That certain Thumb thing

Carving a niche for itself in the boys' gadget market, Thumbs Up has had huge success online and is now looking to increase its High Street presence too. Ronnie Dungan visited the firm's HQ to speak to boss Wojtek Kolan about its big digit growth...
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Gadget specialist Thumbs Up is one of the many niche suppliers that have been doing good business through the myriad online specialists that cater for a particular type of customer, usually male and usually a lover of all things quirky and technological.

Its products may be skewed at a slightly older audience, but toy retailers are an important part of increasingly its mixed retail channel. In reality, it is aiming to capture the tween market with its range which includes a number of popular R/C flying items from Silverlit and its T-Qualiser and T-Sketch t-shirt ranges. The firm’s product portfolio has come a long way since it first emerged with Gupi the electronic guinea pig.

Thumbs Up was started by Wojtek Kolan in 2004 and exists as a separate operation from sister company Santok, which specialises in iPod, sat nav and mobile phone accessories.

Describing the firm’s beginnings in his unique accent which half Polish and half Australian, he says: “We saw a gap in the boys’ gadget market and started to importing products.
We created a niche within the market and we placed the focus on the Thumbs Up brand.”

But far from being an online only retailer, Thumbs Up has already carved itself a sizeable presence in high street stores too.

“We’re very thankful to our supporters online and the mail order companies we have worked with in the past and as we expand into High Street stores we will develop more mainstream products. But online sales are very much mainstream now.

“There are a lot of internet sites that specialise in boys toys, so we serve these companies,” says Kolan. “We’ve built up good relationships with a lot of companies and we’ve been able to get our products out onto the High Street too. We service about 1500 High Street retailers including Amazon, Firebox, Hamleys, Debenhams, WH Smith and Argos.”

As with many in the sector, innovation is the difference, quirkiness the key to retaining a competitive edge and Thumbs Up has its own in-house development team to help keep it ahead of the game.

“The focus is always on gadgets,” adds Kolan. “Anything that is innovative and ahead of the curve, that’s a very important aspect of our design and product selection. If it’s got a unique selling point, that’s something we always look for as well. We develop in-house and out source production to the Far East. But it’s our own product development team that come up with the ideas.”

Like many growing companies Thumbs Up has a need to balance its growth with its ability to remain fleet-footed in its capacity to develop and bring a product to market in a short time-frame, particularly in a market that can be entirely driven by trends and where products can have short shelf-lives.

Kolan says the firm is good at creating a buzz for its products and possesses enough skill to turn those into sales.

“We can do things very quickly. Customers can go to our trade site, order a product and we can ship it very quickly.

“There’s a very short gap between the PR and marketing and the end user. We can get a product all over the internet very quickly and get a buzz going and we can then feed back on that buzz to increase the demand and deliver the product, which increase that buzz still further. It’s self generating.”

Thumbs Up is doing what the cleverest toy companies are doing and piggybacking the popularity of modern gadgetry among its target audience.

“Kids no longer play with toys in the way they used to play with toys. They play with PlayStations, Ipods and so on and we capitalise on what they’re doing with those.”

Having conquered the boys’ market, Thumbs Up now has an eye on the girls’ market and with all things pink selling well, you wouldn’t bet against it achieving a similar level of success.

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