivningen av leksaken
• Om ett företag visar en produkt på mässa utan ett CE-märke, måste det finnas en skylt upp som anger att den inte följer nu men kommer att följa när dess fysiskt säljs.
• Produkten måste följa reglerna för produkterna livstid och inte bara för den dagen det säljs alltså när man gör säkerhetsbedömning, måste du ta hänsyn till bruk och missbruk av produkten.
• Krav är också utvidgas till att omfatta produkter som visserligen inte främjas som leksaker, är attraktiva för barn och har lekvärde. Uppenbara exempel är barn tilltalande nyckelringar, jul nyheter och dekorativa bilagor till barnplagg
A few words about selling knitted and crochet toys on ebay
21 Aug 2011
ebay has been a part of our lives for many years now but in a recent ebay survey of 450 small British online retailers 49% said that suppliers would not allow them to sell their goods on ebay, or tried to impose retail prices on them.
We have mixed opinions about this. As a toy wholesaler we would be daft to ignore one of the fastest growing sectors of the retail market, and we do have customers who sell purely through ebay and/or Amazon. Both ebay and Amazon offer an efficient and low cost way of starting a shop and testing your concept. However they have also gained a reputation of having a lot of discounters
The way we see it is this. All retailers have charges to pay before they can start making any money. If you have a high street store you have to pay rent, rates, electricity and staff before you can even start to make a profit. If you have an internet shop you have to pay for websites, credit card facilities, SEO, google ads and advertising to get your shop noticed. In order to have repeat customers they both must offer a wide and ever changing range of products
If you sell on ebay you have to pay Pay Pal and ebay charges, but there are 2 major differences and they are both centered around the fact that a certain % of people selling on ebay are doing it as a hobby or side line and not the main source of income
Mark Lewis, MD of ebay says that he is trying to "break the grip" large manufacturers have over internet sales.
We are not a large manufacturer, we are a soft toy manufacturer and wholesaler trying to give our retail customers a good product at a fair price. The only time we will fall out with people selling on ebay os if they discount our wholesale knitted and crochet toys.
So why are we so adament about discounting? Put plainly if you discount our fair trade crochet toys you are undermining the way the fair trade economic model works
That may sound overly dramatic but heres how it goes. Our good retailers buy our toys because they can sell a reasonable volume of toys at a reasonable profit. If the toys are then widely discounted either the volume drops as their retail price is uncompetitive or they can't make a profit at the reduced price. So retailers stop buying from us, we stop buying from the workers co-operative and Samantha cannot offer work to as many people.
For many people in Bangladesh the Pebble toys offer a way out of poverty. We are not going to let discounters threaten this
So a message to good retailers, if you see someone on ebay or anywhere on the internet discounting Pebble toys please email firstname.lastname@example.org and we will take steps to stop them. We will certainly not supply them again
Discounters. Don't buy fair trade toys. Its unethical
Whats the catch for a fair trade toy wholesaler?
17 Aug 2011
I am hoping that a financial wizz amonst our customers may be able to answer a question we have.
For the 3rd time we have been approached by a company saying they are from Dubai.
They order some stock (about £2,000) and arrange payment. The invoice is to be paid via a cheque. Before the cheque arrives we get an anxious email from the customer saying that a mistake has been made and the cheque has been made out for £20,000 rather than £2000.
When the cheque reaches our bank it transpires that its actually made out for £200,000
We have a good relationship with our bank so have stopped the cheque from actually going in to our account, but when we have reported this to our customer there has been deafening silence and we have never hear from them again. We have no idea what the so called customer is gaining from this whole charade and would love to hear your ideas.
Is it money laundering? What else could it be?
If you have any idea please email email@example.com as we'd love to know!
Trading Standards guidance on Toy Safety
08 Aug 2011
Trading Standards have now released their guidance on the new Toy Safety regs which came in to force July 2011 and i have detailed them below
"Trading Standards are advising all manufacturers and importers that they must have technical information for their toys including the following:
A product specification (design drawings or R&D specifications)
Description of the manufacturing process
Bill of materials
Safety data sheets for wet chemicals
EC Declaration of Conformity
Suppliers and Factory address
Test reports; Declarations of conformance
EC Type approval paperwork
Artwork or final packaging sample
We have huge admiration for Trading Standards, and we work closely with them. We have an annual meeting with them to review any changes to our manufacturing base, and the priorities/latest scares in toy safety. However although this is a good list, its not exactly a comprehensive review of the new toy safety regs!
Our wonderful Liz may has probably been to more courses and seminars on toy safety over the last 12-24 months than the majority of people employed by Trading Standards. Liz has worked in the toy trade for many years including stints at Hamleys, Mothercare and Disney
Her summary of how the changes to the Toy Safety Regs will affect retailers can be read here http://www.bestyears.co.uk/blog/new-toy-safety-regs-july-2011
What makes a Toy Craze, and do Toy Wholesalers want one?
03 Aug 2011
The clever people at Design Method Lab have cleverly put together the 9 components of a toy craze.
They liken it to an outbreak and detail 9 steps that comprise the essentials behind a toy being adopted as a craze. I like the analagy but don't always agree with their analysis. What do you think?
The thing which I think that Method Design Lab have right is the comparision to an outbreak. It doesn't matter about planning or marketing spend, toy crazes appear out of nowhere and spead virally. As a toy wholesaler I would love to think that by ensuring that our toys include all of the 9 points above we could could create a craze but I don't think it works like that.
I also think that particualrly as a fairtrade toy wholesaler the management of the supply would be a nightmare. We cannot just turn on production like a multi national company or factory. Pebble toys, the organic Peruvian toys and cotton toys from Sri Lanka are all hand made. The people who make them have to be trained to make them as its a skilled job. So perhaps we are happier just building on success with design and quality - more like the Elves and the Shoemaker than RocketMan!
We would welcome your feedback so please post your comments on our Facebook page
Pebble toys are gorgeous but Dhaka is not always as nice
28 Jul 2011
I don't think that anyone can ever prepare you for the first time you visit Bangladesh. When we were arranging our trip last year we confidently told Samantha that we would make our own way to the hotel, and she was polite enough not to laugh.
We have sourced wholesale soft toys for almost 20 years and we were confident that we could sort ourselves out
The culture shock starts when you get out of the airport and it swiftly became clear that if Samantha had not come to get us we may have just turned round and gone back home.
The city is quite simply overwhelming.
The driving is worse than atrocious, the sheer quantity of people and cars is mind numbing and the subsequent noise adds to the sense of confusion.
Liz and I loved the place! This was very much down to the hospitality of Samantha and her husband Morshed but also, having spent a life time visiting factories in the Far East, the vibrancy of the people in Dhaka was fantastic.
Life in Dhaka is as tough as it gets and one of the many problems is Cholera. We forget that this disease use to kill thousands in Europe and USA but now we take clean water forgranted it lurks just where life is toughest
This film shows the fantastic work being done by the Cholera hospital but also gives you glimpses of the life people lead in Dhaka.
Pebble toys have a centre in Dhaka where the sampling is done and where some of the toys are produced. From its roof you can see across the city and in to some of the "streets" which are more alley ways. You can totally understand how Cholera spreads in this environment but hopefully the work shown here may help to stop it
Wholesale Pebble toys catalogue
11 Jul 2011
Have a look at the new Pebble catalogue coming out for Autumn/Winter this year and make yourself feel happy!
Stock will be with Best Years end of July
Best Years range of wholesale Pebble toys, new catalogue here
wholesale knitted and crochet toys and drop shipping
06 Jul 2011
We have often been asked whether we will drop ship for online retailers but this was not something we were able to do so we were very pleased when our partner DCR Retail stepped in to help offer this service
Drop shipping, for any who do not know, is where the retailer sells an item and then sends the order through to be fulfilled by the wholesaler.
The benefit to the retailer is that they do not have the risk or the cost of stock, and the benefit to the wholesaler is that their products are more visible to consumers as they are offered for sale by more retailers. However it is a very labour intensive way of selling goods. Products have to be hand picked and dispatched and then invoices raised for amounts typically below £10.
In order to be successful at drop shipping a wholesaler has to have dedicated resource and this is where the Catch 22 clause kicks in. The retailers who want a drop shipping service are usually small, or new, or both and looking for a way to build up a business whilst maximising cash flow. Their orders for their wholesalers are small and irregular
Drop shipping is lower margin for retailers than buying the product out right but suits start up businesses. More established retailers with larger turnovers do not normally want to give away the margin associated with drop shipping. But for the wholesaler this can mean dozens of small retailers with small turnovers which does not sit well with a business model based on shifting large quantities.
There are many wholesalers who specialise in drop shipping and who have been set up specifically to drop ship. Unfortunately Best Years are not one of them.
DCR Retail however were geared up to service drop shipping requirements.
So for the past year or so Best Years have been working with DCR Retail to offer our range of wholesale knitted and crochet toys on a drop ship basis.
Unfortunately we have now decided to close our drop shipping business. The reason for this is very simple. Out of the hundreds of retailers who have asked for drop shipping facilities we have received just 6 orders so far in 2011 and these came from just 4 accounts.
We apologise for any inconvenience this may cause any of our customers but there needs to be a certain level of business to make drop shipping a viable operation to run and taking less than £50 in 6 months doesn't get close!
However we maintain our policy of having no minimum order quantity and we are always happy to work with small and tiny retailers so please email us firstname.lastname@example.org if you need any more information on any of our toys
Paypal, cheques and credit cards
01 Jul 2011
As a fairtrade soft toy wholesaler I think I can truthfully say that the end of cheques couldn't come soon enough. Only this month we have had 2 cheques bounced on us so we will not be sorry when they are finally laid to rest. Research shows that 87% of businesses still use cheques on a monthly basis either because they like the control it gives them over their cash flow or because they always have used cheques so why change?
Interestingly 53% of business don't like to be paid by cheque due to worries about them bouncing!
However although cheques are here for the next couple of years their declining popularity does raise the issue of how we can take payments.
As much as cheques are inconvenient (and sometimes fraudulent) they are at least free. We are charged 3.25% on all credit card transactions which is a major irritant. However unlike some companies we will not be passing this cost back to our retailers by charging you a transaction fee. Given that retailers are charged when their customers pay by credit card we do not think it fair for you to then have to pay our credit card changes as well as your own!
We are very happy to be paid by BACS transfer and debit cards both of which are quick and convenient and low cost.
But with cheques on their way out we are considering offering Paypal as a payment method. Paypal are stating that "by adding PayPal to your web store you could sit back and enjoy seeing your conversion rate increase by 30%* and incremental sales by 14%"
That would be nice! Just think a 10 minute conversation and our sales of wholesale fairtrade toys would increase by 14%.
As a knitted and crochet toy wholesaler we are a little dubious as to how many retailers actually want to pay by Paypal but we are happy to work with small and tiny businesses and we feel that it is these people who may want the convenience of using their Paypal accounts when working with us.
Paypal charge 3.4% plus 20p per transaction as against credit cards which charge 3.25% so we would have to see an increase in sales to justify taking it but we will be trialing Paypal from end of August for a couple of months to see how popular it is
What do you think? Is Paypal something you would like to see offered?
Join the debate on our Facebook page
Retailers can thrive while other High st stores collapse
01 Jul 2011
Not since Woolworths collapsed has there been so much negative news about retailing
In the last couple of months Oddbins, Focus DIY, Homeform, Habitat, Jane Norman and TJ Hughes have all collapsed in to administration. In addition Mothercare and Thorntons have announced they are shutting significant numbers of stores and Clintons is looking at a management buy out
Analyists are lining up to signal the end of the High St quoting the internet and the british consumers' lack of money for reasons to be gloomy
But amidst all this bad news John Lewis have just announced a 20% increase in sales and Debenhams' sales have also increased.
Best Years are a knitted and crochet wholesaler and although we are a lot smaller than John Lewis (a lot, lot, smaller!) our sales are also over 30% up year on year
So it is possible to thrive whilst other companies struggle but how?
We wholesale well designed, affordable knitted and crochet toys. Our wholesale Pebble toys are different from the mass produced toys from the big toy wholesalers. We sell to independent retailers who are different from the mass produced retailers which crowd every high st
Consumers are struggling with disposable income. I would not like to be selling large ticket items however good my ranges were. They are also suspicious about large companies. Its large financial institutions who got us in to this mess and the suspicion about exactly what large companies get up to rubs off.
But however tight things are people still need and want gifts. They are just being a bit more picky about the ones they buy. Why buy a run of the mill, mass produced toy when for the same price you can buy a unique, hand made one? Why visit a bland multiple store when you can visit an inspirational independent instead?
We are very optimistic about sales over the next 6 months. The current economic climate obviously affects us but we completely believe that if we continue to offer well made and designed toys, especially if we can source them from fairtrade sources, then our sales will continue to rise. Sales of our wholesale Pebble toys for the Xmas period are already up year on year and thats before we get to the Autumn trade shows.
We hope to see you at Autumn Fair or Top Drawer so that we can show you our extended ranges of toys and hopefully together we will have a good Xmas. One things for sure, theres going to be less competition on the high st this Xmas!
Would you like us to accept Paypal?
29 Jun 2011
We are continually looking at ways to improve our service and currently we are looking at payment methods. Cheques will soon be a thing of the past (phew! Can't tell you how many we have that bounce!) so we are reviewing other ways of accepting payment.
As a wholesaler we feel that Paypal is still a method used by consumers rather than businesses but we deal with a lot of new and small business people so wondered if it would help you if we did accept Paypal?
Please take our poll and if you want it we will install it!
Planning the Pebble toy range. First steps
17 Jun 2011
Heres a blog from Samantha about how the first samples for new Pebble toys are made. When we visited Bangladesh we watched the samplers making up the toys from the original design. They really are very clever and seem to have a real rapport within the team.
A crucial part of the handmade process at Pebble is making samples. This is the most skilled level that any artisan can achieve. It involves making a toy from nothing more than a picture or a line drawing with measurements scribbled on it. It involves understanding how 2d transforms into 3d, how a picture can transform into a character and how to then write instructions so that other people will be able to make it too.
If you knit yourself then you will understand the enormity of what I've just described. The small team of 'Samplers', as we fondly refer to them, at Hathay Bunano were taught by me and we have worked very closely together for many years and indeed continue to work closely together to transform ideas into toys that children love.
Taslima is a member of the Sample Team and has worked for Hathay Bunano for the past 5 years. She came to us straight from school. Her family moved to Dhaka in 2000 looking for work and a brighter future. Taslima was selected by a charity school in Dhaka which ran a programme where parents were paid the garments industry minimum wage in order not to send their young girls into the garments industry. So Taslima's parents were paid about 600tk per month to send her to school rather than to a factory. The school clearly wanted to try to secure safe and fairly paid work for the young women when they were due to leave and so I remember the day, almost 5 years ago, that 20 young women came into my office in Baridhara to work for 2 days on the understanding that at the end of those 2 days I would choose 5 of them for full-time salaried positions.
Taslima was very quiet, very very quiet, extremely diligent, with a strong desire to achieve perfection and an appetite to learn. It was clear that she would excel making samples. We have worked closely together ever since and every day I marvel at the wonderful new samples these very talented young women make.
In choosing to blog about our Sample Team, I asked Taslima a few questions about her work. She told me that she loves to make new products and that it's interesting to have work that always involves making something new and different. She is happy to have learnt English and feels that Hathay Bunano is like a family. SHe is enjoying her career and has no plans to marry but wants to continue to progress in her career. Taslima made the samples for the new Once upon a time - ballerina and nutcracker and you can see her working on them in the pictures.
At the end she said that there is a friendship between the CEO (that's me) and all the Sample Team and they like that very much. Well, the feeling's mutual.
Our survey said!
14 Jun 2011
Thanks to all of you who took part in our recent survey.
As promised I am posting up the results of the survey which was really interesting. We sent the survey out to thousands of our customers and hundreds of you took the time to answer for which we thank you.
Our first question was quite simply, how are you?
52.8% of you said that things were going well and a further 10.4% said things were going very well.
Those who said not bad but business is tough accounted for 29.5% and only 1.5% were desperately waving a flag for someone to help them
Given we are in an economic situation where even Argos and Tescos are struggling I would say that Best Years customers are doing very well compared to the rest of the market. We've always said you must have good sense to chose to work with us and that shows in your sales!
We then asked whether your internet sales had gone up in the last year
21% about the same
Not had internet for full 12 months 21%
So internet sales are still growing and many more of you are going on line.
We have been on Twitter for a couple of years and joined Facebook this year as well so we were interested in seeing how many of our customers also used and/or liked social media
87% who answered had a facebook account
53% had twitter
26% had a linkedin account
12% had blogs
What was really interesting however was we asked whether social media had been useful
35% have gained customers
30% had got valuable feedback via their social media presence
But 20% of you either hadn’t thought about social media or actively didn’t want to have a social media presence. Hopefully these figures may make you think twice about this.
Finally in this section we asked about who did your SEO
10% don’t know what it is,
10% had an external company to do it
10% of you are very knowledgeable and do your own
40% do it themselves but don’t have huge knowledge
25% don’t do anything
The lovely Claire Jarrett from Web Marketing has helpfully written this short blog to give you some hints and tips about SEO. She is the only person Best Years have worked with on internet marketing where we have renewed our contract so if you are looking for outside help we would recommend her
We showed you the potential new products for autumn and got some fabulous feedback
Crochet monsters – very popular with just about everyone. These will be in stock end of July
Gingerbreadman – When a valued and long term customer asks whats a new product is suppoed to do you know you need to do some more work! Our gingerbread man has gone back to the drawing board
Nutcracker and Ballerina– This was popular but you thought it was too expensive so the size and price have been reduced so they can now retail for around £20. In stock from end of July
Pixie doudous – we have added eyes as many retailers didn’t like the lack of faces. in stock end of July
Stripy t rex – very popular. should be in August
We got some fascinating results from where you find new products
Majority of you found new products through the internet and by using existing suppliers. We were very surprised that 22% don’t go to trade shows ever. Wow!
Many people are more open to emails and literature than we thought but agents are universally disliked.
Trade magazines were not read as they are freely available on internet and you could cherry pick up to date articles on things you were interested rather than wading through a published magazine. We have never really advertised in trade magazines but I think that this survey will ensure we don't succomb to the urge to advertise in print ever again!
Finally we had lots of friendly suggestions about how we can improve which we will hopefully be able to implement. Some people thought we had a moq which we don’t but most people like our blogs and newsletters which is great news
Thanks again for replying to our survey. The winner of the prize draw will be contacted this week and we will definitely be asking some more questions nearer Xmas
What is SEO and how can I use it for my website?
14 Jun 2011
What is SEO and how can I use it for my website?
If you have a website and want to be able to make sales from it, people need to be able to find it for the keyword terms people might search for when looking to buy your products or services. Examples of keywords that potential clients might use are “pebble toys” or “stuffed toys seller” - these keyword terms might be used by potential clients and if they cannot find you when they search, then you have no chance of making the sale!
