Indie Insight: Carddies calls for UK’s retailers to work better and more closely with the country’s indie businesses

The independent arts & crafts-toy hybrid, Carddies, has called on the UK’s big name retailers to work more closely and better with small, home grown, and independent brands, in its bid to encourage more shelf space for the UK’s creative businesses.

The London-based company behind the award-winning range of boxed card characters, has voiced its appeal to the leading retailers across the country at a time in which consumers are paying more attention to factors such as carbon footprint, as well as the current trend for supporting independent businesses, many of whom have suffered over the course of the year thanks to the coronavirus pandemic.

Highlighting that customers ‘love buying UK made, reasonably priced products with a small carbon footprint,’ the Carddies team is hopeful that more attention and interest will be paid to the small, independent, and home grown brands such as Carddies.

Recognised for breaking the mold of the arts and crafts category, as well as the traditional toy sector, for its selection of card characters that can be coloured-in with the pencils provided to children in each Carddies box, the firm has enjoyed a year of media and industry attention spurred by a slate of awards.

This year witnessed Carddies pick up a Dad’s Choice 2020 Award in the Stocking Fillers category, as well as the Best Creative & Educational Toy Range 2020 with LUXlife Magazine. On top of that, Carddies featured in Mumsnet’s 15 best stocking fillers for kids for under £10.

Coupled with the growth of the arts & crafts sector in general this year, fuelled by parents searching for activities for their stay-at-home children, and Carddies has seen sales remain steady throughout a year plagued by Covid-19. However, the majority of Carddies’ business is now sought through online selling, via either its online store on Amazon.co.uk or through the parent-focused marketplace Mama Brown.

Here, ToyNews catches up with Raquel Bello, one half of the founding sister duo behind the Carddies business to talk about 2020 life as an independent business, the prospect of new licensing partnerships, and why the UK’s big name retailers should be paying more attention to home-grown talent.

Founding sisters of Carddies, Raquel (left) and Esther (right)

Hello Raquel it’s nice to catch up. To start, how has business been for Carddies over the course of 2020? 

As with many others in retail, our direct business is now predominantly online, and for that reason our 2020 sales remained steady throughout the year despite the lockdown. Most of our sales are generated through our own Carddies brand store on Amazon as well as our Carddies store on Mama Brown – a marketplace aimed at parents and run by an entrepreneurial mother.

There has been a pleasing uplift in interest in Carddies in the lead-up to Christmas, on account of the various awards Carddies won. We placed in the Dad’s Choice 2020 Awards in the Stocking Fillers category, as well as the Best Creative & Educational Toy Range 2020 with LUXlife Magazine.

We have even been lucky enough to find our little card people in the Mumsnet’s The 15 best stocking fillers for kids for under £10.

What can you tell us about the continued interest in Carddies? What’s been driving the popularity since launch in 2012?

Carddies continues to be a toy that ticks so many boxes: all year round gift, stocking filler, colouring in arts and crafts activity, storytelling educational toy, collectible range. In that sense, it is always a toy that children and their parents are going to love when they discover it, and which will stand the test of time.

As a tiny, independent business we have not had access to the large marketing budgets available to other toy brands; we place significant reliance on our customers spreading the word on our behalf, and they seem to do a great job for us, for which we remain continually grateful. Our impression is that when people come across Carddies they seem genuinely pleased to find a screen-free toy which is so immediately engaging and absorbing, and which children love.

One silver lining of the year is that parents and families have rediscovered the value of play and traditional forms of play. To what extent has this reached the arts & crafts market, and the sector you guys occupy?

There certainly does seem to be a lot of interest in traditional, “back to basics” toys. Carddies encompass so many activities which are relaxing, even therapeutic, to a child at times which are stressful: colouring in, imaginative play, making up and telling stories.

As well as being just fun, play is also a way of making sense of the world. Carddies make a perfect conduit for starting conversations and communicating generally as the child brings the little card people to life through their colouring. When children send us photos of their coloured in sets we love seeing the myriad versions of the same card people, as each child makes them their own.

We include some freebie colouring in activities in our website, as well as on social media and we made this into a bit of a regular thing during those many months children were at home in lockdown. We would like to develop this further when we find the time.

What’s Carddies current retailer status like? What retailers are you currently working with?

In the early years (we launched in 2012) Carddies was taken up by a large number of bricks and mortar and online retailers, both small independent shops and well known retail chains.

Over time, in the competition for shelf space with more well-known toy brands, we learnt that there were only certain retailers operating with a hands-on format which allows an out of the ordinary toy product such as Carddies to come to the attention of their customers. These tended to be owner managed independent shops who have very direct day-to-day contact with, and knowledge of, their customers.

There is no doubt that some retailers struggle to “get” which mold our product fits, as it falls into so many different categories: gift, but not typical of a product in a gift section; toy, but not typical of all the bigger brand toys out there; arts and crafts activity, but not involving gluing/sticking and many parents surreptitiously throwing the end result away.

A Carddies is very much not a throwaway toy. After the little figures are coloured in, they are a keepsake, and a toy with which children treasure and use them to play imaginative games.

These barriers are less of a problem in the online platforms, where a product such as ours can be listed in multiple categories. Our focus has inevitably moved towards selling the products ourselves, because we are best at explaining what Carddies are all about.

Children certainly instinctively get the Carddies, as has been proven time and time again with all the independent reviews and awards they have received. A significant proportion of our sales are from our own Carddies brand store on Amazon, and we also love directing our customers to the Carddies store on Mama Brown which, as we mention above, is a marketplace aimed at parents and run by another Mum.

What works really well with an out of the ordinary “new” brand like Carddies, is to work with retailers to run special competitions and one off discount campaigns. The bigger retailers do not seem to be structured to be able to cater for smaller brands.

Going forward we hope to see more attention and interest from the big retailers in small independent home grown brands such as Carddies. From the start we set out to make our product in the UK and with the fewest travel miles possible.

The customers love buying UK made, reasonably priced products with a small carbon footprint.

What do you think 2021 will bring to the toy space and for you guys in particular?

We will continue to focus our efforts on getting the little Card People known to as many families in the UK as possible and are always on the look-out for new selling platforms, in particular independent curated shopping destinations.

Also, having had a long-standing endorsement by the Good Toy Guide: Carddies – Good Play Guide : Good Play Guide , we are very excited at the prospect of soon joining their  eCommerce store.

We cherish our secret stash of future new sets waiting for the right time to be added to our current quite extensive range of 15 sets (16 counting our Carddies My Family). Of course, the possibilities are endless, and of course Raquel likes any excuse to return to the drawing board.

We remain very open to making bespoke sets, as we have done for Eurostar in the past, when we supplied bespoke Carddies for Eurostar sets for two of their seasons. We would also love to find time to research a possible collaboration with a children’s charity. We were involved in a couple of projects with local children’s charities over the lockdown, and would really like to do something on a bigger scale.

Thank you Raquel, is there anything you’d like to shout about right now?

We wish you and your families a safe and happy Christmas, even though sadly it will have to be so different from other years. We also hope the new year is a better one, full of hope.

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