Warehouse Sale – Update – 2nd Day cancelled

We’re sorry to disappoint anyone who was planning on coming on Thursday 23rd May but we have had to take the decision not to open our warehouse sale for a second day.   Today, the first day, was a great success – to the extent that most of the items had sold by the end of the morning.  We have so few sale items left that we think you’d have a wasted journey tomorrow.

This was our first ever sale at our premises and we didn’t know what to expect.  We were overwhelmed by the number of people who visited us and their pleasure at the bargains they bought was fantastic – it just goes to show the power of Facebook in getting a message out.  It was great to meet so many of our customers too and hear how much they like our range of toys.

Many thanks to all those who came along today, and again sorry to disappoint those who couldn’t make it.  We’ll be announcing our charity donation to Chestnut Tree House Children’s Hospice as soon as we know our figures.

Toys Made in Britain??

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 take 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 manufacturing 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.

Easter closing

Our office is now closed for Easter, reopening on Tuesday 2nd April.  Our website is if course still able to accept orders over the Easter weekend and these will be despatched on Tuesday 2nd April.

We wish all our customers a restful weekend.

Childhood ends at 12 ?

As reported in the press, a recent Mumsnet survey has emphasized the belief amongst parents that children are growing up faster – or getting older younger as it’s sometimes described – something the toy industry has recognised for years.  It seems this latest survey suggests that the majority of parents believe childhood is over by the age of 12.

That’s a sad state of affairs in anyone’s book but, given that at the same time we’re all expected to live longer, it means that childhood must be becoming an even smaller proportion of life.  When we started Mulberry Bush 17 years ago one of our guiding principles was that we should offer the toys and games that parents, and indeed grandparents, would remember with fondness from their own childhood.  We still do that.   If childhood is so fleeting isn’t that all the more reason to ensure that, whilst they are young, children have the wherewithal for fun, imaginative and constructive play, through toys that have been proven down the years?

Father Christmas’s Top Ten Stocking Fillers

Father Christmas has now authorised us to announce the top stocking fillers he’s ordered from us for this Christmas – and all under £7.  He’s ordered 100s of each of these from us so we are pleased to recommend them to you.  Fortunately, despite his orders, we have stock left, but we don’t know when he’s going to want more so get your order in soon !

Here’s his Top Ten so far. 

Pirate Skittles 

Astro Projection Torch
Batwing Gyro Flyer
Wooly Willy Face
Wind-Up Gigantipede
Flashing Electromite
Fairy Skittles
Boot Bling
Kaleidoscope
Mini  Eco Ladybird Torch

All great fun to wake up to on Christmas morning

Autumn Catalogue out soon!

Keep an eye on your letterbox for our new, bigger than ever, Autumn catalogue.  If you’re on our mailing list you should receive one automatically, and it should be with you around September 12th.  If you haven’t had one before and would like us to send you one simply enter your details here.

Keep an eye on the website over the coming days too as more and more new, fun products are added.

Ikea wooden train track – does it fit Brio or Bigjigs Railway?

In this article we look at the wooden train set sold by Ikea and check to see whether it fits with Bigjigs railway, Brio or any of the other leading brands.

Firstly we have to say it is fantastic value. Sold under the name of Lillabo, Ikea offer a basic 20 piece set for £7.99 and a pack of 10 track pieces for just £4.99. The track pieces seem to be made of beech, which isn’t cheap. As the old phrase goes “You couldn’t buy the wood for that”. If you think your child will be happy with a basic layout and will not want to extend it as they get older with crossings, engine sheds, T-junctions and other fun items that include elements of track – extras that Ikea don’t currently have in their range – then this is a good way of doing so. In any event it’s a good introduction to wooden trains. The problem is that the Ikea track that we bought just doesn’t fit easily with the numerous other makes of track we have, despite their own claims.

Take a look at these photos.

You can see that unlike most brands the Ikea track uses a plastic insert to form the male joint. For whatever reason the people at Ikea made it shorter than the Brio or Bigjigs joint so with the samples we had it just doesn’t fit – see image below. OK, maybe the odd piece will just about squeeze in, but we haven’t been able to make it do that, and we think it could be immensely frustrating for a young child. Conversely of course the male end of other brands, being that bit longer, fits loosely into the female end of Ikea track, making a wobbly and unsatisfactory connection.

 

What we also find surprising is that Ikea explicitly promote their set on their website saying it “Combines with most other railway systems on the market” when in our testing it quite clearly didn’t. But don’t just take our word for it. Others in the toy industry have talked to us about this and there are plenty of discussions on the subject online amongst perplexed parents, notably a couple on Mumsnet – see discussion 1 and discussion 2

The other thing to note is that in this world you do get what you pay for. Take a look at our picture below of Thomas the Tank Engine, from the Thomas and Friends range, on the same track (Ikea track actually) and attached to the engine that comes from Ikea. The black Ikea engine has no detail and is really quite small. Admittedly the Thomas Engine costs £2.00 more than the whole Ikea set, but doesn’t it just look a lot more fun for a child?

Our overall conclusion? Ikea wooden trains are a great buy to see if your child will enjoy a wooden train set, or if you’re happy for your child to be restricted in the layouts they can make in the future. But – if you want your child to be able to put together their own more complex layouts without help, want long-lasting play value and the certainty that accessories will fit, then you’re better off paying a bit more and buying almost any other brand as a starter that offers scope for extension, such as our own Mulberry Bush Wooden Train range 

National Trust – 50 Things To Do Before You’re 11¾

Some of my best memories of childhood are of the adventurous things I did, many of them as a Boy Scout.  Some of them were daft, and some of them were definitely dangerous.  Climbing the chalk scarp slope at Boxhill in plimsolls and no rope.   Fighting a major fire on Headley Heath armed only with tree branches, until the fire brigade arrived.  And cycling 50 miles to Brighton (and back again) on a whim, without a map, just half a crown in my pocket and not having told my parents I was going – at the age of 12.  That one was both daft and dangerous, but 50 years later I’m still here to tell the tale.