Search Engine Optimisation (SEO) is the skill of editing a website so that it appears at the top of a search engine, such as Google, for various keywords.
The basic items involved in SEO in order to get your website to the top for certain keywords includes the following:
• Perform keyword research to identify useful keywords that will bring you business. Use a keyword tool such as the Google AdWords keyword tool, this tool is basic but adequate for these purposes
• Make sure your website includes the relevant words within the text on the actual webpage. This is very important but very widely overlooked! Google needs to be able to see the text on the page so it knows that is what the page is about.
• Optimise the metatags for each page of the website. The metatags are looked at by Google for clues as to the page content and should include the keywords you wish to appear for
• After the first two items have been correctly carried out, the next important part is to build links back to the website ideally using anchor text. Anchor text looks like this Pebble Toys – quite simply it means the relevant keywords are used while pointing to your website. The types of links that should be used might be articles written by you and posted on websites such as www.ezinearticles.com, where you can demonstrate your expertise by talking about your topic area but also in the signature area of the article, you can include some anchor text and start to build links back to your website
• Another method of building links is to exchange blogs with other website owners, and in return at the bottom of the blog include some anchor text with a link to your website
• You should be building links continually – SEO is never “finished” as your competitors would soon overtake you!
• Track your results in a keyword tracking tool to see how your rankings are affected
Claire Jarrett runs Marketing By Web and specialises in SEO for Small Businesses, with prices from just £90+VAT per month
you can email her on email@example.com
Tesco's and Hamley's top 10 toys for Xmas
08 Jun 2011
To my huge irritation the papers are full of Tesco's predictions for the top 10 toys for Xmas.
Firstly who cares? Why should it be news what Tesco's thinks about toys. They are not exactly world experts in the toy market are they?
Secondly this is just the final part of Tesco's toy buying plan for Xmas. I have never worked for Tesco's ( but i have worked in buying for many high street multiples) so this is all speculation but I guess this is how it all happened
In Jan the Tesco toy buyers go to the New York toy fair and meet with the major toy manufacturers such as Mattel. They talk through the toys they want to list with Mattel pushing some toys and Tescos favouring others. After a brief discussion about toys and play value the conversation will rapidly move on to money. How much advertising will Mattel be doing at Xmas, how much money will Mattel give as marketing support to Tesco and what margin will they offer.
Once Tesco have the deal they think will make them the most money they will place orders worth £millions.
That is all good business sense and theres no problem with that.
The bit which gets my goat is when the PR department then starts shouting about the toys which Tesco's have the most money invested in, and journalists from serious papers report the story as if Tesco are making serious predictions about which will be the most popular toys at Xmas.
Tesco's top ten toys represent the toys which large multinational companies have invested most money in and therefore need their profile raising asap if they are to make the maximum profit.
I am too grumpy to have read the predictions but I bet they are all from big brands.
So a small request from a small toy wholesaler. Next time a large organisation releases a prediction of top 10 anything for Xmas can it be correctly labeled under "Want to know which product this large retailer has invested most money in?" Thank you!
Hamleys have now declared their top ten toys for Xmas. They don't appear to have any similarities with the Tesco top ten but what is amusing that they have 4 different lists
Top 10 toys
Top 10 traditional toys
Top 10 film inspired toys
Top 10 finest toys
Tesco's top 10 is
2. Kidizoom Twist Camera
3. Barbie Doggie Water Park
4. Transformers 3 Optimus Prime?
5. Baby Annabell?
6. Bob The Builder Construction Tower?
7. Lego City Police Station?
8. Bopit XT
9. Nerf N Strike Night Finder
10. Monopoly Banking
Hamleys top 10s are
The top ten list in full is as follows:
Cars 2 Fully Loaded McMissile (Mattel)
Transformers 3 Mech Tech Leader Asst (Hasbro)
Furreal Cookie (Hasbro)
Kidizoom Twist (VTech)
Rock on Elmo (Hasbro)
Ninjago Fire Temple (Lego)
Nerf Vortex Nitron (Hasbro)
Moshi Monsters Talking Plush (Vivid)
Barbie Fashionistas (Mattel)
The top film and TV inspired toys are as follows:
Dr Who Build Your Own Screwdriver (Character)
Light-up Rapunzel doll (Mattel)
Cars 2 1:24 R/C Lightning McQueen (Character)
Queen Anne's Revenge (Lego)
Transformers Ultimate Optimus Prime (Hasbro)
Cars Big Bentley Bust Out (Lego)
Justin Bieber Singing Doll (Vivid)
Dance Star Mickey (Mattel)
Monster High Laguna Hydration Station (Mattel)
Hamley's pick of the 'finest' toys are below:
Dr Who Ride-in Dalek (Kids@play)
Bugatti Type 57 SC atlantic Coupe 1938 (John Ayrey)
Concorde Collectors Pack (Bravo Delta)
Disney Princess Ultimate Dream Castle (Mattel)
Smokey the Fire Engine (Mattel)
Sylvanian Families Highfields Farm (Flair)
Fijit Friends (Mattel)
Technic Supercar (Lego)
Air Swimmers (Wow Stuff)
My Keepon (Wow Stuff)
3ch Gyro Spy Cam Helicopter (Silverlit)
Finally, the top traditional toys are as follows:
Rosie Ragdoll (Hamleys)
Pudding - Christmas Bear (Hamleys)
Magnetic Fish Pond (Cheatwell)
Blow Football (Cheatwell)
Tiddledey Winks (Cheatwell)
Monopoly Nostalgia Edition (Hasbro/Esdevium)
Risk Nostalgia Edition (Hasbro/Esdevium)
Cluedo Nostalgia Edition (Hasbro/Esdevium)
Timberkits Dragon (Timberkits)
Star Wars Millennium Falcom (Lego)
Wooden Train (Hamleys)
Grenadier Guardsman (Hamleys)
Chester Rocking Horse (Hamleys)
Next to get in on the act is The Sun. Its still 5 months to go until Xmas but thats not stopping anyone from releasing their lists, but a big hand to Hasbro's PR dept for this list!
Transformers -with a foot-high Optimus Prime figure. (Hasbro)
Transformers 300 pc building kit. (Hasbro)
Spider-Man All Mission Racer car, (pretty sure this is Hasbro too)
spinning toy Beyblade Extreme Top System Tornado (Hasbro)
rubber bullet gun Vortex Nitron Blaster. (don't know about this one but i think I can guess!)
A singing and instrument-playing Elmo. (Hasbro)
Play-Doh's Magic Swirl Ice Cream Shop. (Hasbro)
Interactive pet dog Cookie Pie, which responds to human touch and voice commands. (Hasbro)
New updated Monopoly. (Hasbro)
Hurrah! I was getting worried that we had not had a manufacturers' top ten list yet, and here it is! Hasbro's top ten toys for Xmas are as follows
Furreal Cookie My Playful Pup
Littlest Pet Shop Tree House
Let’s Rock Elmo
Play-Doh Magic Swirl Ice Cream Shoppe
Monopoly Electronic Banking
Kre-o Transformers Bumblebee set
Transformers Ultimate Optimus Prime
Star Wars Ultimate Force Tech Lightsaber Assortment
Beyblade: Extreme Top System Tornado Battlers
Spider-Man All Mission Racer
Nerf Vortex Nitron Blaster
25th July and Amazon have now got in on the act. thankfully they are just nominating 5 toys
It bears no relationship at all to either Tesco's. Hamley's, The Sun's or Hasbro's
I have lost the will to list the toys but you can read it here http://www.toynews-online.biz/news/34177/Amazon-tips-five-toys-for-Christmas-success
So how do we work out who is right? What does Harry Hill say.....fight......!
Small and tiny retailers very welcome here.
24 May 2011
We had a lovely comment from a new customer yesterday when she told us that we had been more helpful and approachable than any of the other potential suppliers she had contacted. Some had ignored her requests and others had been patronising in their responses
We have never quite understood this snobbery about supplying small retailers.
We understand that if you are geared up to supply large multi national retailers you can't supply small businesses. Your products go out on pallets and you are not geared up to pick and dispatch smaller parcels. We can't drop ship for exactly the same reason which is why we have a partner to do it for us. For more information on our drop shipping programme please click here
What we don't get is why wholesalers in the same market as Best Years put barriers to trade up. When we go to a trade show we are always amazed at how many companies have prohibitive minimum order quantities. We pay £000s to be at a trade show and we do not want to let any potential customer go!
When we ask our fellow exhibitors why they insist on minimum order quantities they give various reasons along the lines of unprofitable to pick and ship and needing shops to stock enough lines to give them brand presence.
Well our reason for not having a minimum order quantity is quite simple. Our knitted and crochet toys sell so well that having placed a small order retailers come back and order more. Sometimes its another small order, and sometimes its a bit bigger, but which ever is fine with us. We don't have a minimum order quantity because we are confident enough in our ranges to allow retailers to test them in their stores knowing they will come back to us once they have sold out.
So even if you only have £50 to trial soft toys in your shop Best Years are happy to work with you. We have a wide range of wholesale crochet and knitted toys and your business is important to us. Marks and Spencers started as one small shop and look at them now!
Should baby toys be gender stereotyped?
23 May 2011
There has been much debate in the media at the moment about the proliferation of pink in girls toys. Pressure groups have been set up to try to force the industry to consider their (over) use of pink for girls toys.
As a wholesaler of fairtrade knitted and crochet toys Best Years have seen various fashions come and go, but pink has always been the main colour for girls' toys.
In the same way that it was once said that you couldn't get sacked for buying IBM it was always a safe bet to put a girls toy in to pink irrespective of the age of child it was designed for.
This is slightly bewildering when you take in to account the age at which babies develop their senses.
In the first couple of months a baby has a keen sense of touch but sight has not yet developed properly. A textured toy in contrasting colours would be a good toy for this age. The Pebble crochet ball rattles would be great for this early age.
During the babies' 4th month they will start to be able to distinguish shades of colours so red and orange will start to be 2 colours rather than just one. They will also start putting anything and everything they can in to their mouths so toys should be large enough not to be swallowed. They should also have noises associated with them for play value. Cotton toys are perfect for this age as they are machine washable. Always an asset when a toy has been thoroughly chewed on!
By 6 months a babies sense of sight has developed to the point to where they may be able to recognise pink as before this age it would have been too subtle a colour to distinguish from other reddish shades. So finally children begin to recognise the colours which have been allocated to them since birth. But it is thought that it is not until they are 2 years old that the kids themselves start to have a preference for either pink or blue.
But if babies do not recognise pink are there any differences between the way children play with toys? Research has shown that boys do indeed prefer cars and balls and girls prefer dolls. This has been re-inforced by watching the play of monkeys where the male and female monkeys chose to play with gender typical toys. However while children prefer these toys it is not to the exclusion of all others. Most children like to role play and this does not have to be gender stereo typed. Whilst their minds are still so receptive it seems a shame to coral them only in to certain play
Best Years wholesale only those toys which we believe to be well designed and gorgeous. We do not believe that it is our right to dictate to retailers which toys they should be selling to their customers, but we do want to offer a wide range of toys which are suitable for both boys and girls And while we have some wonderful pink toys we also have a wide range of toys which are suitable for everybody.
Join the debate on our facebook page
Wholesale cotton toys from Sri Lanka
11 May 2011
We have some wonderful new toys just in time to show you at Pulse
The toys are made by an organization called Pilseli. Based on the south coast of Sri Lanka, Pilseli was set up to help local families and, more recently, survivors of the tsunami of December 2004. Today it employs more than 10 rural families directly and about 20 more indirectly. Many of the final products are hand-sewn by women working in their homes many of whom lost husbands in the tsunami. Pilseli provides sewing machines so that they can work from home thereby making family life easier and guaranteeing good working conditions.
The toys are made using hand-woven cotton fabric that is specially made to order for these toys – which makes them rather unique and special. The toys are stuffed with natural kapok and local raw materials are used wherever possible.
Have a look at the full range here
Pebble toys make a difference
09 May 2011
Just over a year after Best Years formally launched the Pebble toys in to the UK at Top Drawer Spring the knitted and crochet toys are going from strength to strength.
Best Years wholesale the full range of knitted and crochet toys. They sell due to their fabulous designs and colours which, when combined with tactile and machine washable cotton, make them the ideal toys for young children. Given how competitively the toys are priced then we were not surprised at their almost instant success
However its good to know that the Pebble toys not only make UK children happy but also provide huge opportunities for rural women in Bangladesh. As we look back over a very hectic year we thought it an opportune moment to see the impact that Pebble is making in Bangladesh.
Pebble started in January 2010. It was conceived as the brand of Hathay Bunano. Hathay Bunano started in 2004 but was, until late 2009 making products for other brands around the world. The aim behind Pebble was to bring the stories of Hathay Bunano to the customers who were buying the products.
Over the course of 2010, all HBPS artisans learnt the new Pebble products and moved over to making for Pebble. Currently HBPS employs about 5000 women in 52 rural production centres all over Bangladesh. Most women work part time and value the flexible and local working opportunity that HBPS provide. HBPS also have an urban production centre in a slum area of Dhaka and there the women tend to work more hours and many of them full time.
HBPS does not dictate working hours to the artisans. The philosophy behind the work is that it is flexible, fairly paid, good quality and local. Poor women in Bangladesh have many difficulties to navigate and it is important that they are able to work at times that suit them.
Pebble has grown a lot in just over a year. We are currently working to set up 2 new rural production centres in Comilla and 3 new rural production centres in Sirajganj. These centres will be about 20-30 minutes walk from existing centres and will provide opportunities for experienced HBPS artisans to work as trainers and to teach new batches of women how to knit and crochet and make the Pebble products.
All HBPS trainers are women who started as artisans. They are all women from the same socio-economic background as the women who will be taught and this, we believe, has been the key to successful and rapid training.
We aim to have 500 more women trained and employed as artisans by the end of 2011 in order to meet the continuing and rising demand for Pebble products.
The Spring/Summer Pebble toys are now all in stock on www.bestyears.co.uk and available to order and the Autumn/Winter range will be available on the Best Years stand at Pulse 5th-7th June. We are all looking forward to another 12 months as busy as the 1st year so come and join the Pebble family and enjoy the journey!
Pebble toys - a request to retailers
06 May 2011
Its no secret that Best Years want to build Pebble toys in to a world recognised brand. When you have a range of hand made, crochet toys as good as Pebble, and when you can see that they compete against every other toy brand in terms of design and price then world domination has got to be the best option.
However as a soft toy wholesaler we lack the £000s to instantly catapult Pebble toys in to the forefront of consumer consciousness. Its frustrating when a badly designed and tacky toy can sell in its thousands purely on the basis of the million pound marketing budget behind it when our gorgeous fair trade Pebble toys are just so much better!
We would therefore really appreciate your help in increasing the visibility of the Pebble brand.
If you have an internet shop please could you include the Pebble name when describing the gorgeous toy or rattle you have listed?
If you sell via Amazon please can you list the brand as Pebble and not Best Years?
Where ever possible we would like the Pebble name to be used in any product description whether digital or print
We are always happy to provide images and information on the workers co-operative we work with so if you need any information please email us on firstname.lastname@example.org
Can fast fashion be eco friendly?
06 May 2011
In the news this week, along with the doom and gloom of profit warnings from Thorntons and Focus DIY going in to administration, was an article about H+M and its ambitious plans to go green. As a toy wholesaler we are committed to increasing our fair trade and organic ranges so we were interested as what H+M were going to do
The MD, Magnus Olsson, was quoted as saying "with size comes responsibility" but quickly clarifyed that to add that when times are tough businesses need to find ways to differentiate themselves from the competition. They want to add value to their ranges via organic cotton.
They are therefore introducing a design lead, organic range called Conscious. We wholesale design led toys and have seen how popular they are with consumers so all this sounded great, but as ever theres a catch.
On a positive side it is only the big retailers who are able to produce the sort of volumes which mean that even sceptical producers will look at the feasibilty of moving to organic. It is also interesting that H+M are experimenting with different materials. The Conscious collection will include garments made from recycled cottonand wool as well as less traditional materials such as polyester made from PET bottles. Again, when the large companies start looking for innovative ways to use materials they open up doors which smaller companies caould not.
This is all good stuff but they lost me when they revealled that they will be selling this range at the same price as their other ranges. They say, and I quote "The price of a product is no indication of the working conditions of the people who produce it."
Thats absolutely true. Its no secret that some top designer brands, which sell at £000s, are made in sweatshops. However it is also true that if you pay your factory £1 for a garment then there is only so much they can pay their workers.
If H+M continue to sell their garments at rock bottom prices then not only do they ensure that there is very little profit for the factory owner to pay their workers but you also set unrealistic expectations in the consumers mind about how much something should cost.
I am quite happy to shop in H+M and other value high street retailers, but I would shop there more if I knew that the clothes I am buying have not been made immorally. If that means I have to pay 50p or £1 more then thats great.
As a fair trade wholesaler we know how much more organic cotton costs than normal cotton. If H+M sell their organic clothes at their normal retails I am worried that they will have to be produced even more cheaply than their normal ranges which is not good news for the people who make them.
Our fairtrade toys are design led, safe and gorgeous, and they sell at a competitive price. It can be done but you need to be innovative not just in the materials you use but in the way in which you produce things. It can be done but it is a lot harder than just asking a pre-existing factory to give you a price
If H+M really want to differentiate themselves from the other value retailers it would be a great if they could include production in the mix when they put on their thinking caps. They have the ability to make a big difference and it would be fab if we could see them use it
Pebble toys question
28 Apr 2011
Our fruit, vegetable, cake and donut rattles will be coming in on backing cards from this month
We think that they are idea for hanging these smaller products and increase their visibility. If you don't like them they are easy to remove and all the legal information is still on the label
What do you think?
From retail buyers to stuffed toy wholesaler
20 Apr 2011
This blog has been inspired by a comment I made on Twitter recently about what retail buyers for multiple stores actually do.
Best Years was set up and run by Gaynor Humphrey and Liz Cochrane. We were both retail buyers for over 20 years each and between us we have worked for Boots, Texas Homecare, Hamleys, Disney, Mothercare and Dixons. We had a variety of titles from Buyer to (my favourite) Director of Strategic Relationships but the basic job was chosing products, negotiating prices and getting them in to the shops
We have now been out of buying for almost 10 years but here is our quick synopsis of what retailer buyers are doing (when they are not avoiding calls from small businesses) and tips about how to contact them if you really want to.
Retail buyers are there to select products for retailers which sell in volume at a profit. They work with a team including the Supply Manager who works out how many of each product to buy and a Marketing Mgr who works out promotions and manages things like the store Xmas gift guide. The Buyer, Supply Manager and Marketing Manager will all then have an Assistant buyer and a buying assistant or their equivalent. They will report in to a Category Manager who is responsible for the profitability of the total range.
