Monthly Archives: April 2013

Five Minutes with… Jos Benner managing director of Kaleidoscope

Jos explains how Kaleidoscope selects the beautiful brands and products that ultimately end-up on the shelves at Entropy, what it’s like running a family business with her two sons and what’s on her Mother’s Day wish list this year. Kaleidoscope is an Australian-owned toy importer and distributor of quality brands including Djeco, Folkmanis, Wheely Bug, Papo, Le Toy Van, Automoblox and Ragtales.


How long has Kaleidoscope been going and how did it get started? Since 1989, so our 25th anniversary is coming up! I got involved in good educational toys when my children were at Montessori school here in Brisbane — there didn’t seem to be a lot around at that time. I thought it was a good opportunity to start a business working from home, which would mean that I could work around my children’s school hours and school holidays. Not easy with three of them and no family nearby! My background is actually microbiology, but I soon discovered that I was too much of an independent thinker (interestingly, a brief opportunity to import children’s microscopes was a disaster!).

What was Kaleidoscope’s first brand? I started with Brightway puzzles from New Zealand, along with several other New Zealand brands. Being an expat Kiwi gave me a nice opportunity to promote NZ products which were beautifully made.

What are some of the things you consider before deciding to import and distribute a brand? Firstly, is it a five-minute wonder, or is it unique and engaging? Is it safe and from a reputable company? Support from the manufacturer is important. Is the play value reflected in the price? And, importantly, if I don’t love it I won’t sell it!

Do you have a soft spot for a particular brand or range? Yes, I do have my favourites but it’s too hard to pinpoint an absolute favourite. For special needs children, Djeco’s tactile puzzles are fantastic. For a birth gift, definitely a Wheely Bug; and definitely the Folkmanis Enchanted Tree for a lively six-year-old boy!

 

 

 

 

 

 

Do you ever get any feedback about your products? Yes, it is amazing: In one email someone’s house burnt down and they absolutely had to replace the exact items. Plus there are toys that are lost and it’s a major event with the parents frantic to find another because they are loved so much. The number of times we see our toys in adverts, TV programs, magazines… out of all the things they could choose, it is a real thrill to see our products selected.

What do you love the most about what you do? Everything! It’s a way of life really. As a supplier, we don’t see the thrill children get with receiving toys as you do at Entropy, but I certainly feel great about supplying good, worthwhile toys which are also beautiful and appealing to children. To help in some small way to their development is terrific.

What’s it like working alongside your two sons? Both of my sons came to help out after travelling overseas… just until a better offer came along and have never left! My three children [Jos also has a daughter] have always been involved, especially when Kaleidoscope was in our house. They came to trade fairs years ago and earned their pocket money helping in some way. Alex now looks after the IT side of the business (website and communications) and James is in charge of special projects, business analysis etc. It was important for me that they had both spent a serious amount of time working for other companies first.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Do you have rules about not talking about work outside office hours (or can’t you resist)? The home-based business model did make it more of a juggle. We moved the office from home just two years ago, along with the five employees (there are now seven). By then it was definitely time to get my home back! We don’t talk work outside business hours unless it is urgent or I can’t be pinned down during the day. We are very mindful of it.

Do you have any tips for other families working together? Make sure that they can cook and bring something delicious for lunch each day! Seriously though, I take it as a great compliment that they want to work for Kaleidoscope and their commitment and contribution is terrific; as it is with the other members of the Kaleidoscope team.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

What’s on your wish list this Mother’s Day? My daughter will have her first Mother’s Day so the thrill of that is totally enough for me.

Is there anything from your current ranges that would make a great present for mums? I have a collection of Folkmanis puppets in my sitting room – I like them to sit/perch/mind their own business until they are called to action, but look good in the meantime. The Basset Hound, fluffy cat, harbour seal pup, guinea pig, hedgehog and rabbits all make great presents for Mum; just not the scary tarantula!

What do you do outside of Kaleidoscope? I like reading non-fiction, love cycling, bush walking, travelling, gardening, but there isn’t much time for any of that – the toys get in the way!

Five minutes with… Tiger Tribe’s Anthony and Naomi Green

As the creators and owners of Australian brand Tiger Tribe, Anthony and Naomi discuss what the brand is best known for, how their children have played a part in Tiger Tribe’s development and what they’ve learned over the past six years as toy creators.


What were you both doing before you started Tiger Tribe?
A: I worked at a corporate exhibition and events company and Naomi was a freelance editor and mum of little toddlers.

What was the catalyst for starting the business?
A: A wish to create things for kids that we wanted to buy!
N: Producing engaging toys that are well-packaged, thoughtful gifts, and exciting play things.

How long have you been going now?
A: We launched our first range in August 2007, so it is almost six years now!

Three words to describe Tiger Tribe are…
N: Engaging, creative and fun.

