The BBC Breakfast programme is featuring a family who are trying to buy only British made goods. How good to see that idea back I thought as I watched, reminded of the We’re Backing Britain campaign of the late 60s. Then I choked on my cornflakes when I reflected that, if they were looking to buy toys for the couple’s young children they might be hard-pressed, remembering what we sell ourselves that is made in the UK which, I’m sorry to report, is not very much.
Believe me, it’s not because we don’t want to sell British products it’s just that there is precious little manufacturing left here. A lovely range of dolls houses, forts and garages we still sell used to be handmade in Worcestershire, but they were one of the last to go and have now moved to China. We had a beautifully crafted Bagatelle that was made in Devon until 2011. It’s coming back later this year, but it’s now made in the Orient.
The notable exception is Orchard Toys and we’re pleased to stock a number of their beautifully designed games. I understand they print the components for the games and the boxes in Britain then assemble them in their own premises in Wymondham, Norfolk, itself a lovely English town. How idyllic is that?
A little closer to home for us, in Sussex, we have Blackbird Games who make a very nice little range of Treasure Hunts, again printed and assembled here. They are fun packages but the company are a small business, presumably without major overheads, and perhaps as they grow they’ll feel the pressure to look abroad to reduce costs. I hope not.
One of our most popular products for very many years is Write Your Own Book, again printed and assembled in England, although I wouldn’t want to guarantee that the pens are British made.
So there’s a thread running here, which is that printed items can be made cost-effectively in Britain, presumably because we still have a competitive printing industry that can produce paper and card-based components at a price that won’t be substantially beaten overseas, but we struggle to make anything else.
The only non-paper based products we sell come from a company in Lincolnshire that takes pride in manufacturing in Britain with a range that includes the Daisy Wooden Dolls Pram. It’s a nicely made product and was a popular item last Christmas but price-wise I now see that it’s about 30% more expensive than a similar item, made in the Far East, from one of our other suppliers and launched at the Toy Fair in January so as to be available later in the year. Is that one up for Britain? Hard to say.
So is there any light at the end of the tunnel? Possibly. This year, and indeed in the run-up to Christmas, two of our very largest suppliers whose toys are made in Indonesia have had their supplies badly affected because of industrial action in the factories, possible politically driven, and the impact continues. We wait to see what these companies’ contingency plans will be, but it does bring home the possible repercussions of moving to manufacture abroad. We think it’s about time a few toy suppliers started to think about bringing at least some manufacturing back, but will you, the customer, be prepared to pay a little bit more?
There is one other manufacturer, Lanka Kade that deserves a special mention, not because their toys are made in Britain as they’re not, but because they really focus on the ethics of Fair Trade, manufacturing their range in what is their home country of Sri Lanka. But that’s an article all on its own and for another time.