The day to day job of a retail buyer involves meeting with existing suppliers to see potential new products and negotiate prices, meetings with the team to plan the shape of future ranges (typically a large store will be planning ranges 10-18 months before the actual season), sorting out issues with current ranges such as what to do with slow sellers, how to get more stock of good sellers right down to system issues with barcodes. There is a lot of meetings, a lot of maths and spreadsheets and a lot of travelling. As far as jobs go its absolutely fab!
Gondola End - thats the metre at the end of each isle which is the highest visibility space in the store. They are sold to suppliers for £000s
Open to Buy - A buyer is budgeted to achieve certain sales at a set margin. This then throws out an amount of money which can be used to buy product. So if you need to achieve £5m in a 3 month period the open to buy would be about £2m.
DPP - not so popular these days but this stood for Direct Product Profitability. This meant that you measured all the costs associated with a product - transport to stores, merchandising in stores etc etc and worked out what the final bottom line profitability was for each line
EPP - entry price point. This is the cheapest product in the range and the one which produces the highest volume and invariably the lowest margin, and the one which is most heavily promoted. It is also the least profitable for the stores. John Lewis maintain their competitive position in electricals by simply not listing EPP products which drain resource and profit.
So given that a buyer's main role is to find profitable new lines why do they never accept calls from companies trying to sell them brilliant new products?
This is mainly to do with time and money. Buyers have to interact with a lot of people both in and out of the company. They spend a lot of time talking to people on the phone and in meetings so the chances of them being in the right frame of mind to talk to a cold caller are minimal.
However more than time is the issue of money. Buyers don't just make money by selecting the right product they also negotiate promotional support from their suppliers. When I was working at Boots in the Home Business Centre (which was the smallest and least profitable business centre of the company) back in the 1990s we sold promotional gondola ends for between £8k - £16k per week. This was the lowest charge in the company. What they charge now is anybody's guess! On top of this the supplier would then have to fund the promotional discount as well. When a new product is launched we used to charge £000s for the store launch.
A small company is unlikely to have the financial support to buy the promotional space or focus so its usually more profitable to go to a large, existing supplier for new products. The Marketing manager won't want a small company as a new supplier as they are unlikely to stump up £000s for a slot in the Xmas gift guide and other advertising opportunities, and the Supply Manager won't want a small company as they are most likely to make a mistake in the timing and method of deliveries.
So if you still want to talk to the buyer of a multiple retailer then how can you do it?
This may sound dum, but the first thing to do is find out their name. I can't tell you of the amount of letters we received saying Dear Buyer. The switchboard will routinely refuse to give out names, but you can find out. We have a list of all the Toy buyers for the multiples here
Once you have the name then set aside a year and over the course of the year write relevant and informed letters, postcards and emails. Send in brochures and samples. invite them to trade fairs. and after you have done all this, then ring them. Some will still refuse to speak to you, but most will then give you some time.
And some anecdotes
I was in a meeting about the launch of pre-pay mobiles when a very senior director stated that pre-pay mobile phones were a ludicrous idea and were destined to fail. He is now an MD of a large high st retailer
And if you see me at a trade show ask me about the complain letter I got which started "For many years I have suffered from severe pain in my anal passage, right testicle and my penis"
Green baby blankets and hats new from Pebble
14 Apr 2011
Our new green baby range from Pebble is now in stock and available to order.
In our Pebble green and eco baby range are both fairtrade and fairtrade organic blankets, hats and booties. They are all hand made in cool cotton so perfect for both the heat and the chills of summer
The Pebble blankets are available in tropical stripes and have gorgeous co-ordinating hats
We also have the pastel and rainbow stripes
Finally we have the wonderful Pebble patchwork and crochet blankets
And why can we call this particular Pebble range green baby?
All our baby blankets are hand made by a workers co-operative in Bangladesh which provides fairly paid employment for women in rural locations. They are all machine washable so will last for years. We don't subscribe to disposable fashion!
And whereas most of the Pebble range are toys we also have a wonderful range of baby blankets, hats and booties which we really want to shout about. So if your customers are looking for eco or green baby ranges Pebble have just the thing!
Green toys and eco toys climb on the back of Fairtrade sales
12 Apr 2011
News is that the recession has bitten a large chunk out of sales of Organic products with the value of organic products declining from £2.11bn in 2008 to £1.73bn in 2010
In direct comparison sales of Fairtrade products were up by 40% and broke the £1bn for the first time
As a fair trade wholesaler we are very interested in sales information of organic and fairtrade products especially as our fair trade toys are selling so well
We were therefore very interested to see that over 72% of sales of organic products were through the supermarkets and that sales in supermarkets had reduced by 7.7% as against just 5% overall. We thought that perhaps supermarkets themselves worried about the price of organic products and were consciously or unconsciously scaling down the impact and visibility of their organic products
That was until we saw that Sainsbury's account for 25% of all fairtrade sales in the UK and the Co-op is making a concerted effort to catch them up, which blew that theory apart!
The final piece of news which interested us this week is that while H+M announced a fall in profits of 11% in the last quarter of 2010 Stylecompare.co.uk have predicted sales of so called disposable fashion will fall and sales of eco fashion will continue to increase.
So what does this all mean to a fairtrade wholesaler of stuffed toys and their wonderful Independent customers? We are hoping that it means that the British consumer understands the value behind buying fairtrade and that they are finally moving away from buying cheap but poor quality in to more classic, value for money items. To get on my band wagon again it is simply not right that you can buy a dress so cheaply that you can wear it for one night only and then throw it away because the quality is so poor. Much better that you invest in quality items which have been made well and with care.
Certainly we have seen our sales increase in 2011 as retailers repeat purchase best selling items such as our knitted T Rex and crochet Octopus. We will definitely continue to develop new crochet and knitted toys at affordable prices, and we are always looking to partner with more fair trade producers.
It would be nice to think that the Xmas no1 toy will be a hand made, fair trade cotton crochet Humpty Dumpty rather than the farting, burping Dave the funky monkey who was so successful in 2010. That would almost (but not quite) have made the recession worth it!
What happened when a stuffed toy wholesaler gave up Google ads for lent
04 Apr 2011
Last year Best Years made the decision to give up Google ads for Lent
We did this because like many other businesses we had ended up spending a lot of money on Google ads without actually knowing whether it was a good investment.
When we take our crochet and knitted toys to a trade show it is easy to judge afterwards whether the £000s investment has been paid back but with Google ads its a bit more difficult. Yes you can see that traffic is arriving at your website, but is it profitable? Your ads are supposed to be specifically targeted but despite this we seemed to be getting a lot of traffic from the USA, a country where we cannot sell our toys
We are a fairtrade wholesaler and not an expert in google advertising so over the years we have hired a couple of agencies to manage our Google ads with very little effect. So finally we took a deep breath and cancelled the ads.
The most immediate effect was a devestating and almost instant halving of our website traffic. As a stuffed toy wholesaler we gain many customers via our website and we were very tempted to re-instate the google ads immediately. However we stuck it out and now a year later things are very different.
We have spent the year on a very steep learning curve. We have attended training courses by Business Link and the British Library in order to understand what customers and search engines require from a website. As we are not buying in traffic we have had to find a way to pull relevant traffic in to us through key words etc. We have also set Best Years up on Twitter and Facebook which has been fab as it allows 2 way digital communication. We are passionate about our Pebble crochet toys so we have also been involved with non digital activity to increase the visibility of Pebble.
And one year later we now have the same amount of traffic to our website as we had in Jan 2010 with the one major improvement that very little of it is from the USA
We spend a lot more time on our website, writing blogs on subjects that we, as wholesale kids market, find interesting but this has resulted in website visitors who are interested in what we do.
So the learning is that you can exist without Google ads but what you gain in money you lose in time! We are quite happy with this but if you are considering anything similar you should take it in to account
Our next step is to once again hire an expert. From Feb 2011 we have been working with Claire Jarrett to increase the visibility of our website. This is a lot cheaper than Google ads and you get to have a conversation about whether things are or are not working which is a definite bonus!
We will let you know how we get on but if you wish to contact Claire her email is email@example.com
Knitted, crochet and fairtrade toys and ideas on how to sell them
04 Apr 2011
Its not been the best start to the month
Oddbins and Allworths have both gone in to administration and stores as diverse as HMV, Mothercare and Dixons have warned that their profits will be lower than expected. Its hard to see the light in UK retail sometimes.
However amongst the gloom is the news that Laura Ashley have almost doubled their profits in the last year from £10m to £19m which got us thinking about ways it is possible to thrive in the current economic climate.
As a stuffed toy wholesaler the 2 things we are most dependent on for our sales are the quality of the knitted and crochet toys we sell and the success of our retailers - as George Osborne likes to say "we are in this together". Therefore the question as how to thrive as a retailer when things are tough is very much of interest to us which is why we are blogging about 2 different emails we received this week
Firstly we were emailed by a company called Buegle (www.buegle.com) who can set you up with a Facebook store for just £99. Given that Facebook is the most searched for term in the UK (and the world!) there is no doubt that selling through Facebook is going to increase. We reported before Xmas that Social Media was driving customers to stores and we already have customers who sell purely through Facebook. We have no idea if Buegle are any good as we are a fairtrade wholesaler not a retail expert but they may be worth a call. We looked in to Facebook stores a bit more and Payvment seem to be a company driving the Facebook store solution and their website is http://payvment.assistly.com/
The other thing which struck our interest was some news from Amazon. They are driving their Marketplace facility and have released the following figures about their customer base
Average age – 38.6
56% Male, 44% Female
59% in full time employment
Average income - £48,700
Spend 11.7 hours per week online
Marketplace already have 2 million sellers and their sales account for 30% of total unit sales
Working on the basis that if you can't beat them, join them, then the Marketplace offers you access to Amazon's 130m customers. Amazon is only pushing its Marketplace because its profitable to them so they will obviously take their pound of flesh, but on the other hand they may provide you with much needed volume. However please don't be tempted to discount our knitted and crochet toys on Amazon or we will stop supplying you! For an explanation please read this http://www.bestyears.co.uk/blog/why-you-don-t-discount-fairtrade-toys
As we always say, we are a stuffed toy wholesaler and not a retail consultancy but either of these could be a good opportunity. Maybe worth a try?
And if you want to know why we aren't doing them its because we only sell to independent retailers and not to consumers!
Smart content marketing
16 Mar 2011
Regular visitors to our blog will know that we are big fans of The British Library business and IP centre. They regularly run courses at less than £50 covering everything from business planning, marketing and researching product ideas
As a soft toy wholesaler we spend a lot of time running the day to day parts of our business and not enough planning for the future so its great to spend a little time outside of the business looking back in to it
The last course we attended was on how internet and social media could help your business grow. There were a couple of clear things I took away from this course.
It has long been accepted that people surf the net rather than slowly browse. This means that when they land on your website you literally have seconds to attract their attention before you move on. What is your call to action? Why are they going to stay on your website. You should clearly state what your website does, your contact details and if possible a compelling offer.
This applies not just to the home page but to all pages on your website where visitors are likely to land on
Content is king. People are looking for solutions to their problems and it is content which will provide this. Interesting relevant and up to date content will not only ensure that people stay on your website but also will gain their loyalty/friendship.
In addition search engines value content. Google values content and will rate your website accordingly
For instance we regularly post about toy safety legislation and other issues to do with soft toys not only because we care passionately about our toys but also we want our customers to know that we care! We don’t sell our fair-trade ranges just based on price so retailers need to know that we are an authority in our area
Keywords. There is no point in having content which is not relevant to what you are trying to sell. You need to identify the key words that people will use when searching for your particular product/service and use them within your content. It was recommended that for every 100 words you use 3-4 of them should be key words. Any more than this could make your article read weirdly. Also key words in titles are more effective than in normal text, but make sure it still reads well. If it doesn’t then you could come across as a spammer. I am totally failing to do this in this article so do you mind if I quickly put in crochet toy wholesaler to try and up the count of keywords?
Content is great on your website but it is also very valuable when used on 3rd party websites via blogs. For this reason you should be looking to submit your articles, thoughts and opinions on to other peoples sites via blogs and social media. Remember to link back to your own website, and to do this using key words not your company name.
Not only will spreading content around like this build your authority but it will also increase the links coming back in to your website. Google now rates links as a recommendation to your website and views them as one of the most important indicators of quality (and therefore ranking!)
The other key point was competitive analysis. To be honest the last time I did a SWOT analysis of competitors I was employed by a high street retailer! We always feel that no one else has such a wide range of fair-trade toys and that comparing yourself to other companies is a rather negative use of time.
However this may be fine in the “real” world but its different in the digital world. You need to be on the first page of the Google search so what your competitors do, what key words they use and how they represent themselves are key. So have a look at who you think is in competition with you and have a poke around at what links/key words they have using the following tools in Google
Site: web address of competitor – this will show how many pages of your competitor’s website are indexed. Then type
Site:keyword to show which key words they are using
Link:webadress to show how many links they have coming back in to them
Within the next year 50% of websites will be accessible by mobile phone. Will yours? This can be done by a 3rd party provider such as www.mobify.com
Facebook and Linked in adverts are growing rapidly. Could they be useful for your business? The key difference to Google ads is that google ads search by a keyphrase while social media ads can use demographic information as well.
New regs for company websites and social media
11 Mar 2011
From 1st March the Advertising Standards Authority will, for the first time, be responsible for non-paid for advertising such as company websites and Twitter and Facebook accounts.
This does not include press releases and editorial content but if you are making a claim for your product or service on your website or any social media accounts they must now comply with the ASA’s advertising code.
There is a grey area around blogs – so if you post a blog on your own website it will be viewed differently to if you post it on someone else’s website. Similarly the ASA will view a customer quote you put up on the front page of your website differently to one posted on an internet forum.
The rule of thumb remains the same. Are the claims you make Legal, Decent, Honest and Truthful
This has got to be good news for consumers and small businesses as it means that businesses cannot say on their website or social media feeds what you would not be able to print
For more advice then the best place to start is the advertising standards authority page on digital advice. Or more simply ask a relative or friend if they think what you are saying is true!
As a soft toy wholesaler we are quite comfortable in saying on our website and on our twitter and facebook accounts that we have the widest range of knitted and fairtrade crochet toys as we now have toys from Indonesia, Peru and Bangladesh and our ranges are still growing
Social Media info
03 Mar 2011
We have previously blogged at how impressed we have been by Twitter. We were so impressed that we went on a course to learn how else we could use social media, and how it could be used to most effectively. What we learnt was that social media is a huge topic and covers many different angles so the first thing you need to consider is what you want to achieve before you dive in as it can be very time consuming
We have outlined below a very brief summary of the course but please contact us if you are after any specific information as we now have reams of it!
So, do you want to increase your authority and increase the visibility and traffic to your website?
Google likes blogs as they are content rich so just having your a blog on your website will be good. However if you then post guest blogs on other peoples websites, and comment on other peoples blogs you will push your website out to an audience who might otherwise not know about you. It will also establish you as an authority in your field. But be warned this is may be free but its very labour intensive. Effective websites are www.wordpress.com , www.blogger.com and www.typepad.com
Do you want to network?
If you find traditional networking useful then websites such as Twitter and Facebook have the same purpose with no geographical or time constraints. Although these are the most well known there is also www.unltdworld.com which is for entrepreneurs, www.ecademy.com to share and gain knowledge and www.linkedin.com which is good for those looking for professional help or jobs to name just a few. Like all networking the more you put in the more you get out, and it shouldn’t be viewed as a way of cold calling. However it is a great way to meet and communicate with other people with whom you have a shared common interest
Another form of social media is Audio, mostly in the form of Podcasts on your website. Again Google likes audio content on your website and it is an accessible way to communicate with customers and other interested parties. It does not need to be expensive or sophisticated. Have a look at www.podbean.com or .com for more information and a how to guidewww.digitaltrends
Have you thought about video? This is a format which is dominated by You Tube. An amazing 13 hours of video is uploaded on to You Tube every minute and 83% of people have viewed a video on You Tube. It is definitely a form of social marketing which will become more established!
Do you use the internet to research and keep up to date of topics of interest? Bookmarking is a great way to store, tag and share links across the internet. You can also share links with friend and people with similar interests. If you have ever see the logos Delicious, Digg or Stumbleupon at the bottom of an article on the internet these are all bookmarking sites. They all have slightly different ways of working so try them and see which you prefer!
Best Years are a soft knitted toy wholesaler. We are not a marketing or communications agency but like many small businesses we relish change and love finding new ways to talk and listen to our customers. We feel that social media is not only a great new way to market yourself but also a real leveller. No one on Twitter asks or cares how big you are, they are more interested in what you have to say and contribute
One warning. Be very specific about what you are trying to achieve. If you don’t you could spend many a happy hour achieving nothing!
