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!