Do you each have a favourite product?
A: I love the Zing Gliders and Tim the Flying bird – kids love the ability to make things fly!
N: For me it’s Magna Play – I love its colour, its versatility, and its portability!

How do you both come-up with your design ideas?
A: There is a lot of great stuff that exists in the marketplace, so we try to develop product that does not overlap or compete directly with popular lines. We look at 50s and 60s children’s book illustrations for a lot of our inspiration.

How much do your children influence your product development?
N: When they were little, it was all about watching them play and how they interacted with the toys. Now that they are older, they are a lot more vocal about what they think will work as a good toy or activity. They even help us think-up product names and choose designs!

Do they love that Mum and Dad are involved in the toy industry?
N: Yes, but they hate the fact that they can’t touch any of the samples!

What’s the most challenging thing about what you do?
A: THE JUGGLE! Wearing many hats at the one time! On an average day, we jump from accounts to design to sales to logistics – all before lunch! So far, we are proud to say that neither of us has ever forgotten to pick up the kids from school either…

What’s the most rewarding aspect?
A: Watching kids playing with our products: Kids are so honest and authentic with the way that they play – you know when they like something or not.
N: Also, watching people buy Tiger Tribe in a store when we are just anonymous bystanders!

What are the top three things you’ve learned in Tiger Tribe’s years?
A: We need to draw the line between work and family, there is a wealth of very talented Australian illustrators and graphic designers, and do not be afraid to innovate – the marketplace is quite savvy about copy cats.

What do you think the brand has become most known for?
A: Our magnetic range and Boxsets seem to have very solid traction. Overall, we would say that people know us as creators of imaginative and thoughtful gifts which are generally reasonably priced.

How did you come to focus on café and travel toys? Have these proven popular for parents on the go?
N: It came from our own needs – we wanted to be mobile with our kids and go places, but we understood that we needed to keep the kids busy at the same time. We were always looking for kid’s activities that we could throw in the handbag and be on our way.
A: It seems that we weren’t the only parents with that idea – we are regularly told how much people like our products for their compact design and portability and reusability. And also that our products offer a non-electronic alternative for keeping kids busy in the back seat, at the cafe, or on the aeroplane. And that makes us happy!

What do you love about what you do?
A: The variety of product development, packaging and marketing makes our work very stimulating. Sure, it comes with normal day-to-day challenges, but we would not swap it for anything.

Five minutes with… Heebie Jeebies’ Jim McDonald

Jim is one of the owners of Heebie Jeebies – an Australian toy supplier that’s known for its ability to find and invent geeky-yet-fun stuff for kids and those who are kids at heart. He lives in Melbourne and travels the country to spread the word about Heebie Jeebies’ educational wares.

Can you tell us about your background? My toy career started 30 years ago in the toy section of a major department store. One day they just put a load of boxes in the middle of the floor, which was the beginnings of the toy area. I knew nothing about toys, coming from fashion, and neither did anyone else. I soon realised that there was lots to know and always something new and exciting, so I got to like them very much. After that, I worked at Judius, a toy wholesaler, for over 20 years; then left there to join my business partner Edward at Heebie Jeebies.

What attracted you to Heebie Jeebies? The ability to sell useful things to slightly older kids: Children seem to be getting beyond toys younger these days, so we are pleased to be able to offer a lot of worthwhile toys to the older kids as well (from seven to tweens and teens). Also, our products have a strong sense of nostalgia – they are refinements of the toys that used to be around, only better, so parents love them. They are things that Mums and Dads are able to do with their kids.

What are your personal favourites? I love the Pot Head (garden plant). It’s great because it’s for both boys and girls and it lasts for a year if you remember to water it! It teaches kids about the environment and responsibility – it’s really like an old-fashioned Tamagotchi! You can even cut its hair to give it personality. I love the Liquifly (water-powered rocket) too – it’s for outdoors and tends to draw a crowd. There’s the excitement and anticipation while you pump away wondering when and how high it will fly. It’s a great ‘Dads and kids’ toy. Finally, the MiMicro is a favourite of mine – it has 60x magnification, plus a torch and UV light and it fits in the pocket. Have a look at a $10 note through it and you’ll be amazed!

What do you enjoy the most about your job? Discovering products and conveying the excitement to people. It’s fantastic when they are on the same wavelength and you share a connection in the appreciation for it. I also really enjoy being in retail shops that have created a special ambience for the visitor – it’s a gesture of giving the visitor something enjoyable whether they buy something or not. It is indeed a noble art. But, above all, I especially like seeing children using and enjoying toys. They often use the item in unexpected ways, and that’s illuminating and fun.

What three words sum-up Heebie Jeebies’ toys? Quirky, interesting and quality – we have a lot of things that are worthwhile. We’re all about providing traditional fun toys and other unusual things that hurt your head while having fun!