Contact details for major toy shops including Argos and Tescos
03 Mar 2011
Courtesy of Toy News magazine please find below all the contact details of the major, multiple toy shops in the UK
So if you want to get your toys listed by the multiples heres the place to start
As a knitted and crochet toy wholesaler we only work with Independent retailers because we like them (and we hope they like us too!) so here are our top tips before you pick up the phone
11 (2 x flagship, 3 x Hamleys Toy Box, 5 x Hamleys Travel Stores, 1 x Hamleys Outlet)
188 - 196 Regent Street, London, W1B 5BT
Contact number: 0871 704 1977
Meet the team:
Laura Olver – Head of buying
Claire Smith – Category manager
Natalie Rogerson – Category manager
Emma Toolan – Category manager
Lorna Bishop – Stock controller
UK stores: 700+
Argos Limited, 489-499 Avebury Boulevard, Central Milton Keynes, MK9 2NW
Contact number: 0845 1240044
Meet the team:
Andrea Abbis – Trading manager for toys, nursery and entertainment
Caroline Jones – Product manager, Chad Valley
Sarah Hobson – Buyer, boys toys, construction and DVDs
Alison Harrison – Buyer, girls toys, science and arts & crafts
Yannis Vaharoglou – Buyer, infant and pre-school
Lindsay Rogers – Buyer, outdoor toys
Catherine Ross – Buyer, games and DVDs
Nick Allen – Merchandise manager, toys
Toys R Us
UK stores: 80
Mitre House, 160 Aldersgate Street, London EC1A 4DD
Contact number: 01628 414141
Meet the team:
Chris Ashton – Pre-school and educational toys buyer
Anna Waite – Boys and vehicles buyer
Evelyn Chiu – Games and puzzles buyer
UK stores: 381
Asda House, Southbank
Great Wilson Street Leeds LS11 5AD
Contact number: 0113 2435435
Meet the team:
Steph Strike – Toys category director
Mark Spowart – Head of toys
Richard Wall – Events and pocket money toys buyer
Ben Coates – Boys toys buyer
Gareth Willougby – Games and pre-school buyer
Tracey Brunton – Category marketing manager
UK stores: 55
Boughton Business Park, Bell Lane, Little Chalfont, Bucks HP6 6GL
Contact number: 01494 737000
Meet the team:
Gary Grant – Managing director
Stuart Grant – Buying director
Nick Hargreaves – Director of retail operations
Duncan Grant – Director of multichannel
Ashley Major – Finance director
Sue Dorkin – Director of supply chain
UK stores: 155
Toy Buying Office: 91 Wimpole Street, London, W1G 0EF
Contact number: 020 7408 6336
Meet the team:
James Ford – Buyer, toys (pictured)
Zoe Warran – Trainee assistant buyer, toys (pictured)
Caroline Knowles – Trainee assistant buyer, toys
Paul Schlagman – Merchandising manager, gift division
Serpil Howard – Junior merchandiser, toys
UK stores: 2,545
New Tesco House, Delamare Road, Cheshunt, Hertfordshire, EN8 9SL
Contact number: 01992 632222
Meet the team:
John Stanhope – Senior buying manager toys
Phil Markham – Senior merchandise planner
Suzanne Bates – Senior commercial manager, trade planning & Direct
Claire Costello – Category manager, technical toys & stationery
Nick Cooke – Buying manager boys, games, vehicles & construction
James Kelsey – Buyer vehicles & construction
Ravi Patel – Assistant Buyer vehicles & construction
Jon Ferdenzi – Assistant buyer, boys & games
Josie Giannattasio – Merchandise planner, boys & games
Luke James – Merchandise planner, vehicles & construction
Jess Carter – Assistant merchandise planner, boys & games
Mark Gibson – Assistant merchandise planner, boys & games
Catherine Hawkins – Buying manager, girls & craft
Lucy Alcock – Assistant buyer, girls
Kelly Tofts – Merchandise planner, girls
Laura Flavin – Technical manager, girls
Jane Mahony – Buying manager, outdoor & Halloween
Hannah Sussams – Assistant buyer, outdoor & Halloween
Neil Robinson – Merchandise planning manager, outdoor & Halloween
Tauseef Parkar – Assistant merchandise planner, outdoor & Halloween
Jack Bristow - Technical manager, outdoor & Halloween
Mark Whittle – Buying manager, pre-school
Anita Serradimigini – Buyer, pre-school & seasonal plush
Carmen Legget – Assistant buyer, pre-school
Claire Benabo – Merchandise planning manager, pre-school
Katie Alvis – Assistant merchandise planner, pre-school
Claire Stokes – Assistant merchandise planner, pre-school
Nikki Gilman – Technical manager, pre-school & plush
Alix Pitts – Trade planning manager
Michelle Webster – Trade planning manager
Carly McKnight – Trade planning manager
James Lawrence – Trade planning manager
UK stores: 570
WHSmith High Street, Greenbridge Road,
Swindon, SN3 3LD
Contact number: 01793 616161
Meet the team:
Liz Cooper – Buyer
Amy Maidment – Assistant buyer
Richard Faulkner – Merchandiser
Shirley Beadle – Trading controller
UK stores: 4
400 Oxford St. London. W1A 1AB
Contact number: 0800 123400
Meet the team:
Lynne Crook – Buying manager, childrenswear & toys
Beth Clifton – Buyer, childrenswear & toys
Julie Hall – Assistant merchandiser, girlswear & toys
UK stores: 51
7 Enterprise Way, Aviation Park, Bournemouth Int’l Airport, Christchurch, Dorset, BH23 6HG
Contact number: 01202 596100
Meet the team:
Rob Farnworth – Operations director
Chris Crombie – Chief executive
Dominic Hooley – Buying director
Play.com, PO Box 192, Jersey, JE4 8RP
Contact number: 0845 800 1020
Meet the team:
Paul Sanders – Head of toys and gadgets
Joe McManus – Buyer
UK stores: 43
Commerce Way, Lancing Business Park, Lancing, West Sussex, BN15 8TA
Contact number: 01903 765 496
Meet the team:
Graham Poole – Buyer
Gill Thomas – Head of marketing
Jane Evans – Merchandiser
UK stores: 280
HMV, Film House, 142 Wardour Street, London W1F 8LN
Contact number: 020 7432 2000
Meet the team:
Maxine Lister – Merchandiser manager
Melanie Armstrong – Head of music & impulse
Al Hunter – Advertising planner (games & toys)
UK stores: 438
Hilmore House, Gain Lane, Bradford, West Yorkshire, BD3 7DL
Contact number: 0845 611 5000
Meet the team:
Laura Clements – Toy buyer
UK stores: 253
50 Clarendon Rd, Watford, Hertfordshire,
Contact number: 01923 473561
Meet the team:
Beth Carey – Toy buyer
UK stores: 272
Victoria House, Newport Pagnell Road West, Northampton, NN4 7JJ
Contact number: 01604 674477
Meet the team:
Paul Reader (Central office)
Ian Edmunds (Central office),
Andy Taylor (Toymaster at Ramsdens)
Ciaran Fitzpatrick (Banba Toymaster)
Gordon Walker (Conways Toymaster)
Steve Hogg (Hoggosaurus Toymaster).
Ian Edmunds (Central office)
Jo Skelton (Central office)
Chris Blatcher (The Ramsey Warehouse)
Ciaran Burns (C & H Burns)
Debbie Hartfield (Kids Stuff)
Elaine Stott (Conways Toymaster)
Sharon Eveson (Eveson Toys).
Toymaster is a buying group for independent toy retailers with a USP of “Helping Our Members Trade More Profitably”. Toymaster trades as a mutuality and is 100 per cent owned by its members.
Members of Toymaster can retain their independence while having access to all the benefits of being part of a larger group.
5 Ardwell Road
London SW2 4RT
Contact number: 0844 9221010
Meet the team:
Ben Fowler – Head of buying and merchandising
Paul Zimmerman – MD
Michael Acton Smith – Co-Founder
Tom Boardman – Co-Founder and technical director
Steve Law – Operations director
Alison Sakai – Financial controller
UK stores: 872
Address: Sainsbury's Support Centre, 33 Holborn, London, EC1N 2HT
Contact number: 02476 439 100
Meet the team:
Kate Briggs – Senior buyer
Sunny Walia – Buyer, pre-school, nursery, games and puzzles
Rebecca Rathbone – Buying assistant, pre-school, nursery/games and puzzles
Lauren Bennett – Buyer, boys and construction
Gemma Gaston – Buying assistant, boys and construction
Zaharaa Sheik – Buyer, girls and creative
Sarah Ritmeyer – Buying assistant, girls and creative
Dean Mumford – Senior merchandising planner
Louise Allison – Merchandising planner
Steven Goss – Technologist
UK stores: 33
John Lewis Partnership, Carlisle Place, London SW1P 1BX
Contact number: 020 7828 1000
Meet the team:
Elaine Whiteman – Toy & book buyer
Michelle McGuire & Rachael Stacey – Assistant buyers
Ellen Jarvis & Sarah Batty – Buying administrators
Alan Wright – Toy and book merchandiser
Ben Archer – Assistant merchandiser
Joanne Kyriakides, Michael Dumas, Russell Woolley – Mechandise administrators
Mothercare/Early Learning Centre
UK stores: 387
Cherry Tree Road, Watford, Hertfordshire, WD24 6SH
Contact number: 01923 241000
Meet the team:
Jo Ledsham – Divisional director
Tom Cackett – Head of merchandising
Tom Folliot – Buyer, action and adventure (boys toys)
Claire Donovan – Buyer, puzzles, games and character
Kate Harper – Buyer, baby and toddler
Stacy Hunt – Buyer, sports and outdoor
Claire Loxley – Senior buyer, Lets Pretend (girls toys)
Liz Waller – Senior buyer, Mothercare toys and ELC baby and toddler
Sara Watts – Senior merchandiser, boys and girls toys
Nichola Fisken – Senior merchandiser, Mothercare toys and ELC baby and toddler toys
Mario Luzi – Senior merchandiser, sports and outdoor
Gareth Thorn – Merchandiser, action and adventure (boys toys)
Hayley Young – Merchandiser, Lets Pretend (girls toys)
UK stores: 158
Cranmore Park, Shirley, Solihull, West Midlands, B90 9LF
Contact number: 0121 713 4487
Meet the team:
Joyce Daly – Controller
Miles Penhallow – Manager
Charlotte Roberts – Administration
Associated Independent Stores (AIS) launched its own toy buying group in June 2008.
Play-room currently has 76 members with 158 outlets. Any toy retailer meeting the required standards, can apply to join Play-room, it is not necessary to be a member of AIS.
Play-room offers a comprehensive range of services including a fob import programme, access to clearance, broadsheet and window-to-shelf marketing all of which are available to members via http://www.play-roommembers.net/.
UK stores: 40
2nd Floor Block 2, Galway Financial Services Centre, Moneenageisha Road, Galway, Ireland
Contact number: +353 91 743600
Meet the team:
Anne-Marie Gerrett – Head buyer
Peter Strange – Head buyer, pre-school
Patriot Court, 1-9 The Grove, Slough, Berkshire, SL1 1QP
Contact number: 0800 496 1081
Meet the team:
Ulrike Wingenter – Toys category manager
Rhian Munday – Senior toy buyer
Colin Ball – Senior instock manager
Andrew Smithers – Instock Manager
Serena Banga – Administration and product set-up
Ryan Hurney – Site merchandiser
28 Feb 2011
I have to admit that I love my job. I get to sell the most gorgeous wholesale knitted and crochet toys. This year things have got even better because now we also have fairtrade craft kits and some fab organic toys from Peru to sell. However like all jobs being a wholesaler has parts that no one enjoys and chief among these is chasing overdue invoices.
Actually, once you start ringing customers to prompt them for payment you normally get some fab conversations and feedback and also re-orders but just occasionally you have customers who refuse to pay for reasons nothing to do with Best Years. In these cases we always go to court
There are few things more demoralising than having to take a customer to court to recover money they owe. When that customer is a leading ethical retailer its even more sour and that is what I had to do this am
So I was a very grumpy person on Twitter this morning (www.twitter.com/knittedtoys) and the lovely Samantha Morshed responded by sending me this fab picture
How cool is this! All of a sudden I was back to being very happy with my job of selling gorgeous fairtrade knitted and crochet toys. Thanks Samantha
New fairtrade, organic toys
25 Jan 2011
We are very pleased to tell you of a new range of fair trade and organic toys and rag dolls
Made in Peru these knitted toys are so soft its difficult to believe that they are knitted
The range comprises of a mouse, penguin, bunnies and rag dolls, in traditional caramels and soft browns
The full range will be listed on the website by the end of Jan
New Pebble catalogue 2011
13 Jan 2011
Heres a sneak preview of the new Pebble toys which arrive March/April
Or you can come along and see the toys at Top Drawer, stand K34, Bubble London, stand A32 and Spring Fair, Hall 9, stand AA33
To register for these shows please click here,
Customers buy Pebble toys because they are gorgeous
11 Jan 2011
Customers buy our knitted and crochet toys because they are gorgeous, tactile and robust (they are all machine washable) and thats the way it should be. We do not believe that we should make people buy our toys by making them feel guilty or assuming the moral high ground.
Having said that just by buying our fairtrade cotton crochet toys they are also helping to save girls from poverty.
This presentation says it all. Don't worry it doesn't have any graphic or shocking images but it made me cry!
Useful tips on marketing your business
11 Jan 2011
As a soft toy wholesaler, and like many SMEs, we do not have a huge amount of time and money for training courses but we make exception for courses run by The British Library If you are within reach of London then we can highly recommend their events and training courses
The most recent one we attended was entitled "Think like a Marketer" by Grow and it was as good as we have come to expect
It would be unfair of me to replicate their training notes in full but for anyone who needs to re-energise their marketing here are Grow's top tips
1. Customer testimonials are one of the most powerful marketing tools. where can you get testimonials from and how can you use them?
2. Make sure you have a customer database! Try Act, Salesforce, High-rise, Goldmine for good examples of customer mgt systems
3. Know your competitors. We try not to focus on our competitors too much as we think its rather a negative pre-occupation but Grow made the point that if you know how your competitors are generating sales it may help you think of ways to increase your own sales. So who are your biggest competitors and can you learn anything from them. Try www.seospyglass.com to see how your competitors promote themselves on the web
4. Have an irresistible offer on your website. Once customers have landed on your website, don't let them go!
5. Outsource as much admin as you can. Time spent mundane jobs is time not spent developing your business.
Try the following websites for suitable administrators
The 2nd part of the day focused on how to generate new leads for your business which included networking, referrals, social media, SEO, partner marketing and PR
Some useful websites from this section are
www.eightfold.org - teaches workshops in social media
www.networksunday.com - free download on how to use linkin
If you need a clarification on any of these points please email us on firstname.lastname@example.org
We are a soft toy wholesaler and we specialise in knitted and crochet toys not marketing advice but if you are successful then so are we so always happy to help where we can
Total World Domination
05 Jan 2011
Here at Best Years we've decided to give up on quantifiable and measurable New Year Resolutions.
For the last couple of years we have sat down with our budgets and our targets and worked through areas we need to improve or cut back on. During 2010 we gave up Google ads and substituted them with hard work and SEO which was very successful, and previously we have found new suppliers or improved designs.
This year we are going for Total World Domination.
You may think that this is a bit ambitious for a soft toy wholesaler but why not? If ever there was a year for ambitious plans surely this is it.
This week all we have heard is headline after headline filled with doom and gloom. There is no doubt that this year will not be easy but there are always winners and losers. Already we have seen Waitrose announce sales of +5% and Next -6%. The White Company have had a good Xmas whilst HMV have had a nightmare.
We have the best range of knitted and crochet toys available anywhere and during 2011 we are going to make sure that everybody in the UK hears about them.
So our only problem is that if 2011 is all about Total World Domination what does that leave us to do in 2012?!
BBC Oxford Interview
17 Dec 2010
Use the media players below to listen to Gaynor's interview on BBC Radio Oxford
Pebble toys. What are they and why should I buy them?
16 Dec 2010
If you have been Xmas shopping recently you will have no doubt encountered that feeling that all the shops sell almost exactly the same thing and finding an original gift is very difficult. Pebble toys are the exact opposite. Affordable, machine washable and gorgeous each one is unique as they are all hand made.
Fair trade and organic ranges have been available for a long time, but have normally been either more expensive than alternatives or a little beige and dull. Usually the choice is between the fab thing you want to buy and can afford, and the fair trade one you know you should buy but can't really afford.
The best thing about Pebble toys is that not only are they the most attractive baby toys available but simply by buying one you are helping women and children in Bangladesh to earn a decent living. And they don't cost any more than the machine made toys available in all high street toys
Pebble toys are cotton crochet toys which are made by a womens fair trade workers co-operative in Bangladesh. The workers co-operative was set up by Samantha Morshed to provide fairly paid work for women in rural communities. Traditionally women have had to leave their communities and move to Dhaka to earn money, and Dhaka is a very difficult city to live in. The traffic is unrelenting, the electricity goes off almost every single day and if you are poor you are likely to be living 8 people per square meter with no running water.
So to answer the question in the title - Pebble toys are hand made, cotton crochet toys made in Bangladesh
Why should I buy them? They are gorgeous, unique, affordable and fair trade. Can't get better than that!
Not the article on Pebble toys I thought I'd write
13 Dec 2010
We have just returned from a trip to Bangladesh to see the workers co-operative who make the Pebble toys and I have a list of blog articles to write ranging from our trip to the organic cotton factory to the structure of the workers co-operative and how it works.
However this evening I have had a bit of an emotional reaction to the trip. I have been at a very ordinary carol service in a very ordinary church hall. It was just a small collection of people covering a selection of ages, colours and backgrounds singing carols together with one blubbering middle aged woman in their middle.
It struck me that however diverse we were as a group there was not one of us who hadn't eaten well that day, or who didn't have running water and electricity in their home. We all have access to healthcare and to education. Despite the worries of the upcoming cuts none of us were worried about starvation.
In Dhaka, Bangladesh there are millions of people who are not so lucky. Even if you are rich this is a hard place in which to live. The traffic is so intense and constant that it can take you an hour to go even 1 mile. There are very few shops and those there are have very meagre ranges. In the slum areas it is even worse. It has been estimated that in some areas there are 8 people crammed in to each m2 with no running water. The only work available is invariably long and underpaid.
It is very easy to become overwhelmed by all the obvious misery and poverty you can see all around you. When 40% of a population of 160 million people earn under $1 a day its difficult to see how you can do anything to help
That is why Samantha Morshed is such an extra-ordinary woman. Not only has she come up with a viable and sustainable idea to alleviate poverty, she has actually implemented her plan and produced an amazingly gorgeous range of toys
While I blubbed in the carol service as the realisation of exactly how lucky I am, and how good my life is, Samantha had the energy and determination to create long term sustainable employment through the creation of hand made toys. Importantly the toys are gorgeous in their own right. She has created a range of hand made toys which people want to buy at prices they can afford.
It was very clear to us while we were in Bangladesh that our part in the Pebble story was very straight forward. While Samantha has to deal with a huge array of cultural, logistical and creative issues all we have to do is sell her toys.
So forgive our evangelism but it is our intention to spend all available time and energy in 2011 raising the awareness of the Pebble toys in the UK and Ireland.
So a very Happy Christmas to Samantha Morshed and her husband. I hope that this is not inappropriate given that they are Muslim, but I cannot think of 2 people who better sum up the true spirit of Xmas.
Wanted. New Fairtrade or Organic toy producers
30 Nov 2010
Best Years was set up in 1999 and originally we were a traditional soft toy wholesaler which specialised in own brand development for high street multiple retailers
We had all the normal problems associated with this business model. Our margins were paper thin as we were dealing with customers who were significantly larger than ourselves. Our volume was completely dependent on our main customers selecting one of our toys for their ranges. More and more buyers would issue us with designs rather than looking at the range of products we had developed so our expertise was of no relevance to them. It was a stressful life but one we understood
Flash forward to 2010 and Best Years is a very different business. Now we specialise in knitted and crochet toys and any own brand development is mainly for non retail businesses who need our specialist toy knowledge. We have a customer base of 4000 independent smallish retailers rather than 10 very large ones.
The move to knitted and crochet toys has been accompanied by a move towards fair trade suppliers. Our Rag Dolls are hand made in South Africa and our cotton crochet toys are hand made by a workers co-operative in Bangladesh
Although the business itself has changed completely this was done gradually rather than a seismic change and it was mostly done by following our noses. Our commitment to ethical sourcing meant that when the pound's value crashed against the dollar we were not able to take the obvious path of simply finding a cheaper factory. Our knowledge of toy safety led us to knitted and crochet fabrics which are robust and tactile and machine washable
The next step is organic cotton toys which hopefully will be introduced in 2011
We have just one real problem with our business as it is stands in Dec 2010. We need some more fair trade or ethical toy manufacturers! By their very nature ethical businesses do not always have access to the internet and do not have the resources to develop their own websites. They do not come to the UK trade shows and they do not have sales teams promoting ther business
We think that our best way of locating new fair trade and ethical suppliers is therefore viral. Please would anyone reading this blog who knows of a fair trade or ethical toy producer email email@example.com
We have the knowledge of EU and UK toy safety regulations, we have a warehouse and we have retail customers who want to buy ethical toys. Now all we need is a new supplier!