Those outdoor activities and the risks we took were what made life fun – and kept us fit at the same time – and it’s my perception that children aren’t as active anymore.  Consequently I was really pleased to read the National Trust’s list of 50 things a child should do before they’re 11 ¾  and not just to see the list but also the research and report they commissioned that sparked this off.  There’s a danger that the reasons behind this list of exciting activities will be lost in the snappy headlines and précised short attention journalism that is so prevalent these days so I urge any parent or grandparent to read the full report on the National Trust website.  It makes fascinating and rather frightening reading and it’s not surprising that they of all people should publish a report of this type.  If today’s children don’t get outside more now, they certainly won’t when they’re adults, and where will the National Trust then find its members?

I like to think that here at Mulberry Bush over the years we’ve done our bit in encouraging children out into the fresh air having fun – some of our most popular items such as rope ladders, seascopes and pocket kites are fun outdoor toys.  We’re putting up a few more suggestions on our Pinterest pages too.    We’ll certainly be bearing the National Trust’s report in mind as we select for our next catalogue, and as parents and grandparents doing our bit to get the children in our families away from the TVs and computers and out in the open.

John Crane Rail Track – Does it fit with Brio ?

As we know, Bigjigs Rail and Brio wooden railway track and trains are compatible.  (For full details see our article about these two brands).  What about extra track from the John Crane Branching Out (now Tidlo) range?  Will this fit with either or both?  Mulberry Bush have a large selection of track pieces of various lengths and shapes from various brands.  The photo below shows pieces of John Crane track connected to a section of Bigjigs Rail track connected in turn to a Brio buffer piece, with Thomas the Tank Engine – from the Thomas and Friends wooden range – happily running on the combined track.

As can be seen the connectors from the three brands are identical and the track is the same width and depth.  As the picture makes clear the track pieces all fit together easily, showing that John Crane track is fully compatible with these two major brands, and most others.

John-Crane-Bigjigs-Brio-Rail-with-Thomas-engine

The John Crane track is made of beech and is beautifully finished – very smooth to the touch.  Our picture shows one of the two curved switch tracks that come in a set and a couple of mini-straights which are very useful for joining track in large or complicated layouts.  See the full selection of our extra track sections.

Is it Compatible with Brio part 2

In this short article we demonstrate that Bigjigs Railwaytrack and accessories are fully compatible with Brio.  Brio, from Sweden, is generally used as the yardstick for compatibility as the company was the first manufacturer of wooden railway in Europe, introducing their first sets in 1957.  The name Brio has come to be synonymous with wooden railways, but now of course there are numerous manufacturers.

Bigjigs Rail and Brio track pieces fit perfectly, and one brand is virtually indistinguishable from the other.  Curves from both have track grooves on both sides  so that the pieces can be reversed and curve left or right, whilst straights have grooves on one side only.  However the latest Brio track has the name “Brio” indented on the top – not always easy to see, but a touch of branding. BigJigs-Brio-track-Trains-1

To the left you can see both Bigjigs Rail and Brio trains on Bigjigs Rail and Brio track.  The 2 left pieces are Bigjjigs rubber wood track and the 2 on the right are Brio.  The rolling stock connects perfectly.

We’ve checked both makes of track for smooth feel – i.e. how well it is sanded and finished – and in our opinion there’s nothing to choose between them.  This inevitably also depends on the grain of the piece of wood used, but neither Bigjigs nor Brio feel rough to the touch.  However Brio tend to use the more traditional beech wood for their track whilst Bigjigs Rail use rubber wood.  The thinking behind Bigjigs choice is, they say, that rubber wood is less prone to cracking.

Brio-Logo-on-Track

BigJigs-track-join-detail

Above left you can just see the Brio logo on this piece of beech wood track.  The connector and connecting method is standard across nearly all brands, as shown by the two pieces of Bigjigs track in the picture above right

In both cases track pieces are 41 mm wide by 12 mm thick.  The rail grooves are 5 mm wide, 3 mm deep with 25 mm centres, or 20 mm between them.

Below: Brio track on left from end with identical profile track piece from BigJigs on the right.   The difference between beech wood (Brio) and rubberwood (Bigjigs) can be clearly seen


 

 

 

Whilst the track is fully compatible one principal difference between the two ranges is in the engines and rolling stock.  Most Bigjigs Rail items are made with a very high proportion of wood. Generally only the wheels are plastic, and detail is added through painting and printing.  The Bigjigs Rail range goes as far as to include models of real old steam engines in their Heritage Collection, such as Mallard and Bluebell and other engines seen at railway museums or working on preserved lines in the UK.  These make great souvenirs for children – and adults – when visiting these heritage attractions.

Mallard-engine-Bigjigs Bluebell-engine-Bigjigs

Brio engines and wagons by contrast nowadays tend to have a greater proportion of plastic, used to give detail.  This makes them consistent and means that the level of detail can be high, but they may not have as much appeal to those keen on real wooden toys.  Moreover the tradition of Brio is no guarantee of European manufacture as the company moved much of its manufacturing to China about 5 years ago.

Apart from these differences, the engines, carriages and wagons from each range join together through a seemingly identical, safe magnet system, so with Brio and Bigjigs Rail track also matching, Mulberry Bush can confirm, through our own testing, that these two systems are fully compatible.