Five Minutes with… Pure Poppet’s Georga Holdich

Mother-of-two Georga Holdich started Pure Poppet in 2011 and has since been adding new and exciting products to the range of natural, non-toxic play makeups.

Pure Poppet Natural Play MakeupCan you explain Pure Poppet and its philosophies in a nutshell? Pure Poppet is all about imagination and creative play and being able to do these things safely. I wanted to create a range of natural play makeup and face paint that was made in Australia; ensuring children were using some of the safest products of this type available.

What ultimately made you decide to run with the idea and turn it into the product range it is today? It was my two daughters (now nearly 5 and 7) who were the true inspiration. They love to dress-up and become characters and I was frustrated at the play makeup and face paint products I could find for them – most were made overseas using toxic ingredients. Many times they were given little play makeup gifts for birthdays and I would usually hide these in the cupboard until they forgot about them. I knew a lot of parents who felt the same way. If I was choosing natural products for myself and my home, why wouldn’t I want the same for my children? And so the Pure Poppet range began.

What sort of response have you received from parents about the fact the products are natural and non-toxic? I have had an amazing response. People are very excited that they can allow their children to paint their faces or add some fun colour to their playtime with natural products. A number of parents who have children with sensitive skin or conditions like eczema have thanked me for creating the range as now their children can participate with face paint, whereas before they never could. Our new non-toxic nail polish is also receiving great feedback. Watching your child put their fingers in their mouth after having their nails painted can be a bit scary when you think about what’s in a typical polish. Now they can add nail colour safely.

Do you think having the products formulated and made in Australia is a big draw card? Personally, when I’m choosing a product in any category, I will start by looking at the ingredients or how something is made, and then I check where it’s manufactured. If there are similar products with the same great benefits and one is made in Australia, I will always choose that one. Australian-made products really do support our country and I believe we can feel reassured that the quality is of a great standard. Our lip balms and crayons are handmade by a woman in Sydney – not many products these days can claim they’re handmade! This also means I really have control over which ingredients are used. Our powders are all made in Adelaide, my home-town, and I feel proud that I’m supporting local companies with this range.

What are some of the most creative ways you’ve seen children use the play makeup? I’ve seen the products used by professional face painters and, as you can imagine, they create amazing designs! But I think the most creative a child gets with our range is when they are allowed to paint/decorate their mum or dad’s face – the results are hilarious and fantastic! My girls love to dress-up and either add some sparkle to a special outfit, or become a mermaid or favourite animal for a while. I’m hoping to add some more products to the range that can be used as they get older too.

Do boys use it too? Definitely – the greens, blues, purples and yellows have been really popular with boys. They can become super heroes, animals and dinosaurs. Initially our branding was very much girl focused and in pink, but we are soon launching some great gender neutral products with new colours that are ideal for natural face painting and adding cool stencil designs. There’ll be bats, spiders, tigers, monkeys, skulls and more to ensure the boys have lots of choices. I also know many younger boys who are quite partial to some nail colour – our blue, purple and green have been popular with them.

Do Mums and Dads love the fact it’s easy to remove? Of course they do. I find that when my girls use it, by the end of the day it’s gone but if they’ve had an intense session with the product and applied a lot; then warm water, a face washer and maybe a little face cleanser removes it in no time. If people are ever worried about the powders spilling onto floors or couches then I always recommend that, for younger children, tip a little bit of each colour onto a dish and then your child can go crazy with that without you being worried. A little bit of powder goes a long way – especially when used with a wet applicator.

Are you finding that Mums are sneaking it into their makeup bags as well? Yes. I gave some samples of our lip balms to a Mum-based conference and I had so many of the recipients thank me as they loved the balm so much. I always carry a balm in my handbag – I like the peach the best and for a little colour, but the strawberry is great too.

What would you say to people who are sceptical about encouraging young girls to wear makeup? How is Pure Poppet different? This was my greatest worry when starting the brand – I never wanted to look like I was suggesting that young children need to wear makeup to look better. Pure Poppet is all about creative play and using your imagination. The powders can be used as face paint which really highlights the creative/imaginative focus. I feel our branding and the ‘Poppet’ characters used on the packaging really sum these characteristics up. Even when parents don’t wear much makeup themselves (as was the case in our house), somehow little children, especially girls, always seem to want to try some lip balm or colour on their cheeks. I wanted to offer a safe, natural, Australian-made range for them to play with at home as an alternative to some of the toxic products available in this category.

 

Our Top 5 Mother’s Day Picks

One of our mottos here at Entropy is ‘You’re never too old to play’, and that sentiment certainly applies to Mum. Actually, if anyone does deserve to play it would be Mum! We have lots of toys for the young at heart, but here we have managed to narrow it down to our top five we know Mum will just love for this Mother’s Day.

