On the outskirts of North London stands a shop dedicated to the world of Sylvanian Families. Robert Hutchins talks to store operations manager Ben Miller about success and a love for the miniature animals.
Can you tell us a bit about your store?
We are unique as a retailer in the UK, because we specialise solely in Sylvanian Families.
We pride ourselves as being able to offer not only the current range of Sylvanian Families, but also discontinued and harder to find items, making our shop a must see for the discerning collector.
Most of our customers have travelled to London for a day trip or holiday and we are often top of their list of things they must see. Our visitor’s book makes wonderful reading with comments from Sylvanian collectors from all over the world.
How did the Sylvanian Families shop come to be?
We created the shop in 1992 as a base to run the Tomy Sylvanian Families Token Scheme and our collectors’ mail order service.
In those days, Sylvanians were sold separately as well as in a family set, so collectors could order from us any missing family figures or other figures or other items to finally complete their collections.
When did you guys realise your passion for all things Sylvanian Families?
Over the years, our small team has mostly been recruited from our own customer base. It is very important that our staff knows the product inside out and can advise our customers on what they purchase.
All of our team have a huge knowledge of the brand and its history, and can advise customers brilliantly whether they are a first time purchaser or a long time devotee.
What ranges do you stock?
We stock the full range of UK Sylvanian Families and an extensive number of discontinued lines. We used to stock Epoch’s Japanese and mainland Europe range, as well as the North American Calico Critters range. However, Epoch UK feels we should only run the UK range like all the other retailers.
What are the challenges in running a Sylvanian Families store?
The toughest part of our work is sourcing enough diverse stock to meet customer demand and obviously only dealing with one supplier. The rest is easy.
Our team prides itself on excellent customer service and we always go the extra mile for our customers. The best part is seeing the delight on faces young and old as they step into our own little part of Sylvania.
What is your relationship with the local community?
We have and always will continue to support our local community, such as school fundraising events throughout the year. The shop itself is too small to accommodate any special events, so once a year we have a Sylvanian Weekend Away in the summer time.
We invite all of our collectors to join us in Whitchurch in Hampshire and we turn the community centre into a mobile version of our shop with a large marquee on the lawns of the Silk Mill next door. This is where we conduct our shows and activities. The community gets involved, too, helping with everything from extra parking in the school playground to policing the traffic for our thousands of visitors.
What is demand like for Sylvanian Families?
Sylvanian Families has everlasting appeal right across age groups. Over the years, we have noticed it cycle through peaks and troughs.