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How Did We Get Here? A Story About Our Journey Through Toys
- Gaynor Humphrey
One of our best kept secrets is that our company slogan is “It's All About The Stories”
We also have a slogan “Sports Day Is More Important” and between them these two sayings hopefully sum up our company ethos and ethics. We care passionately about our toys, our producers and our customers but we will also never want to miss a Sports Day or similar event in our family lives because of work.
All of our products have stories attached to them, from our iconic dinosaurs, Sweet Baby range and crochet Postcard From toys through to the fair trade toys from Pebble, the organic toys from Under the Nile and all of our other toys which we loosely collate under the title Kissing the Frog (and that’s Another Story all in itself!)
But the first story we should tell is how this all started, and that goes back to when Liz and I first met.
We were both retail buyers for multiple retailers back when the high street was an unassailable bastion of profit and positivity. We wore lipstick, high heels and shoulder pads. We had business credit cards, travel accounts and company cars. Life was a continuous stream of meetings and flights. We loved it!
And then, as happens to so many others, we had kids. The long days and constant travelling rapidly became less attractive. I suspect that not much has changed over the last 15 years but back then the concept of flexible working was unknown or unacknowledged so we quickly came to the conclusion that we needed to be more in control of our own schedules.
Liz had always bought soft toys so using her expertise we set up Best Years to sell traditional soft toys in to the multiple retailers across the high street. We simply swopped from one side of the fence to the other and continued as per normal. We sold own brand toys in to retailers such as Next, New Look and Mothercare so although you would never have heard of us you may very well have bought one of our toys.
The recession took us totally by surprise in 2009. In the space of 3 months we lost all our multiple customers as one after another they asked us to fund their loss of margin through extended payment terms or enhanced margin. We politely declined and they just as politely gave their business to companies who said yes.
We thought we were stuck. Everyone else cut their prices to maintain volumes but we were not prepared to cheapen our designs or materials, and the concept of abandoning our ethics and just chasing after the cheapest factory in China was equally abhorrent.
At this point we had quite a diverse range of soft toys, a gorgeous range of Usborne soft toys, some equally gorgeous Wizard of Oz beanies and just 3 knitted ones. Pastel stripe bear and bunny rattles and a bright green knitted T Rex.
What I should have mentioned before is that by this time we had 5 kids between us. If you add in Donna and Lisa there were 10 children directly associated with Best Years which made us passionate advocates for toys with great play value and also ethical trading. What had been a “nice to do” as retailer buyers hardened in to a real resolve to ensure that the people who made our toys were employed in a fair way and paid well. These two concepts have always driven our product development and sourcing and always will, but that’s Another Story.
Play value is a phrase which gets banded about a lot. For us it is not about expensive electronic toys or educational toys but simply those toys which will entertain children with the minimum amount of outside intervention or encouragement. Toys that encourage imagination and can be played with by boys and girls across a mix of ages.
If you have kids and want to try a simple experiment then try putting a dinosaur toy into a room with the children and see what happens. Normally within 2 minutes someone picks it up and runs around the room shouting Roooaaaar at the top of their voice. Then the play begins. Sometimes it’s a fight, other times facing extinction or just being dinosaurs in a prehistoric world, but dinosaurs are always a great addition to a toy box.
If you put them in to a robust and tactile knitted fabric then you have a soft toy dinosaur with universal appeal. This applies across the genders, girls are equally fascinated with dinosaurs and are as happy to play with them as any of the boys. Similarly boys, who in this overly gendered world are too often told that they are too old for soft toys or imaginative play, are allowed and encouraged to do both when the toy is a dinosaur. (We have a real thing about kids being told what toys are suitable for girls or boys but that’s Another Story!)
So our T Rex was a huge hit with all of our kids irrespective of age or gender. It wasn’t just that our T Rex was a dinosaur it was the combination of a dinosaur in knitted fabric which gave it its unique appeal. Unlike other dinosaur toys it was bright, soft enough to cuddle, robust enough to stand up to the roughest of play and wonderfully tactile. This all meant that our knitted T Rex was still selling strongly despite the recession. It was natural therefore that we decided to concentrate our energies in to developing a whole new dinosaur range. (We also decided to concentrate on knitted and crochet toys for a load of great reasons but that’s Another Story!)
Our T Rex was joined by a Stegosaurus and a Triceratops, and we also introduced a stripe T Rex. Since they were instantly very popular we introduced the Diplodocus and Woolly Mammoth and we continued to expand the range with rattles, large toys, even larger toys and then on to Natural Rubber toys/teethers and some almost dinosaurs such as our Sabre Tooth Tiger. We sold them in to Independent shops rather than multiples as they were lovely to work with and also museum shops who are equally lovely including the fabulous Natural History Museum.
It was a huge amount of work!
In effect we changed everything. We stopped doing our traditional soft toys, we stopped doing licensed products, we stopped selling in to multiples and we found the most ethical producers we could. We created a smaller and happier company with a unique and exclusive range of toys all without missing Sports Day!
And that’s the story of how Best Years are who they are and why we are known for our dinosaurs.
Put simply, Recession + Kids = Dinosaurs!
Best Years Ltd www.bestyears.co.uk/en/