Where do baby toys come from?
24 Nov 2010
Do you have snow forecast for your region this week? Expecting temperatures to dip below freezing? How would you like to go somewhere nice and warm instead? Interested? Where would you like to go?
I bet Bangladesh wasn’t the place you thought of.
When people think of Bangladesh they normally think of poverty and natural disasters, but thats where we’re off to because we are going to see the creators of our gorgeous Pebble range
Bangladesh is where our fabulous cotton crochet Pebble toys, blankets and accessories are both designed and created
The Pebble range is made by workers co-operatives which have been set up in rural communities. They specifically created to provide flexible and fairly paid employment to women. This has the advantage of keeping both people and money in their own communities.
You may not know that Bangladesh exports almost $8billion worth of clothes to Europe and USA
Unfortunately many of these clothes are made in appalling conditions with workers paid very little to work unacceptably long hours. Sweatshops produce huge quantities of clothing for many high street stores and well known brands. By providing employment in rural communities the Pebble toys ensure that women do not have to leave their families and communities and work in these hideous sweatshops
Pebble toys and the fair trade co-operatives that make them are proof that you can produce beautiful ranges at affordable prices and provide fairly paid employment
Next week, while the UK freezes, the directors of Best Years will travel to Bangladesh to meet the women who make our toys and see for ourselves how they make our toys and accessories. We are very proud of the Pebble range and are looking forward to meeting the ladies who make them
We will take pictures and blog so that when you see all our new ranges, many of which will be exclusively launched at Bubble, you will also be able to see images of the ladies making them
Your customers will appreciate the gorgeous Pebble designs and enjoy the practical machine washable and robust crochet fabric and also see for themselves the good they do simply by buying a wonderful toy or blanket for their babies
Major changes to Toy Legislation 2011
22 Nov 2010
Hands up anyone can who can remember Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtle toys and the launch of the first Gameboy? If these seem like ancient history consider the fact that these were the most popular toys the last time toy legislation was updated
Since then technology has boomed (can you remember a life without instant internet access) as has the % of toys imported from the Far East rather than made and sold locally
New toy legislation which takes effect from July 2011 is designed to catch up on the advancements in manufacturing and technology (For instance the EN71 part 3 “Migration of elements” which comes into force July 2013 has a huge increase of 8 to 19 elements to be tested for).
Before we proceed with this article we need to make plain that we are an importer of knitted and crochet toys. We are not a testing house or a legal expert. We also know nothing about any toys except soft toys! If you are looking for in depth data on the new toy legislation please follow these links
Talking specifically there is a significant quantity of changes for soft toys. These include the following
• A widening of the interpretation of what is a toy
• New directives on warning labels.
• All toys for young children will need to be ‘cleanable’
• Minor changes to flammability tests
• Increase in traceability of toys. The company which first places the toy in to the EU must have their contact details on the se-in labels. If something goes wrong then the importer can be easily identified
Most importantly to us the new toy legislation effectively moves from a position where you just test the finished product to testing all the individual components of the product before it is manufactured.
It moves the onus of testing from the finished product to the design and components of the toys.
If you can cast your mind back a couple of years you may remember some major toy recalls by international companies such as Mattel and Hasbro
The problems mostly concerned magnets and lead content and were caused by faults being designed in to the toy rather than manufacturing errors
Manufacturers/importers must hold a technical file for all their products showing where each component was made and its test certificate. The toy is made from safe components and as long as it is then manufactured correctly it is guaranteed to be safe
Technical files will need to be held for 10 years
If you routinely swop factories to get the cheapest price for your product this new regime is going to be a nightmare!
Instead of just testing the completed teddy you will need to see where your new factory is sourcing its components from, and see all their test certificates. Multiply this by 100s of new products and dozens of new factories and its going to be an administrative nightmare!
However if you source from smaller and less industrialised places its absolutely brilliant!
For example, we have some fair trade, hand made rag dolls which are hand sewn by a workers’ co-operative in South Africa. The testing costs for Azo dyes for these dolls was in the £000s despite the fact that the components of the doll are organic.
Under the new legislation we would be able to self-certify that no azo dyes were included as we could trace back all the materials to point of origin and show that no azo dyes had ever been bought by these factories
This means that we can widen the people we source from.
Once we used to have to factor in testing costs of £000s for every product we bought. To make this commercially viable we then had to be confident that the toys would sell in quantity. Now we have to ensure that the components making our toys are safe and the people making them are trained. Less prescriptive but much safer!
We are not saying that this new toy legislation will mean that toy importers can avoid testing. If you are sourcing from highly industrialised places its the exact opposite. However it does focus the safety testing where it is most needed, on the components and on the factories where it is feasible that chemicals/non safe practises would be used
As a retailer how will the new toy legislation affect you?
The new legislation clearly defines the roles of companies in the supply chain
Manufacturers: must ensure toy meets European safety regulations. Carry out safety assessment. Draw up technical documentation. Apply conformity assessment. Affix CE.
Importers: must ensure – safety assessment is carried out, that the technical document has been drawn up, labeling is correct, the toy is accompanied by safety information. They must keep Declaration of conformity and tech files for 10 years.
Distributors: must ensure labeling regs are met. Co-operate with MS Authorities and identify other economic operators
Retailers only need to have a copy of declaration of conformity from supplier. They do not need to have technical files or test certs. Internet retailers will need to clearly state any warnings on the toy on the description of the toy
Each toy will now have a technical file associated with it. Retailers should have a copy of the Declaration of Conformity and you should ask your supplier to see it on any toy which sells in volume through your shop
The CE and EN71 will be the same, and it is also still a legal requirement that the importers address details should be on the sew in label
If you make your own toys in the UK then you will still be required to hold a technical file for your product and to include your contact details on the sew in label. You will be able to self certify your toy but you should hold copies of the test certificates of all your components
We recommend that you contact your local Trading Standards as soon as possible to discuss the implications of this new legislation. They are friendly and approachable and are there to help. And remember, ignorance is not considered a defence!
Trade marks and design infringements
12 Nov 2010
We have very recently had an unpleasant encounter with a high st multiple who, having talked to us about one of our crochet products, suddenly produced their own with a very similar design
I cannot begin to describe the shock when you first see one of your own products, in a different colour but easily identifiable, in a retailer's gift guide
However out of this unpleasant experience i have made the acquaintance of 2 professionals and i would like to recommend them to you
Suzanne from Lawyers4mumpreneurs.com. email firstname.lastname@example.org
Simon Coles from Graham Coles, www.grahamcoles.com
They turned a very unpleasant experience in to a lesson to be learnt and i am very grateful to them for their advice
In order to avoid the same thing happening to you here is some very sensible advice and information I was given by the above to ensure that our design rights are not ignored again.
"As discussed, the rights protecting the shape and appearance of products are design rights.
The first owner of unregistered design right is (generally speaking) the designer unless:
a) the design was created by an employee in the course of their employment - in which case the employer owns the right.
b) the design was created as a result of a commission - in which case things get complicated.
Unregistered design right subsists in new and original designs in two forms:
i) UK Design Right - which lasts for a maximum of ten years from the date of first marketing (though in the final five years anyone who wishes to use the design must be granted a licence).. and
ii) Community Design Right - which has effect in all 27 EU Member States but which lasts for only 3 years from the date of first marketing.
Unregistered design right subsists automatically and is infringed by any third party copying the design.
Registered designs entitle the owner to prevent the use of any design that creates the same overall impression as the registered design irrespective of whether or not it has been copied and lasts for up to 25 years.
An application for UK Registered Design may be filed up to 12 months after the design has been disclosed but thereafter the right to registration of an unregistered design is lost."
What should I do with a huge cheque?
08 Nov 2010
As a soft toy wholesaler we constantly receive emails which vaguely offer to buy huge amounts of stock off us without being too specific about what they want. Invariably it must be shipped outside of Europe. I am sure you get similar things and i presume you do what we do which is delete them and move on
So how about this as a situation. Customer from abroad orders a nice amount of stock and says payment will follow. A week later we receive an anguished email to say that 10 times the amount of the bill has been deposited can we help. I laugh and write the whole order off as an attempt to con us in some way (I hadn't shipped the goods hence the good humour. The criminal Simon Osbourne has taught me that much!)
But one day later the bank rings to say they have infact received a cheque for over £20,000. On closer inspection it has been written out incorrectly and its actually for more than £200,000
So i email the customer and say i have received his cheque, we will not cash it but what does he want me to do with it. Silence. No answer. Its been 2 weeks and i have a cheque for almost quarter of a million pounds sitting on my desk
Any suggestions as to whether its a scam, how it works and what should i do with the cheque!
7th Nov - the customer has emailed us again! He has obviously forgotten that hes tried it on with us before and is trying to place another order. Can't wait to see how much the cheque is going to be for this time! Any bets?
Does Fairtrade really help?
04 Nov 2010
A new report by The Institute of Economic Affairs has thrown some very cold water on the theory that buying Fair Trade goods helps producers in the poorest countries
As you can imagine by their title the Institute's report is thorough and weighty (and you can read it by clicking here http://www.iea.org.uk/record.jsp?type=release&ID=217) but the crux of it is as follows
As a soft toy wholesaler we are continually looking out for more fair trade suppliers so you would think that we would be up in arms about this report but actually we think they have got a point.
We can understand why you need a brand which consumers are able to trust other wise any body could stick "Fair Trade" on their products, charge a premium and have no idea how or where the products are produced. However the admin costs are prohibitive and we do not deal with anyone who has the Fair Trade mark simply beciase they could not produce enough volume to make the admin/marketing cost worth while
We have a very easy way of finding out how much benefit the workers get from the money we pay. We visit them! On 3rd Dec we are going to Bangladesh to visit Samantha Morshed and the workers co-operative and see for ourselves how the Pebble cotton crochet toys benefit their lives.
If we were a Tesco buyer we would not have the time to do this so we would need a recognised brand to do this work for them
So in responce to The Institute of Economic Affairs we would say this. The model for paying workers a fair slice of the money paid for their goods is one which works. How you monitor this is the problem.
Our answer? Buy from small companies who check themselves rather than relying on expensive trade marks
Social Media drives online sales
03 Nov 2010
Interesting report from Hitwise this week. In their latest report they say that social networking sites accounted for 11.6% of all UK Internet visits during September.
As social networking becomes an ever popular past time it is driving more and more traffic to internet shopping sites. This is plainly being felt by larger retailers as Marks and Spencers unveils its new social media integrated Christmas marketing campaign this week
Not surprisingly 55% of clicks come via Facebook. with 17% coming via YouTube and only 2.5% from Twitter. Also not surprisingly 23% of the social media traffic goes to music/video/games retailers. However 9% of visits are to clothing websites and 6.5% to toy/hobby shops
As people meet, talk and discuss via social networks more and more this is going to influence their shopping habits, and since any recommended website is only a click away then it makes sense that sales will follow
As a soft toy wholesaler we use Twitter a lot to network with businesses with similar interests. We don't use it as a sales tool but more as a discussion forum. However as a wholesaler we are one step away from consumers so it will be interesting to see if our retail customers see increased sales from social media this year.
There is no doubt that by Xmas 2011 social media will definitely be a significant factor in a successful festive season. Hands up anyone who hasn't thought about having their business represented on social media somewhere......
Thousands more retailers to close by 2015
19 Oct 2010
The company BDO has predicted that another 26,500 shops, bars and restaurants will close by 2015
Despite the fact that consumer spending is expected to increase to 2.8% it predicts that 6,300 bars and restaurants and 1,500 home ware retailers will go under in the next 5 years
Sounds pretty frightening but actually the point BDO were making was that the consumer has been changed irrevocably by the recession. They believe that consumers have shifted to a more reasoned and thoughtful form of consumption. Demand for individualised service now dictates consumer spending, with shoppers less impressed by size, volume or even variety of product, and instead make their purchasing decisions based on individualised service and personal shopping experiences
Their predictions are that shops and restaurants who fail to respond to the new consumer will inevitably end up failing.
BDO are directing the report to large retailers who they are advising to start targeting consumers more specifically rather than blanket emails and advertising but we like to think that if their predictions are true then the biggest winners will be the small independents who have the most personalised service of all
Internet articles definitely work
16 Oct 2010
Any one who reads the blog on Best Years will know of our troubles with Simon Osborne who stole £5000 worth of goods from us. Last month we had a call from another company who had an order from Simon Osborne but who fortunately did not supply the goods having googled his name and found our article
Last week we had a significant amount of searches on Simon Osbourne coming to our site and tonight i had the following email
"you are a disgrace to human life and it seems like your knowledge of my case is from inside information probably from a police officer you are having a extra marital affair with.!!! il and on your web site that i have placed an order recentley.we will be calling for thay evidence to be provided in court.for your information i will be going not guilty in court and incase you did not know my accountant a mr martin buckland has currently been sent to jail for 4 years !!! he was responsible for all my financial affairs. you gobshite have just helped my case immensley by pre judging my case obviousley your boyfriend is giving you confidential information without the courts permission see you in court and i have two other clients that have had useless goods from yourself"
Nice isn't it?
I think that where the courts and companies house have let Simon Osbourne continue to rip people off for the last 2 years a simple internet article has protected more people than the establishment have managed to do and thats why hes annoyed with us.
All emails and phone calls will be reported to the police and hopefully will count towards his eventual sentence
Please, if you are reading this and get an order from Simon Osborne call Swindon police before you fulfill it!
Change is good
23 Sep 2010
News today that Blockbuster USA is filing for bankruptcy.
Set up in 1985 Blockbuster was valued at $8.4bn by 1994 with store numbers peaking at nearly 7000, yet less than 20 years later it is bust
Best Years are a soft toy wholesaler specialising in knitted and crochet toys and have never yet been hired as retail consultants but even we could have predicted Blockbuster's demise.
In an economic climate which suited the "stay in with a film" mentality Blockbuster managed to lose customers with their exorbitant late charges and grubby stores. Their business model had been tried and tested why should they change it?
When Netflix started offering a postal service they scorned it and did not see it as a threat. They even had the chance to buy it at its early stages but declined.
As Netflix grew Blockbuster stopped looking at what the customer wanted and started to concentrate on stopping Netflix. All its energy was focused on the negative task of hating Netflix rather than concentrating on the more positive task of loving its customers
Change happens. Technology advances. Customers requirements move. You can either ignore it or embrace it.
Two years ago Best Years sold traditional soft toys but the recession and the collapse of the pound against the dollar forced us to re-evaluate our business. Now we sell knitted and crochet toys with an emphasis on fair trade. It was an uncomfortable journey but definitely worth it
We are also quite happy to offer business advice to huge retail brands if you pay us enough! Just give us a call on 01327 262189
Normal retailers who want to buy our toys are warmly invited to use the same telephone number
Wonderful world of banking
23 Sep 2010
This is funny. It appears that the banking industry has asked Experian, the credit experts, to compile a report showing what a bad risk micro and small companies are. They will then present this information to the Treasury in October to prove that they want to lend to small businesses its just that they are not asking/not credit worthy
We're a fair trade toy wholesaler but it occurs to us that Experian will need to look at Company House accounts to get this information but small companies only file abbrieviated accounts with no detail.
The detail on how micro and small businesses are performing will be in their bank statements not their accounts.
So the banks hire Experian to get information they can't get because its held by the banks.
Gravy train anyone?
Every little helps!
20 Sep 2010
Tesco has announced that it will start selling Viagra in direct competition to Boots
They will sell 8 tablets for £52 as against Boots who sell 4 for £55
This has nothing what so ever to do with soft toy wholesaling but retailing is a funny old thing isn't it! Buying Viagra from Tesco has got to be better than from a dodgy shop over the internet (and one benefit may be that we will get less spam offering the blue pills at rock bottom prices) but is it right to be able to get it from a supermarket?
What do you think?
Why you don't discount fairtrade toys
20 Sep 2010
We have just come back from back to back trade shows which are always illuminating in terms of the feedback we receive from our customers
We had assumed that the hot topic for this year would be whether or not to increase your prices when the VAT goes up in January but in fact the thing which has most people talking is pricing on ebay
We have always been a fan of ebay as its a great place to start a business or to initally put a high street store online. However we have also always been quite straight forward in our attitude to discounters
We design, manufacture and supply quality toys. They are sold at competitive prices so that consumers can buy at accessible prices and retailers can still make a profit.
Whilst we have no problems with retailers promoting toys as and when they want to we will not sell to discounters. If we discover that a customer is routinely discounting the retail prices of our toys we will stop supplying them. This particularly applies to the fair trade pebble toys
We have most problems with discounting on ebay. This is mainly due to 2 reasons
So why are we so adament about discounting? Put plainly if you discount our fair trade crochet toys you are undermining the way the fair trade economic model works
That may sound overly dramatic but heres how it goes. Our good retailers buy our toys because they can sell a reasonable volume of toys at a reasonable profit. If the toys are then widely discounted either the volume drops as their retail price is uncompetitive or they can't make a profit at the reduced price. So retailers stop buying from us, we stop buying from the workers co-operative and Samantha cannot offer work to as many people.
For many people in Bangladesh the Pebble toys offer a way out of poverty. We are not going to let discounters threaten this
So a message to good retailers, if you see someone on ebay or anywhere on the internet discounting Pebble toys please email email@example.com and we will take steps to stop them. We will certainly not supply them again
Discounters. Don't buy fair trade toys. Its unethical.
Hurrah for Independent Shops and the New Economics Foundation
17 Sep 2010
I can’t say that I am a natural ally of thinktanks, especially one called the New Economics Foundation but I’m raising a loud cheer for a report that they have just published called “Clone Towns”
The report states that 41% of UK towns are “clone towns” which they defined as having more than half the stores are multiple retailers. Only 36% of high streets surveyed retained their distinctive character.
Cambridge came in for a particular bashing. The university landlords have reacted to the recession by increasing rents to the point that independent retailers have been forced off the High st and have left just a bland mix of muliple retailers who can be found anywhere
As a soft toy wholesaler who only supplies independent shops (plus really nice multiples like John Lewis and JoJo Maman Bebe) you can understand why we heartedly agree with any report supporting independent retailers but why should any one else care?
Well, places like Brighton’s Lanes and Whistable who have a thriving community of independent retailers bring in visitors from all over the country. They come, and they spend money! An interesting and diverse high street will attract people and their pounds which surely is a good thing
Although the very large shopping centres such as Blue Water also bring in visitors from miles away most ordinary high streets with a Next, Marks and Spencers and Boots do not bring in anyone who is not local.
