The Toy Centre is a family-run online retailer that believes in the power of traditional toys. When lockdown first hit the UK, it was a belief system that paid dividends; a combination of the hot spell that baked the country and the closure of schools across the UK, drove sales of outdoor and educational toys upwards, and the quick to react reaped the benefits.
The question that everyone seems to be pondering now is, just what kind of a lasting impact will this moment in history have upon the consumer mind-set? Now that parents have witnessed first hand the virtues of traditional play, can we expect families to be investing more into the kind of toys their children play with?
The Toy Centre’s owner and founder, Janice Allibone certainly hopes so, and is buoyed by the boost that she has seen in the sales figures of her online store’s collection of traditional toys, giving credit to the consumer who is now “actively seeking out toys to engage and hold their child’s attention.”
ToyNews catches up with The Toy Centre’s Allibone in the first of a new series of columns from the independent retail sector to discuss some of the latest developments on the scene.
Hello Janice, The Toy Centre has a great collection of charming, traditional toys listed – by way of introduction, could you talk us through The Toy Centre’s ethos and attitude towards toys and play?
We are a small friendly, family online retailer with a passion for high quality wooden toys, traditional and retro children’s toys, gifts and furniture items. Including classic pedal cars and ride on toys as well as a terrific choice in contemporary play sets for little ones entertainment and learning. With a background in both service and commercial industries, we decided to put our skills to good use in promoting education through playtime.
Since we began in 2013, we set a mission to provide high quality toys with traditional fun top of the agenda. With that in mind and our firm belief that products do not require batteries or flashing lights to inspire children’s imaginations, The Toy Centre was born. We realised that children were spending a lot of time on screens and gadgets which did not stretch young minds. Not only that, the pollution caused by promoting plastic and its variants was a definite no no for us. We completely believe in eco sustainability. And with a wooden or sturdy metal retro toy that can be re-used and passed down through the generations, it not only provides a toy down the line, but inspires many memories for years to come.
We can’t not talk about the lockdown and its impact on businesses these last few month. How has it all impacted you guys?
With the world being upside down at the moment, it has been an interesting time at The Toy Centre. Being an online business we have been able to continue operating with proper safety measures in place and have received many enquiries as to whether we are still open and able to send out parcels. Yes, yes and yes! Our wonderful suppliers have been trying extremely hard to ensure that we get stock in, our website maintains a Covid 19 statement and we have maintained our social media to reach out to customers to keep them informed of developments. Plus, we have a newsletter which people can sign up to.
Something that lockdown has highlighted is the importance of engaging play for children, and it’s arguable that a greater recognition of the role it plays in child development has emerged from this. What part do traditional toys have to play in this?
Lockdown has caused a spike in outdoor and educational toys, in particular. As parents are looking for something to not only entertain their children, but inspire their learning both indoors and out. Thus, items such as ride on cars, trikes, playhouses and garden tools/kits, skipping ropes, etc have seen much popularity. Alongside such traditional items as art and craft toys, Lanka Kade animal puzzles and letters numbers and counting products. Particularly fun when easily transportable items help teach ABCs in the sunshine (when the sun pops its head out!).
The Toy Centre has a unique range of outdoor play/activities/toys for kids – what do you look for in an outdoor play product? What ranges are proving to be popular for you guys?
We believe outdoor play is incredibly important to young children. Our kids bike and trike range that we stock provides hours of fun, entertainment and other health benefits for young children. Notably, garden toys such as watering cans and Sembra seed growing kits have proved a hit this year. I suspect in no small part due to Gardeners World…
We love the fact that once outside, kids are very adaptable at making up stories and using their creativity. Which cleverly improves their emotional and psychological capacities at this crucial stage. At this current time, we’re finding that a toy that can be played with solo or with others is especially required. Perfect examples are playhouses and sandboats.
This year, we are seeing the Garden Games range picking up lots of interest. We love Garden Games’ desire to manufacture true garden entertainment. Not only for children, but adults as well.
What changes have you seen in this particular sector over the last year or so? What trends do you see emerging in outdoor play? How do you think outdoor play may change in a post-lockdown world?
Interestingly, traditional pretend play toys are definitely seeing a boost. We believe it is because people are actively seeking out toys to engage and hold their child’s attention. Especially with toys that involve social interaction, such as play shops. Also, these toys really do encourage little one’s learning. I believe that in general, there has been a real recognition of that fact.
We have always loved wooden toy kitchens and play food. Our Tender Leaf Toys and Tidlo ranges fly off the shelves. Not only to teach about the foods themselves, but cutting fruit (Especially the Melissa and Doug set) and pizzas, for example, are great to teach fractions.
It’s also is good to see the old classics like toy farms taking centre stage again. With engaging wooden animals, children can really get involved as they pretend to run a farm or take the animals on a mini garden safari. In fact, another herd of Le Toy Van animals are on their way to us now.
And post-lockdown? I hope to see the resurgence of traditional toys continue. They continue to inspire, energise and teach. After all, generations of children can’t be wrong, can they?