1. White Micro Scooter for Big Kids

They’ll be no stopping Mum on this stylish adult scooter from Micro Scooters. Whether she uses it for family scoots along the foreshore or to race the kids down the street, it’s the fastest scooter that Micro produces and is rated to 100kg with huge 200mm wheels (max riding comfort, less effort, and more grace – hopefully!).

2. Quirky Birds Felting Kit

These beautiful craft kits are designed by Isabelle-Thérèse and Marie Louise Moreau – the famed Quirky Birds duo that regularly present art segments on breakfast and morning shows. Each kit has nearly everything you need to produce wonderful needle felting creations, from little dogs to penguins and mice. An addictive activity that produces adorable results!

3. Ragtales Darcy Bear

Darcy is just gorgeous – super-soft, he is a jointed bear from the English Heritage-styled Ragtales range. He would look beautiful sat on an occasional chair in the corner of the room and comes in a very attractive hat box, making him a very appealing gift.

4. Djeco Art Nouveau

Whether Mum does this alone to relax or with her older children, this artistic set from Djeco of France is just amazing. Art Nouveau’s four pictures that need decorating with felt brush pens and a gold-tipped pen are inspired by the works of Gustav Klimt (an Austrian artist of the Vienna Art Nouveau movement who specialised in paintings of females). If Mum’s really happy with her artistic efforts, they would look great framed and given back to the kids.

5. Seedling Baby’s Handprint in a Tin

A great present for new Mums, Seedling’s Baby’s Handprint in a Tin provides a treasured keepsake for a first Mother’s Day. It includes a handprint tin, white soft air hardening clay, acrylic paint, paint brush, bamboo sticks and instructions.

We also love Folkmanis’ Peacock puppet, Nutcase Helmets (to go with the Micro Scooter), Moulin Roty’s Sewing Kit, Ruby Luxe Jewellery and Petitcollin Dolls. For more ideas, go to the Gift Finder on our website and search in the adult age category.

Five Minutes with… That’s My Story founder Melissa Armstrong

Mother to Ella, 3.5 years, and Amelie, 15 months; Brisbane’s Melissa Armstrong turned a great idea into reality by creating the imagination-inducing game That’s My Story.

That's My Story is available at Entropy

What were the main factors that encouraged you to develop ‘That’s My Story?’ Having developed a creative thinking card game in the corporate world, I really saw how images stimulated and prompted creative thinking. I wanted to bring similar benefits to children and parents through play. I was passionate about creating a resource which developed an understanding of story structure and assisted in developing a love of storytelling at an early age. I wanted a game that was not only educational, but also interactive and fun; plus something that enhanced the bond between parent and child.

What feedback have you received from parents and children so far? The feedback has been wonderful! So many parents have advised that their kids just love it and the mums and dads are also finding the interaction fabulous! Many are saying that their kids are creating such humorous stories, which brings fun through play — a great way to stimulate learning!

Why are stories so important for little people? Stories stimulate our children’s imaginations and open-up a whole world of ideas to them. They develop their literacy and problem solving skills and also enhance their memory through the retelling of stories. Creating and telling stories also allows children to bring awareness to the fact that stories come from within.

How did you narrow down the characters, setting and wild cards? In other words, why did you choose the story-telling components you did? Upon reflection, this was tough! I was always mindful of including a mix of images that appealed to both boys and girls and tried not to be biased to one gender. Ella, my daughter, and her friends did assist in some eliminating and, naturally, there are a few of Ella’s favourites in there too!

How long have you been developing the game? I’ve had the idea for some time; however I didn’t actually start the design process until late July 2012, so the duration from design to product was quite a whirlwind exercise really! It explains a few wrinkles and months of burning the midnight oil after the kids went to bed!

What encouraged you to take it from concept to finished product? I have always been an ‘ideas’ girl, however I’ve never taken them to the next level. This time I shared my idea with so many people and received such a positive response that I thought, ‘What do I really have to lose?’ It’s amazing how telling others gives you that extra sense of accountability.

Are you working on anything else to further the range? I have many ‘next editions’ in mind and I’m planning on having a focus group with a selection of friends/mums to gain insight into the most popular ideas. All ideas are welcome!

What tips would you give other mums who have a great idea and want to turn it into a reality? Believe in yourself, ensure it is something you are really passionate about, do lots of research, and ask many people for feedback.

How have your children – especially 3.5-year-old Ella – benefited from That’s My Story? Ella, having been part of the journey since laminating prototypes, really knows the cards inside and out! I am so amazed at how her imagination has grown, plus her ability to articulate herself and her confidence has come along leaps and bounds. I am especially proud when she regularly chooses the game over others – hearing her finish every story with the words, “That’s MY Story!” knowing I created the game is an amazing feeling which makes the whole process so worthwhile. I still get goosebumps!

You can find That’s My Story on our website for $16.95.