Independent stores with their unique ranges not only add a welcome diversity to high streets but also foster a sense of community. Who are you more likely to have a chat and a laugh with – the girls on the till at Boots or your local shop owner? Who is more likely to care about you getting the right product a multiple retail employee or a local shop? They know that they have to provide the right service and the products whilst the multiple is able to fall back on advertising and price promotions
So a big hurrah for the cheerily named New Economics Foundation. I hope your report gets loads of publicity and re-ignites the debate about our fabulous independent retailers
13 Sep 2010
Best Years, the soft toy wholesaler, will be 10 years old next year and like all businesses has experienced its fair share of wierd situations. Howver just recently we have walked in to a situation which is truely bizarre, and quite frankly, wrong!
It all started in August 2008 when a Mr Simon Osborne of Warmwood Ltd, Swindon ordered over £5000 worth of goods for an urgent delivery. It soon became clear that he had no intention of paying for the goods so we started court proceedings to get either our money or our goods back. The landlord of Mr Simon Osborne's premises then called to say that we had been conned. Mr Simon Osborne was a thief and a conman and we had no chance of getting our money back.
Its here where things get wierd. We contacted the police ( Crime ref 5408 007 7153 if you are interested) but their advice was that they could do nothing and our best course of action was to take an advert out in the local Swindon paper to advise other people that Warmwood Ltd may not be an honest company to deal with! The fact that we could show 3 different companies who had had goods stolen from them by Mr Simon Osbourne of Warmwood Ltd was irrelevant. They would not treat the case as a criminal matter
We then contacted the court services but we would have to pay £600 to take Warmwood to court and that if the company was made insolvent the day before the court hearing we would not get any money. Even if it did get to court and the case was awarded in our favour then the court could not force Warmwood Ltd to pay the money back we would need to go to the High Court to get an injunction
So we contacted Companies House. They advised us that we could make a formal complaint but that whether or not they would investigate Warmwood Ltd or Simon Osborne would be kept a secret. They said that we should complain to our MP or to Trading Standards
I will contact my MP and see what he recommends....perhaps the European court!
What does it take to stop this sort of illegal behaviour? If anyone has any ideas or suggestions please do let us know but other wise I am hoping that the next person who is contacted by Simon Osborne of Warmwood Ltd Swindon will search the internet and see this article.
NB his email address is firstname.lastname@example.org and his home telephone 01793778272 and his mobile number is 07948 406622
Update Oct 2009
It appears that the CPS don't want to pursue the case against Simon Osborne as because he set up a business he can claim that he wasn't obtaining goods by deception it was simply a case of his business getting in to trouble
I don't think so! Any small business knows how hard it is to make a profit and I am not prepared to have a thief like Simon Osborne order goods with no intention of paying for them and get away with it
CPS here I come....
Update Sept 2010
Hurrah! Simon Osborne is going to jail! After a year of nagging every organisation i could think might be able to help the police finally charged Simon Osbourne with fraud and he has admitted it. He goes to court next month and from there to prison
However on 14th Sept i received a call from a company who had just had an order from Simon Osbourne. Hes on bail and hes still trying to rip people off. Surely theres got to be a better way of dealing with people like him. And there definitely should be a quicker one
He's in Jail!!!!
23 Aug 2010
In 2009 there were 66 small businesses turning over £1m+ on ebay.
As a soft toys wholesaler who uses all channels open to B2B we were really impressed with this number until we saw that in summer 2010 there are now 127 £1m+businesses
Wow! Anyone who still views ebay as a sales channel for amateurs might want to re-think their opinion. The honesty of the feed back system on ebay means that businesses have to pay strict attention to their customer needs or face almost immediate consequences.
We are happy to deal with any business selling through ebay as long as they are not a discounter. Whether you are on the high street, internet or ebay we do not believe that the "pile it high, sell it cheap" model suits our knitted and crochet toys and would prefer to deal with people who rely on exceptional customer service and an eye for gorgeous products to be successful
If you would like to sell our soft toys on ebay please email email@example.com
Buy organic toys for organic fortnight
Organic fortnigh 3rd - 17th Sept
22 Aug 2010
Organic fortnight this year is trying to dispel the myth that organic goods are too expensive and only for the rich. Sales of organic food has suffered during the recession and the Organic Association is trying to persuade people that organic products are affordable
The strapline for the campaign is "Chose organic everyday"
In addition to our wide range of Fairtrade crochet toys Best Years have a range of affordable organic baby toys and blankets at accesible prices. Trade prices start from just £4.50 each so the toys are definitely not just for the elite few
The campaign's advertising will generate a lot lot of PR and attention which should translate in to more retail sales. You can see more information here
Toy Shop Little Wonders hits back
20 Aug 2010
Unless you are already in the toy trade you may not know of the troubles which have surrounded the independent toy shop Little Wonders.
Its a long story but it appears that it is ending happily as the toy shop has been re-located and is continuing to trade
However after enduring a particulaly difficult year the owner, Elena Ripoli, has come out fighting and has published a furious article in Toy News
She points her fingers at both landlords and suppliers and does not hold back in her opinion. In no uncertain terms she accuses toy suppliers of being both sexist and un-ethical
I don't agree with everything she writes, and in particular I would like to defend reps. We don't employ reps as it doesn't suit our company. However although they may not be everyones cup of tea they are just trying to earn a living
We have a solution - we sell fair trade cotton crochet toys, and our company is run entirely by women so if anyone knows Elena can you tell her about Best Years?
You can read her full article here http://www.toynews-online.biz/opinion/107/OPINION-A-new-way-for-indie-retail
I'd get a cup of coffee first!
How do you become a successful entrepreneur?
Is it nature or nurture?
16 Aug 2010
According to research by David Blanchflower and Andrew Oswald there is no specific character which makes for a successful entrpreneur. The one single factor which influences success is access to finance
In a statistically sophisticated research paper they came up with 4 conclusions
You can read the full report here
As a soft toy wholesaler specialising in knitted and crochet toys we obviously come in to contact with a lot of people, especially women, who start their own businesses after having children. Most of them are smart and hard working but I am positive that a dump of cash in to their business would definitely make a difference in how quickly their businesses will grow! Unfortunately most of us have to stick with the banks. Great!
Blooming Marvellous bought by Mothercare
16 Jul 2010
Blooming Marvellous which went bust almost 2 years ago and was bought by a bunch of entrepreneurs has now been bought by Mothercare
The niche retailer was founded in the 1980s and bought in 2007 for £5m by an Icelandic fund. However the recession hit the chain badly and it went in to receivership early 2009
The brand is still very respected and generates a lot of affection so it should thrive in Mothercare stores where it does not have to support the entire cost of the shop itself
As a soft toy wholesaler we value retailers and suppliers who are successful by being different so lets hope Blooming Marvellous are allowed to thrive again
Martin Yaffe Ltd goes in to administration
16 Jul 2010
Martin Yaffe Ltd, the manufacturer and supplier of branded toys has gone in to administration
Based in Rochdale the company employed 160 people and supplied large retailers such as Boots, John Lewis and the supermarkets
We have absolutely no insider knowledge of why they have gone bust but it can't be comfortable selling branded products to larger retailers (who insist on low low prices!) when the pound slumps against the dollar and you still need to pay huge license fees. Losing a major customer such as Woolworths can't have helped either! Rumour has it that Woolworths owed Yaffes £5m when they went under
The figures show that they moved from making a profit of almost 1.3million in 2006 to a loss of 3.3million in 2008
Theres a slight chance of being boring here but we firmly believe that if your success is based on pumping volume through at low margin then its only momentum which will keep you going. If that stops then the wobble will be hard to control
Martin Yaffe supplied most of the biggest high street retailers and it will be interesting to see what impact their demise will have on the ranges available in the shops. Will they dare to venture away from licensed product? They might just have enough time to bring in their own ranges but it will definitely be a tight squeeze.
Best Years have a range of unique soft toys. They are not the cheapest in the market but the design and manufacture are fab and our prices represent great value for money. If you want to try our range splease email firstname.lastname@example.org as we would love to hear from you
Customers prepared to pay more for good service
16 Jul 2010
American Express has released a survey showing that the majority of the British are prepared to pay up to 7% more for an item if it comes with good service
Unsurprisingly 70% of customers are more likely to give a company repeat custom after receiving good customer care.
If you look at retailers who are valued by customers its not the "pile it high, sell it cheap" brands who come out well but those who base their company on good service such as John Lewis and Lakeland Trading
Which Magazine recently voted Lakeland as the UKs best retailer after surveying 1400 customers. The reason? "Superlative customer service"
How much better it is to compete on how good your service is than how cheap you can sell your goods.
If you want to try out how good our service is please email email@example.com
Giving up google ads for Lent
25 Jun 2010
The one good thing that a recession does for you is make you re-look at your business and think whats working, what can be fixed and what should we move away from?
Because the £ collapsed against the $ last year we had to completely review our product range which means that a year later we have 2 new fair trade suppliers and some fabulous rag dolls and cotton crochet toys
We also took a long hard look at how we met new customers. We had been running google ads for years (because you do!) and over that time we had various different agencies come in and manage them for us. When we looked at them closely we realised that we did not know whether they were working and whether they were value for money so we simply stopped them
That was back in January and the results were hideous. Traffic to our website instantly fell by 30% and the number of enquiries plummeted. There was definitely a certain amount of panic but we had made the decision to keep them off for 6 months so we did
So we have now come to the end of our 6 month trial and the results are somewhat different. Traffic to our website is still down by 25% but virtually all of this was from the USA. Our toys are not tested to USA standards so we can't sell them there. Traffic from USA is not commercially valuable to us. Enquiries are now back to where they were and traffic from the UK has increased significantly
Traffic from google ads is not always as targeted as they would like you to believe. You only have to look at the way visitors find you to realise that there is a certain mismatch (last week a visitor was directed to our soft toy wholesaler website by typing in airsoft gun!). Google ads should bring you in specifically targeted traffic but unless you are completely focussed on them they also bring in a lot of dross. And this all costs you money
We should point out that when we took the google ads off we were forced to find other ways to increase traffic to our website so in away it made us look at all aspects of SEO. When you have a certain amount of visitors to your website its amazing how quickly you can become lazy about looking for more. The sudden and significant decline in traffic brought us out from our comfort zone and we actively searched for other ways to increase the visibility of our website
Now that we have a base level of traffic we will try google ads again but this time we will have more knowledge and specific targets for them to achieve. And if they don't achieve them we will go back to not running them at all!
Where do our fair trade toys come from?
22 Jun 2010
For all those who are interested in where our cotton crochet and knitted toys come from please find below an article about Samantha Morshed and her company. We think shes a very impressive woman!
"In the small Bangladeshi town of Narsingdi, Suria Begum sits in a small hut, a short walk from her house, with two dozen other women where she knits children's hats, mittens and blankets.
Like 2.5 million others in the impoverished country, Suria works in the textile business, making items exported to the US and Europe, but unlike most other workers she has not had to leave her rural home for a job.
"I have a five-year-old son so I can't work in Dhaka, but having this job gives my family a bit of extra money. Plus, it's nice to sit around and chat with the other workers. It's very relaxed here," the 30-year-old said.
Most of Bangladesh's 4,200 garment factories, some of which come under fire from rights groups for shabby health and safety standards, are in cities like Dhaka or Chittagong, meaning workers have to move to urban areas for work.
But British woman Samantha Morshed, who created the centre where Suria works and 31 other centres like it across Bangladesh, has a different vision for the country of 144 million people, 40 percent of whom live below the poverty line.
"I wanted to prove that it's not impossible to create employment in rural areas in Bangladesh," says Morshed, who started her business four years ago by teaching a dozen women to knit and crochet in her living room in Dhaka.
Morshed represents a growing number of businesses pushing to channel Bangladesh's cheap labour into ethical, fair trade labels.
She now employs more than 3,500 women in rural areas who make 30,000 items a month that are exported to developed countries and fashionable shops
"Bangladesh has huge potential. It's not the sad, flooded, charity-prone place it's made out to be. It's full of dignified people who want the opportunity to progress," Morshed said."
Fair trade toys and trends
14 May 2010
Recently I went to a seminar on green consumerism and trends. As a soft toy wholesaler we are dedicated to increasing the number of fair trade, organic or ethical toys so we are interested in where the experts see this market moving
The speaker detailed 3 distinct trends that they thought would be important between 2012 - 2015
1. Green is going mainstream. Many of us can remember when green consumers wore beige and the Body Shop was viewed as niche. But now supermarkets have fair trade school uniforms and organic cotton is reasonably common. They categorised consumers attitudes to green choices in the following way
Onlookers - 26%, Conveniently conscious 35%, positive chosers 31%, vocal activists 4% and principled pioneers 4%
Whilst its good that green is available to a wider market it also means that it is not enough just to say its ethical, there have to be other desirable attributes. Our fair trade cotton crochet toys are desirable in their own right and they are competitively priced. With people watching the pennies ethical products have to almost be more desirable to compete against poorly designed but cheaper alternatives
2. Ubiquitous connectivity. This applies not just to grend products but to the whole market place. Currently 15% of all phones are smart phones but by 2015 it is estimated that the majority of us will own smart phones. Shopping and browsing via your phone will be common place and businesses need to ensure that they leverage this new market. Perhaps not so important for wholesalers but retailers should review their digital plans to ensure they can compete in this new market
3. The middle ground is disappearing. The consumer either wants quick convenience or an experience which is above and beyond the normal (this was called donative by the consultant speaking about it). If people are either constrained by time or money then they will either shop in large hypermarkets to get everything in one place and competitively priced, or they will surf the internet to ensure that they get the best price. There is a place for green business even in this niche and currently Nigel's eco store and amazon's 2nd hand book shop are two that are doing well. The donative market has more opportunities for niche businesses and the examples sited were vegan, raw food restaurants and "swishing" which is clothes swopping parties
So there are the 3 trends - Green goes mainstream, Technology makes further in roads on our time and habits and the middle ground disappears to be replaced by 2 polarised way to shop
The question we were asked is what were we going to do about it?!
07 May 2010
New toy safety legislation comes in to play July 2011. This represents the biggest overhaul of toy safety regulations for decades and is going to cause some manufacturers huge problems. It requires the toy importer to know that not just the toy itself is safe but that all the various components which make up the toy have been tested properly as well
As a soft toy wholesaler we have worked hard to build up good relationships with our manufacturers so this causes us no problems but if you currently continually switch factories to get the best prices its going to cause you huge issues!
But this article is not about the new safety regs which will be covered in detail in a later blog. When we had our marathon discussion with the safety guys we uncovered a few safety myths which we had presumed to be law
We will be updating our blog on the new safety legislation as it is a fundamental change to the way toy regulations are administered, for instance you will need to ask your toy wholesaler for their technical file and not their test certificates. Internet retailers will also need to include in their descriptions any warnings which are on the toy but we will bring you more detail later
Organic soft toys bouyant but other organic sales tough
19 Apr 2010
Two reports out this week make worrying reading for businesses supplying and retailing organic goods
Firstly profits at organic food wholesaler Cole and Able crashed to a 27.5m loss
Secondly the Soil Association announced that sales of organic foods in the last year had declined from £2.1bn to 1.84bn
Worst hit were sales of bread, veg and chilled ready made meals
However baby food sales increased by almost 21% and now exceeds £100m per annum
It makes sense that when times are tough organic food will be one of the first things to be cut but interesting that people still believe in organic enough to keep their baby food organic
As a toy wholesaler we have tried to source organic toys but have not yet found a supplier where the designs and prices are right. In some ways we are happy for sales to decrease as it may make organic producers less complacent. It has felt sometimes as if the fact that a product is organic should be enough but the consumer always has a choice.
The ethical consumer can chose Fair Trade, bamboo, hand made or organic so any ranges we offer to retailers should be able to stand up in their own right not just because they have the label organic
We are still looking for an organic toy manufacturer so please email us on firstname.lastname@example.org if you have a range you would like us to see
Organic milk bucked the trend, growing by one per cent, while baby food sales also increased by 20.8 per cent, exceeding £100 million
How much is your website worth?
26 Mar 2010
We all know that a website is a valuable part of any business but do you know how much your domain name is worth?
This useful, and free, website gives you a valuation of how much your website is worth. It also gives you some other useful information like page rank
So as a soft toy wholesaler Best Years website is worth £12,000.
Is your website worth more or less?!
Naming your new business
22 Mar 2010
When we set Best Years up in 1999 I have to confess that we didn't put much time or energy in to the name of the company. Infact the only thing of any sense that we did do was check that the domain name was available. We were concentrating on how we could be the best soft toy and teddy wholesaler (no knitted or crochet toys in those days!) and didn't think the name of our business was that important.
I was thinking about this the other day because one of our customers is just starting her business and is putting the sort of effort in to it that we should have!
The websites we have seen which seem to be the most help in naming your company are as follows
www.nameboy.com - type in the 2 key words which sum up your business and it comes up with various ideas and whether the domain names are available
www.squadhelp.com - this is like launching an online competition to help you name your business. This is the option I would have gone for if I had my time again
Seth Godin has a good post with tips on naming here http://sethgodin.typepad.com/seths_blog/2003/06/naming_a_busine.html
Finally how about http://wordoid.com/ This gives various suggestions based the words you enter and is great fun but you can end up spending hours on it
As ever we need to point out that we are a soft and knitted toy wholesaler not a marketing agency or anything sophisticated but hope this information is a help
Fair Trade toys
15 Mar 2010
Its been a bit of a mixed year for sales of fair trade goods
On one hand even in the face of the worst recession for 70 years sales of fair trade items have risen by 12% to £800m and to underline its growing acceptance in the market place as a whole Tesco announced in Feb that it wanted to be the "No 1 retailer by sales volume" of fair trade cotton clothing
However although £800m sounds a lot (and for your information its a lot more than we turnover!) this represents a tiny market share when you see that grocery sales alone last year were £150bn
Sales of ethical fashion which are approx £170m are only half that of sales of second hand clothes
Best Years are a soft toy and knitted toy wholesaler so we are not an expert on Fair Trade trends and products but one of the major problems we see is the actually getting the product in to the UK
By their very nature companies making fair trade products (as opposed to growing fair trade crops such as coffee and bananas) are not as efficient as a normal factory. Their people work in their homes, or have hours to suit their circumstances and since they pay proper wages and treat people well they cannot increase or decrease their work force in the same way other factories can to cope with fluctuations in demand
When we place an order with our factory in China we know the delivery date ofthe goods plus or minus a week or so. When we place an order with a Fair Trade organisation we really have no idea when to expect the toys!
It takes a huge amount of work just to receive scheduled orders, but then its definitely worth it
We are dedicated to increasing the amount of Fair trade toys and rattles we stock but its very hard work! It takes us a about a year to get to a point where we can guarantee stock of the fair trade ranges from a new supplier
How Tesco's is going to get enough stock of fair trade school uniforms for all their stores we don't know but then I expect they have a larger buying team than we do!
We are always looking for new fair trade suppliers so please email us on email@example.com if you have any suggested workers co-operatives or fair trade companies you would like us to work with. Just don't expect the toys to arrive quickly!
Two Left Feet bought out of administration
11 Mar 2010
The baby wholesaler Two Left Feet has been bought out of administration by a company called House of Baby
Two Left Feet went in to administration March 09 having suffered very public stock control issues which culminated in an apprearance on a BBC consumer programme.
As a soft toy wholesaler we were sad to see them go as they were a good organisation brought down by the combination of the credit crunch and high profile system problems
House of Baby will operate from the same 12,000 sq ft premises and has declared that it wants to be as well known as Mothercare. Good for them, and best of luck
Wonder which baby show they will visit in October.....!!
Cath Kidston valued at Â£75m
23 Feb 2010
Cath Kidston has been valued at £75m which means that the founder's share (she still holds 30% of the company) is worth a wopping £25million
Cath Kidston started her company 17 years ago and can now lay claim to a brand as iconic as Laura Ashley. Sales have continued to grow over the last 18 months and profits soared over the last 2 years from 19m to 31m as stores openings increased. More importantly her profit went from just under £3m to £4.6m at a time when most high street stores were struggling
This is all heartening news for all of us who have started a company and have just struggled through the worst recession for 70 years, but it also says something about the value of a brand.
As a soft and knitted toy wholesaler we do not spend a huge amount of time on our branding, and infact we do not even have a logo.
We very much rely on our reputation for unique products and great service but perhaps all this will need to change. Especially if we want to take home £25m each in 10 years!
Why white lies don't work
22 Feb 2010
I received an email last week which started with the line "I tried calling but got no answer"
Now that doesn't sound so bad but we have an answering service so the phone is always answered. This was evidently a standard email which had been sent to any number of people
Its not that I mind getting a blanket email, but I do mind being lied to
From that first sentence I could not trust what was being said. Given that the email was from a search engine optimisation company that small lie effectively meant I had no inclination to work with them.
As a soft toy and knitted toy wholesaler we have always struggled with the whole issue of SEO and have wasted £000s on companies promising the world. If this company was prepared to start a relationship with a lie how on earth could we trust them with our money?
So I did learn something from them. However easy it may be, and however small the lie may seem to us truth is the best option
Read them and weep! Top income generating websites
22 Feb 2010
Courtesy of www.incomediary.com is a list of the top income generating websites in the world. The frightening number is the final column which is income per second. aaagh!
As a soft toy and knitted wholesaler I somehow think that I will not ever be joining this list but we can but dream....
Whats interesting about this list (to us anyway!) is that in among the digital technology companies, social media and internet search engines there are some old fashioned business models such as Overstock.com and Blue Nile. Maybe there is hope for us all
What are you giving up for Lent?
17 Feb 2010
What you are giving up for Lent ranks along side New Year Resolutions for the glumest question of the year
We all start off with a firm will vowing not to touch chocolate/wine/chips but within a month most of these resolutions have been abandoned in the face of the reality of life
Business resolutions are similar. We start off thinking that we will cold call every week, or get our PR up to scratch but very soon the daily routine takes over and we end up at the end of the year doing pretty much the same as we started
Well this year we are giving up something easy. We are giving up paying for Google ads! Its funny how Google ads go from being the smartest new way of advertising to an addiction so very quickly
As a soft toy and knitted wholesaler we value our website for the visibility it brings our ranges. We receive many enquiries via the website and value them all.
We started to believe that without Google ads our website would vanish beneath the waves and we would never be seen again. The problem is that although Google ads are very focused once you have spent the money it has gone. Its not an investment in to the long term future of our website, just a short term prop.
The art or science of Search Engine Optimisation is still complete goobledigook to us so its much easier to lean on the crutch that is Google ads
So no more Google ads for Best Years. We will have to learn about SEO and keywords and links but at least we will have the money which used be poured in to Googles purse to invest in them.
Best Years are a knitted and fair trade soft toy wholesaler and not an SEO expert so if you have any top tips please do let us know!
Do you play music in your shop?
16 Feb 2010
If you play music or the radio in your shop you will know that you have a pay a license fee via the PPL (Phonographic Performance Ltd)
You will also know that this fee has increased significantly over the last couple of years. In 2005 the PPL dramatically increased this fee so much so that the BRC reckons that one clothing retailer saw its bill increase from £176,000 to £408,000 in one year!
The BRC have finally won their battle to see this increase ruled excessive. The original ruling was in October 2009 but PPL appealed so it is only now that the new fairer rates will apply, but they apply with immediate effect. Retailers will also be due a refund for the excessive fees they have been paying since 2005
As a soft toy and knitted wholesaler I have mixed feelings about the BRC as some of their statements seem to be somewhat biased towards the largest retailers but today I think they have earnt a big Hurrah! Well done them
The power of Twitter
12 Feb 2010
About a year ago Best Years ventured on to the social media forum Twitter
Basically Twitter is just another way to communicate with people but its only allows you to post comments of 140 characters.
You chose to follow people or businesses who you think are interesting and invite people to follow you if you think that they might be interested in what you are up to. In this way you effectively create your own community of people and businesses linked by common interests, in our case retail and fair trade and obviously wholesale toys
As soft toy and knitted toy wholesalers we tried Twitter only due to the sheer amount of publicity surrounding its use as a marketing tool. However we have been hugely impressed by it.
We have picked up a couple of customers but much more importantly we have found new suppliers and received some excellent advice on tax and SEO. We have also gained the valuable ability to evesdrop on the conversations of retailers which has been illuminating and very useful
Although we loved Twitter we did not realise the full extent of its power until the row between a small designer called Hidden Eloise and the stationery retailer Paperchase
Hidden Eloise believed that Paperchase were using one of her designs without permission. She contacted the retailer and was told that she was wrong and that was that as far as they were concerned. Hidden Eloise looked in to taking a legal case against Paperchase but realised that it would be too expensive. This all happened last November and nothing else would have been heard about it except that the issue swirled around Twitter until it was mentioned by an author called Neil Gainsford who has a very large following
Then it all exploded. The row has been reported in The Telegraph and The Guardian and a boycott of Paperchase stores been proposed. The Head Office has been inundated by irate calls and emails
I do not know the rights and wrongs of the case (although I can see that there is a marked simularity between the designs) but what is interesting is that because Twitter links people with shared interest, and they can re-tweet (pass on) to their followers the story was able to gather momentum until it became national news. Viral marketing in its truest form
Watch out big guys - we now have the power of Twitter behind us!
You can find us on www.twitter.com/knittedtoys
If you join twitter please do follow us and we can then follow you back
How many ways can you find to sell?
28 Jan 2010
We had one key New Years Resolution this year. Having spent 2009 working on finding new fair trade manufacturers and developing new ranges 2010 was going to be out finding new outlets. Given that we won’t deal with multiple retailers or supermarkets or Clintons Cards and Amazon we had already narrowed our options so it wasn't going to be an easy job! While researching new avenues for Best Years we came across quite a few ones we didn’t know about for retailers. We don’t sell to customers so we have detailed them below instead. As for us, we are looking seriously at exporting. We have had our first meetings with various government departments and its both very exciting and very very complicated! Or what about www.shoppingbank.co.uk which bills itself as bringing together two hugely successful and dynamic internet concepts; online shopping and social networking, to introduce Social shopping. Its quite expensive but it offers consumers a cash back when ever they shop so its popularity is growing If you make products yourself or even make up baskets and hampers or any other items how about www.etsy.com or its UK equivalents the award winning www.misi.co.uk which was launched in Oct 2008 and www.coriandr.com They are targeted specifically at craft and hand made items which are not serviced effectively by ebay and amazon Finally if marketing your self is the issue then how about Not on the High Street or www.swankymansion.co.uk who market themselves vigorously to drive customers to their sites. You pay commission and there are some strict terms and conditions but they are very successful If you are not in to internet then www.stallfinder.com will be able to find you a craft fair near you to exhibit at Best Years wholesale knitted,crochet and fair trade toys so we do not sell directly to the consumer but we would welcome any feedback if you find any of these avenues particulalry useful
We had one key New Years Resolution this year. Having spent 2009 working on finding new fair trade manufacturers and developing new ranges 2010 was going to be out finding new outlets.
Given that we won’t deal with multiple retailers or supermarkets or Clintons Cards and Amazon we had already narrowed our options so it wasn't going to be an easy job!
While researching new avenues for Best Years we came across quite a few ones we didn’t know about for retailers. We don’t sell to customers so we have detailed them below instead. As for us, we are looking seriously at exporting. We have had our first meetings with various government departments and its both very exciting and very very complicated!
Or what about www.shoppingbank.co.uk which bills itself as bringing together two hugely successful and dynamic internet concepts; online shopping and social networking, to introduce Social shopping. Its quite expensive but it offers consumers a cash back when ever they shop so its popularity is growing
If you make products yourself or even make up baskets and hampers or any other items how about www.etsy.com or its UK equivalents the award winning www.misi.co.uk which was launched in Oct 2008 and www.coriandr.com They are targeted specifically at craft and hand made items which are not serviced effectively by ebay and amazon
Finally if marketing your self is the issue then how about Not on the High Street or www.swankymansion.co.uk who market themselves vigorously to drive customers to their sites. You pay commission and there are some strict terms and conditions but they are very successful
If you are not in to internet then www.stallfinder.com will be able to find you a craft fair near you to exhibit at
Best Years wholesale knitted,crochet and fair trade toys so we do not sell directly to the consumer but we would welcome any feedback if you find any of these avenues particulalry useful
Jo Jo Maman Bebe
10 Dec 2009
We have worked with Jo Jo Maman Bebe for many years now and have always found them to be fair and easy to deal with. So we are particularly pleased to see that they are looking to open 4 more stores in 2010
As a soft toy wholesaler whose success is based on product design and innovation its always good to see retailers do well when they are passionate about what they do, and who do not retail on a pure price platform. JoJo have never been "pile it high and sell it cheap" retailer and to see that they have not been unduely affected by the recession is great news
Their first new stores are in Kingston and Cardiff and we wish them the best of luck with them
Jamie's Party Plan
10 Dec 2009
Jamie at Home, Jamie Olivers new party plan company was launched in March 2009. By the end of the year it had taken on 2,200 consultants who had held 24,500 parties across the UK.
In terms of the parties an average of eight people attend each party and they have generated sales above £6 million
I don't think that Avon are quaking in their boots yet but I am also sure that by the end of 2010 Jamie at Home will be celebrated as one of the fastest growing retail outlets of the year. Its just a great combination of product, brand and selling method
Best Years are a soft and knitted toy wholesaler so we don't sell directly to the public but we love the sound of party plan fair trade cotton toys. Anyone out there fancy organising it for us?!!
Sales up in Selfridges' toy department
03 Dec 2009
In this recession dampened world we are pleased to see that Selfridges department store has had a very good year. Sales have been driven by design and style rather than the discounting which their rivals have had to resort to
Paul Kelly, who is their Chief Executive, credits their success on the fact that they had a strong balance sheet before the recession hit which meant that they have been able to concentrate on shop keeping and not keeping their creditors and bankers happy.
Most small businesses have gone through periods of cash flow problems so this comment made quite an impact in our office. When you are concentrating on how to pay Peter and Paul it is difficult to come up with creative ideas for products and promotions. This must be doubly so in larger companies when you have to include major shareholders and city bankers in any financial decision
I wonder how much energy and management time of our larger companies this year has been spent on managing their bankers rather than managing their customers?
At a time when your rivals are consumed by internal issues the luxury of concentrating on retailing must be a huge advantage
As a soft toy wholesaler we were particulaly interested to see that toy sales are up 27%. Selfridges do not list our toys (although we seriously think they should!) but perhaps we may capture their interest in 2010. Fingers crossed!
Short List for Toy Retailer of the Year
27 Nov 2009
The shortlist for the BTHA Toy retailer of the Year has been announced
The shortlist is:
• Midlands Co-operative Society
Could it be you next year....?
Toy imports down significantly
22 Nov 2009
Figures from HM Revenue and Customs show that toy imports have almost halved in the first 9 months of this year from £11.2bn to £5bn
If you take out the Woolworths effect (in total their sales were just under £700m) thats still a big dip. Already there are predictions of shortages (although when was there a Xmas when the must have toy wasn't in short supply?!)
As a soft toy wholesaler we have dramatically reduced the amount of toys we import from China and it is largely due to the exchange rate. For us when the £ slippped from $2 to $1.4 it cost us a lot more money to buy in toys and other toys were just not viable to buy anymore. Multiple retailers buy their Xmas stock Feb/March which was a time of maximum uncertainty and lowest exchange rate so it is feasible they decided just not to buy so much stock especially if they knew they would need to increase retail prices
We were faced with the decision of either "cost engineering" our goods to take cost out or find a way to add value. We took the latter option and have partnered with some fair trade co-operatives to produce fair trade knitted and cotton crochet toys and rag dolls.
It would be nice to think that other companies were forced to make the same sort of decisions so that when everything normalises again we do not go back to importing all of our toys based on price and no other considerations
We are looking forward to launching our new range of Fair Trade soft toys and rattles in January so come along and see us at Top Drawer in January!
Well done to Ikea
05 Nov 2009
When I found an article about Ikea's soft toys in The Telegraph I did not expect to like what I read. As a soft toy and teddy wholesaler we have always been a bit suspicious of the amazingly low prices of Ikea toys and I expected to read about poor working conditions and child labour.
However I was completely wrong. Ikea are currently running a promotion to give 1Euro to Unicef for every soft toy bought in the run up to Xmas which is great on its own but culturely they seem to be in a league of their own when it comes to how they address issues in their factories
If they find that any of their suppliers have used child labour, or that the labour force is not been treated as they should then instead of discontinuing the factory and potentially making the lives of the workforce even worse they address the issues which has caused the situation. Effectively they treat the problem not the sympton
So a big hand to Ikea and especially to a lady called Marianne Barner who appears to be the driving force behind Ikea's policy and attitude. I still can't imagine how they manage to make them so cheaply but I suppose thats what happens if you sell over 5million toys a year!
While we are handing out accolades how about one to Asda who refuse to open on Boxing Day. Both Sainsburys and Tescos are opening stores -it is entirely voluntary for staff to work and they are paid more to do so, but I prefer Asda's attitude towards Boxing Day working. They think it should be a day of rest and I agree with them!
Disney refunds USA parents over Einstein claims
29 Oct 2009
Did you know that Disney has agreed to refund parents who bought the Einstein DVDs?
The DVDs are so popular in the USA that it is estimated that a third of american babies between 6 months and 2 years have an Einstein DVD. Their popularity is because it was claimed that they can increase your child's intelligence simply by watching TV.
This is based on research from children rescued from Romanian orphanages which showed that neglected children who were re-homed before they were 2 made amazing recoveries. Those who were fostered after 2 struggled to develop rheir IQs and cognitive ability normally
It was then theorised that if neglect in the first 2 years caused brain damage then stimulation would lead to additional intelligence. A whole industry grew up around this theory a core part of which was the Einstein DVDs.
This theory is now being challenged and the American pressure group Campaign for a Commercial Free Childhood, threatened Disney with a class-action lawsuit for “unfair and deceptive practices” over Baby Einstein, unless refunds were offered.
Now as a soft toy and teddy wholesaler we may be biased but we are quite happy to make a claim based on no research except our own experiences that playing with a soft toy is much better for a young child than watching TV. We have seen children laugh more and interact more with toys than they ever do with a TV
So lets make sure babies get given knitted toys this Xmas rather than DVDs. It might not make them super intelligent but it will no doubt make them laugh!
It will make us quite happy too!
Has Ebay gained respectability or lost its way?
20 Oct 2009
There was a time, not so very long ago, that Ebay was seen as the territory of amateur or slightly dubious businesses
Many wholesalers would not allow their goods to be supplied to Ebay sellers ostensibly to protect their brand but mostly due to a snobbish attitude to Ebay
As a soft toy and teddy wholesaler we have accepted Ebay sellers for many years. Many people started their businesses on Ebay before progressing on to add websites and/or retail outlets and we have some great ebay sellers.
Our only provision is that retail prices were set at an acceptable level. We had previously found that some new sellers mistook the gross profit for income without taking in to account Paypal and Ebay fees and they then set retails at a very low level
Today Debenhams has become the first department store to have an offical online presence on both Amazon and Ebay. Their Ebay store is professional and clearly branded. It is being used as a clearance store but definitely not in a "pile it high, sell it cheap" way
Many stores have outlets on designer outlet villages to sell discontinued or over stocked items but I would guess that Ebay has significantly more traffic than even the busiest outlet village
So does this mean that Ebay is now respectible? Or does it mean that it has sold out to the big high street stores to the detriment of its loyal shops. We have watched as the calibre of Ebay sellers has increased significantly and we will be interested to see now whether the introduction of Debenhams (and presumably many more high street stores) will be benefical to them or not
Will it increase the footfall to the website as it becomes more main stream or will it squeeze out the very shops who made it successful in the first place?
What do you think?
Asda Launches Trust Campaign
01 Oct 2009
Andy Bond CEO of Asda has today launched his new campaign to increase customer loyalty and trust
Among many other new initiatives he intends to have webcams in farms that supply Asda so that consumers can be reassured as to the farming methods used and increase the general transparency through out Asda
“Events over the past year mean that faith in big businesses is lower than it’s ever been – because people have stopped trusting what’s going on behind closed doors. So, from today, there is no ‘behind the scenes’ at Asda he said
We completely agree with him that the current recession is routed in a lack of trust. When you can't trust the Banks or Politicians then its very difficult to feel secure in your future. We also agree with him that transparency and trust is a better way of building loyalty than cards and vouchers
Best Years do not supply Asda. We have designed and manufactured soft toys, knitted toys and teddy bears for almost 10 years and over that time have found that when it comes to trust and transparency its better to deal with people who are equals. When you are as dominant as Asda it is too easy to impose your trading terms and working practices without thinking of the implications to your suppliers
I can't claim to have Asda and Tescos queuing up to ask her us to supply them (how funny would that be) but even if they were we would still adhere to our "Just Say No" policy
So we give Andy Bond a big hand for his iniative. Anything which increases the trust between consumers and businesses must be a good thing. However we will wait for the results and for feedback from his non food suppliers before we jump on to his band wagon
Tesco extends its payment terms
28 Sep 2009
We see that Tescos has extended its payment terms from 60 to 90 days for its FOB suppliers
What made us laugh was that a Tesco spokesman said “Tesco International Sourcing has contacted non-food suppliers to standardise payment terms to 90 days from receipt of invoice. We have an excellent record of paying on time and suppliers tell us that certainty of payment is what is important to them."
Do you think he thought that statement even the slightest bit ironic?
As a softy toy wholesaler we do not deal with the supermarkets exactly for this sort of reason. I wonder if there may be some more suppliers taking the same decision next year!
Does Anyone Still Want To Be The Best?
05 Aug 2009
There have been a lot of retailers lately announcing they are moving in to the toy market, not because they like toys but because it fits their strategy. Shop Direct has bought the Woolworths name with its massive brand recognition, Waitrose is leveraging the ranges of its sister company John Lewis and Play.com wants to extend its ranges
What ever happened to wanting to be the best? Can you imagine what Selfridges would look like if the ranges had been selected solely to improve their margin? Or would Hamleys be the iconic shop it now is if they started out without any passion
Selling on line is a cheaper and easier way to move in to product area because you don't need to stock stores and you can keep running costs to a bare minimum.However it also pushes you in to stocking recognised brands as they are the most searched for items and they are self explanantory when listed on line.
What you don't do is pick unknown and unusual products which you believe in. Why bother dealing with a small supplier when you can deal with a couple of large ones with wide ranges and lots of licensed products? Why take a risk on an unknown toy when thousands of people search the internet for Bob the Builder everyday
Its not that we mind large companies selling licensed products. There is a large market for licensed toys and multiple retailers can service it very effectively. Now that Woolworths has gone there is a large gap in the market and it makes sense for retailers such as Shop Direct and Play.com to want to fill it.
However it would be nice to see a retailer moving in to toys because they thought they could do it better anyone else. How refreshing it would be to have a retailer announce that they loved the toy market and thought that they could bring a fresh perspective and masses of enthusiasm to it.
Best Years are a soft toy wholesaler specialising in knitted and ethical toy ranges. We deal with the independent sector who love what they do and have a passion for their ranges. This sometimes makes them very fussy but we like that!
Organic vs Fair Trade soft toys
29 Jul 2009
A report by the Food Standards Authority out today, 29th July, has stated that there are no health benefits to eating organic food
As a soft toy wholesaler we are not best placed to comment on the health benefits of organic food. However over the last 2 years we have been actively trying to move to ethical ranges. We have always been extremely careful with who we bought from but there was a natural progression and at first we investigated organic cloth
However the issue with organic is that although the cloth itself may be made with organic cotton its progress from there could be identical to any other mass produced toy. Being made with organic cloth was not a guarantee in itself that the toy was made ethically
The other issue was that to be certified organic takes time and money. The rag dolls we are buying are made from organic cloth but we cannot make this claim offical because the farmers are too poor to go through the certification process. Many of them are also too poor to afford the chemicals which is why their crops are organic!
All these issue lead us down the path towards Fair Trade toys rather than organic. Some of our more organised workers co-operatives also have organic cloth but others do not.
On balance we are happier to work with suppliers who are actively concerned with their communities and the impact of their manufacturing rather than just buying organic cloth. By their very nature they tend to be concerned with their environment and we have been humbled by what they have achieved.
As a matter of interest we now only source from one factory in China although we have a second factory we would be happy to work with.
soft toys sell well even in a recession
Mattel and Mothercare report strong results
17 Jul 2009
It appears that the toy and baby markets are a good place to be during a recession
Mothercare has just reported sales up by almost 10%.
UK sales were up 5%, International sales were up 32% (almost 30 stores were opened during this period) and Home Delivery 17%
Sales in the UK were helped by the Early Learning Centre inserts in Mothercare stores
Mattel's sales were not as positive with sales down 19% but profits jumped by 82%.
The sales decline was put down to cautious retailers who are keeping their inventory tight (Mattel itself has cut its inventory by 13%), and a lack of movie tie-in ranges
There is some less positive news with Toy City the Irish retail chain going in to administration, and Nikko, the RC specialist also going down but all in all the toy sector is proving more resilient than many would have given it credit for
Best Years are a soft toy wholesaler and not in the same league as Mattel and Mothercare but we are pleased to tell you that our sales are up too and we are looking forward to the Xmas season
why we don't sell our knitted toys to Amazon
07 Jul 2009
In response to concerns raised by our independent customers we have decided to stop selling our range of toys directly in to Amazon
Our decision was helped along by the following blanket email from Amazon
2009 Purchasing Terms
Additional Marketing Allowance - 3.5% based on net receipts for the full trading year
Volume Rebate - minimum 3.5% retro for achieving a 2009 turnover at least equal to 2008 turnover (based on net receipts for the full trading year)
Returns agreement - full right of return on all products including damaged, defective and recalled goods or 2.5% based on net receipts for the full trading year
Payment terms - payment terms are 60 days EOM, or 2.5% early payment discount on 30 days EOM
To be honest we did not try to negotiate and I am sure that the buying team would have been reasonable but why bother?
Amazon's pricing is probably one of the biggest issues our retailers have to deal with and as a toy wholesaler specialising in supplying the independent stores we were happy to walk away
But now you know how they achieve their retails (but don't tell Amazon we told you!)
Cheap soft toys and why are knitted toys are not discounted
02 Jul 2009
I was listening to an interesting discussion about discounting last week (don't laugh, just pity Liz who has to work with me!)
The consensus semed to be that there were 2 very distinct reasons why businesses cut prices
In retail we are more geared up to offering promotions as unless we sell food our products have a very long shelf life
However if you continually promote then consumers will come to expect a discount and will not buy without one (think furniture retailers) If you get in to this situation then you have undermined the actual value of your product - just how much should a sofa cost?!
In toys Woolworths also did this and took a considerable market share on the basis of cheap toys. But as we have seen volume is vanity and profit is king. Anyway one can sell cheap products but more retailers have collapsed at the value end of the market than premium
The opposite of this is Whisky and Perfume manufacturers who will not discount the price of the product however tight sales are as they believe that their products are aspirational and therefore cutting prices is counter intuiative
Best Years, as a soft toy wholesaler, offer price promotions for 2 distinct reasons.
We have a Sale once or twice a year to clear the remnants of stock where we have decided not to re-buy the line. Stocks are usually very limited so the trade price can be cut substantially. We also offer promotions at trade fairs as we do like to see our customers at trade fairs. this is not just for the pleasure of your company but also because seeing all our ranges in the flesh makes you more likely to buy a wider range than when buying from the website
Customers Stick to their Guns on Fair Trade toys
18 Jun 2009
Sainsbury's announced their results today and in amongst the positive data there was one statistic which we found very interesting
While sales of their basic food ranges were up 50% sales of their RSPCA Freedom Food have also quadrupled
It appears that despite the much heralded trading down consumers are still sticking to their principals
We noticed this at the Pulse exhibition when our fair trade and hand made soft toys and rag dolls were more popular than our value range of teddies and baby toys
As a soft toy wholsaler we try to offer a diverse range of soft toys and teddies but we are putting a lot of effort in to increasing our hand made and ethically sourced ranges
Consumers are undoubtedly being more cautious but this does not mean that they are prepared to give up on their principals so if you haven't tried our Fair Trade range look out for new products at competitive prices this autumn. They will cost you more than our value range but they may gain you new customers which we are sure will be as valuable to you as it is to us
Best Years welcome customer complaints
17 Jun 2009
We loved the Sainsbury's documentary this week where the wonderful Niall created a customer surgery in store so that customers have some where very obvious to take their complaints to
Best Years are a small soft toy wholesaler, not a massive retail chain but we love customer complaints. Its in the nature of retailing that you do not have time to compliment suppliers when things work so complaints are the only feedback we routinely get
Recently we decided to improve the popular and successful knitted T Rex. It soon became obvious that some of our customers did not like the new improved version and just wanted the original one back. What we hope is that the way we handled the complaints gave our customers the confidence to continue to work with us.
No one in business is naive enough to believe that everything always run smoothly, but here at Best Years we pride ourselves on taking all feedback seriously and resolving issues as quickly as possible
However if you ever have enough time to let us know when we are doing things right then that would also be fab!
Want to say something. Please email firstname.lastname@example.org
Knitted toys on twitter
30 Apr 2009
As a soft toy wholesaler we use both Twitter and Facebook
Basically we think that Twitter is just another way to communicate with people
Twitters largest age group is 35-44 years of age accounting for 25.9% of all users
63% of users are male
UK Twitter traffic trebled in 2009 and is still growing an astonishing rate
There are well over 8 million Twitter users worldwide. 53% Earn over £40,000 p/a
63% Have at attained a college education or higher
So to return to the question of how is this useful to small business and how as a gift shop, or even as a soft toy wholesaler you can use Twitter then we think it has several uses
Funnily enough we came to Facebook as a business well after we went on to Twitter. We see many of our customers use it to talk to their customers and friends but as a business to business forum we would love to see our Facebook pages as a way of debating and discussing things which we think are important to our industry. We also use it to post images of new products which are not yet in stock so keep checking in to see exclusive previews
Click here to see our facebook page
31 Mar 2009
The current economic climate may not be the most comfortable of places to be trading in but it has had the benefit of making us look outside our comfort zones to ensure our business continues to grow. One of the major decisions we have made is to partner with another soft toy wholesaler, a company called UKIC.Whereas we specialise in knitted toys UKIC have a wide range of traditional plush
Trust Best Years and our knitted toys
04 Mar 2009
I was listening to a rather earnest discussion on the radio about our current economic situation and one of the contributors made the point that we are not so much suffering from an economic crisis but rather a crisis in trust.
Institutions which we have always trusted implicitedly have shown themselves to have feet of clay.
Who would have thought even a year ago that we would have come to distrust our whole banking system so quickly and thoroughly?
Sterling has shrunk in value and major retailers are collapsing like a stack of cards. Lack of trust has seized up the system so that normal commerce has become significantly more difficult
In view of this I would like to clarify Best Years situation
Best Years are a soft toy wholesaler. We sell soft toys, plush and knitted toys.
In August 2009 we will celebrate our 10th anniversary. You can trust that we will still be here in August 2010, August 2011 and we will celebrate the Olympics with you in August 2012.
You can trust that we will continue to design and manufacture high quality soft toys.
You can trust us to work with only the most reputable manufacturers and in fact we are working hard to increase the % of our own soft toy ranges being fair trade.
You can trust us to deal fairly with both our customers and our suppliers. Nothing ever runs smoothly all the time but we endeavour to sort out any issues promptly and fairly.
We are happy to get emails and phone calls however small the query may be so if you have any questions please do get in contact
Phone ï¿½ 01327 262189
Email ï¿½ Gaynor@bestyears.co.uk
Useful information and websites (hopefully)
28 Feb 2009
This year I decided that it would help if we understood the workings of search engine so I enrolled on a couple of Business Link courses and they were fab. Here are a couple of top tips from the days I went on ï¿½ Hopefully you will see the impact on the next our website over couple of months
Selling soft toys in a recession
30 Nov 2008
In Mintel's October report "Marketing to Tomorrows Consumer" Mintel makes the point that this is the first time that the internet generation has experienced an economic downturn and Mintel predicts that they will react very differently to older consumers
They have classified consumer responses to hard economic times in the following ways
Bargain Hunters 77%
Stay at Homes 61%
Back to Basics 25%
Comfort Seekers 34%
Obviously there is overlap, ie you can be a Bargain Hunter and a Stay at Home
Bargain hunters still like to shop but seek out the best deals, often using the internet to do so
Demographics are Female (who are more likely to enjoy shopping as a hobby and would be reluctant to give it up altogether), C1/C2, Family and 3rd age
Back to Basics ï¿½ a combination of eco concerns and economic downturn means a more make do and mend, grow your own mentality. Demographics Female, 55-64, E and A/B. More likely to be in Wales and South West
Stay at Homes ï¿½ make a virtue out of economic necessity. For instance they will entertain at home when cannot afford to go out and will buy things to make their home nicer rather than spend money on going out
Demographics 25-34, family lifestyle group. ABC. People who have to pay a babysitter on top of the cost of an evening out
Comfort Seekers ï¿½ reluctant to give up on little luxuries such as chocolates, flowers and home accessories
Demographics ï¿½ Male, over 55, ABC and retired, Broadsheet readers
In terms of marketing Mintel say that the ï¿½weï¿½re in this togetherï¿½ message is the best way forward, The best thing about this is that smaller companies will have an advantage over corporations with this stance! We are a soft toy wholesaler and not a market research company but I hope that this information is of use over what is looking like to be a difficult year
Selling soft toys online
31 Jul 2008
The convenience of internet shopping has always appealed to mothers but in research carried out in April this year it appears that the internet is becoming a dominant factor in the choices mothers make
The research found that while one third of mothers actually buy on line over 60% used the internet to research purchases before they bought.
In terms of influences 47% of mothers used as search engine to find out information but 16% were influenced by email news letters. This is more than those who researched via branded websites (12%) and shopping comparison sites (11%)
Although this research was carried out in the USA it is likely that there similar pattern here in the UK
Nice to think that your newsletter might affect the purchasing behaviour of more people than the website of a multi national company!
Looking at UK research a Verdict report in May 2008 found that 59% of all internet users used the internet to research purchases before they bought
Interestingly almost 85% of consumers surveyed in the same report thought that the internet was better than the high street when it came to finding unusual products and this was the primary reason why people shopped online. It will be no surprise that the 2nd most popular reason sited was price comparison with 76% of consumers using the internet to get the best possible price. The 3rd most common reason for shopping on line was the width and depth of products available online compared to high street stores
In Mothercare's results which were published recently sales were up a fabulous 19.5% proving that the baby market is resilient even when times are tough but Mothercare's direct sales were up a huge 28.6% as their customers took advantage of the convenience of internet shopping and the wider ranges Mothercare make available online
The reasons why consumers chose not to buy online are also interesting
75% of people think that shopping on the high street is more enjoyable than online
86% think that customer service is better in shops than online
Almost 90% trust high street stores more than online stores and 91% think its easier to get a refund in a shop than online
Primark's child labour scandal
31 May 2008
The recent Panorama programme showing Primark clothing being made by young children has once again high lighted the issue of working conditions in over seas factories
There is one straight forward reason why issues such as the use of child labour continue and that is money. If you are trying to sell an embroidered shirt for under £5 and make a profit on it then you are not going to be paying the supplier very much for it. The factory will therefore have to find a way of producing the garment as cheaply as possible and the consequences of this is obvious
As a consumer it is always tempting to buy at the cheapest price you can, and theres not many of us who can claim not to have been seduced by the incredible prices available in some shops. Similarly as a shop owner it is hard not to be tempted by the prices some wholesalers offer on their product.
Best Years do not demand absolute rock bottom prices from our factory. To be frank we are not big enough to muscle our way round the Far East demanding cheap prices. However we are happy to work with our suppliers to get the best quality products at the fairest prices. We also visit factories before we start working with them to ensure that the working conditions and the accommodation are above the required levels.
We will never be the cheapest wholesaler you can find but we pride ourselves on the quality of both the design and manufacturing of our toys. When you are selling to children we think this is more important that just price
Safe soft toys from Best Years
13 Nov 2007
Following hard on the heels of Fisher Price's recall of some Seseme Street and Dora the Explorer toys Mattel today announced the biggest product recall in UK history. Despite there being no recorded incidents of harm caused to children Mattel has voluntarily recalled lines with small magnets (including Polly Pockets and other well known brands) as new stringent checking proceedures have high lighted that there may be issues with children swallowing the magnets
The problem springs from success. When you need to bring in hundreds of thousands of toys to meet retailer demand then no one factory can cope with the demand. This means that manufacturing is sub contracted to smaller factories who in turn sub contract to smaller companies and so on. Very soon, despite the best efforts of reputable companies such as Mattel the process becomes hard to control
This is probably the same issue which caused TopShop embarassment when The Sunday Times revealed that some of its workers were earning a pittance
Best Years manufacture in runs of just 2,500 units at a time and this means we never ever have to sub contract. It also means that we sometimes run out of stock! As a soft toy wholesaler this is something we would rather face than increase our run sizes.
Also we design our toys to exceed safety standards. For instance our baby toys have embroidered eyes rather beads for extra safety
This year we will introduce crochet toys and more knitted toys as well as Fair Trade toys and it is therefore getting increasingly complicated to manage our stock. But we still believe that small is beautiful and thats why our production runs will stay small.
Free market information on toys
Where to find invaluable facts and figures
19 Sep 2007
If its true that you need to do thorough research before you start up your business then its equally true that however well established your business you can always use more information
But whether you are new at this or an old hand soft toy wholesaler like us, where do you find the information you need at a price you can afford?
The first place to start is always your local library which will have dozens of industry reports and information on your local area
However if you are looking for more then the first place to start is the British Library in London http://www.bl.uk/bipc/ which holds more information than you can shake at stick at!
And if London is not accessible do you know that they have a search facility you can use?
This is an exceptional service which could provide you with the very specific information you need quickly and efficiently, and at very little cost! for instance they can search their extensive databases to tell you all the names and addresses of specific business in your local area. Its definitely worth a look and their website is http://www.bl.uk/services/information/rsabout.html
Just remember if a fact has been published in the UK the British Library will have it on file - thats an impressive database!
As ever the internet is an invaluable source of information. One useful website address is http://adlab.msn.com/DPUI/DPUI.aspx which gives you a break down of the age and gender of people searching for any particular word or search phrase. So unusual gifts, for instance, is mostly typed in by women aged 35-49 years old,
And if you want to know the seasonality of your market try http://google.co.uk/trends for the peak times when people are searching for a particular item on the internet
Finally Business Link are always a friendly and accessible source of information
Finally Business Link are always a friendly and accessible source of information
How to register a design
17 Sep 2007
Registering your design in the UK is reasonably straight forward and has minimal cost
The DTI website has all the information you need on its website www.ipo.gov.uk or you can call them on 08459 22 250.
However if you feel that you need your design to be protected across Europe you are adviced to use a patent attorney and the cost will be in the region of £1500
The Institiute of Patent Attornies holds free clinics in many major cities where you can get one to one advice on how to protect your product. See their website for more info
Be aware that you need to register your design before the product goes on sale
Also hen we design baby toys and soft toys to wholesale we always like to check that the design we have come up with has not been done before!
Selling baby soft toys and rattles
10 Sep 2007
Selling to New Mothers or Babies?
We consider many things when putting together our Baby range, and one of these things is demographics
Here are a few of the facts and figures we found useful
There are approx 650,000 babies born every year and this is growing very slightly.
The average age of mothers is now just under 30 years old and even the average age of first time mothers is over 27 years old. The trend towards older mothers is gathering pace with the number of babies born to women aged 30-34 now more than those born to women in the 25-29 age bracket for the first time. This has meant that the average mother is becoming more affluent
The number of multiple births is also growing, especially in the over 40s where more than 2% of births are multiple
The number of children living in families where both parents work has now risen to 66%
Regionally Cornwall, Devon and East Anglia have the lowest % of children and London, the Home Counties and Greater Manchester have the highest with the exception of Northern Ireland where a wopping 30% of the population is under 20 years old
So what does this all mean to Best Year's Nursery range?
When we develop product it is designed to appeal to Mothers and to be safe and appealing to babies.
A mother in her 30s will have been a child herself in the 1970s and therefore nostalgic knitted product will have an inherent appeal
Affluent parents will be prepared to spend more on toys but they will expect quality
Our ranges have a diverse selection of designs to appeal to all mothers and their babies
Who ever you are selling to we have a product to appeal to your customer
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