Whirligig Toys is an iconic Brighton shops you’ll always think of when somebody asks you to name shops in The North Laine. Its white and red logo above its eye-catching window displays means this independent gem can’t be missed. Run by former teacher Peter, the shop takes a unique position only selling toys which children can engage with and learn from – a lesson which he brought with him from his teaching days. We took some time out to find out more…
Who owns the business and when was it founded?
Whirligig Toys was founded by me Peter Allinson, in 2012. We were running the Temptation Cafe in Gardner Street, Brighton and getting huge interest in the knitted window display and tea cosies that I made to go in the cafe, and spotted the making craze. At that time, as the children in our family were getting older, we spotted that all the toy shops that we loved only really catered for very young children. As the cafe was doing well and we were enjoying the customers’ interaction, we decided to explore a retail side to the business.
Whirligig was an ambition to create a children’s toy environment where you could buy really meaningful presents for children that got them involved and making things. I was a primary school teacher in a different life and brought much of this experience with me when discovering and selecting the products that I wanted to sell.
How has the business changed or grown over time?
Since opening in 2012, we have gone on to open three further shops in Chichester, Tunbridge Wells and Canterbury and have a growing online shop as well. We’ve had a fantastic reaction to the shop and the products that we sell – people are really looking for unusual toys and meaningful experiences.
What products/services do you offer and how are these unique?
Whirligig is a specialist children’s shop – we focus on ‘things to make and do’. Everything in Whirligig has been selected by our team because they are fun to play with, give children a memorable experience and get the children involved in what they are doing. We seek out smaller and independent suppliers who are not on the general high street and who have great products. This means that there is always something new to discover in the shops and our customers love this. We also provide toys and gifts for older children who are sometimes forgotten by the mainstream toy industry – children who love to complete a project and are excited by a challenge.
Being independent is crucial to us. We love the freedom to make decisions, involve the whole team and choose products that we love.
How important is being an independent business to you? What has it allowed you to do which big companies may not have allowed?
Being independent is crucial to us. We love the freedom to make decisions, involve the whole team and choose products that we love. We are not part of any buying group or aligned with any suppliers. We have a rule in the company that if we haven’t played with a toy, we don’t know how to sell it, so everyone in the team gets to be involved in the toy selection and gets to play as well. If we don’t love a product, we just don’t stock it.
We have also been able to follow things we believe in. We were the first multi-site business to be awarded the Let Toys Be Toys Award for gender-neutral toyshops – a campaign that has really influenced the way we work with our customers.
What inspires you?
We are really inspired by our customers. We run a competition called ‘I Made This…’ where we encourage children and their families to send us photos of their completed projects. These pictures are amazing – they really capture children’s ability to create and to achieve with well-designed products. We love to discover new products and interesting suppliers who are designing great toys – it is part of the fun of the business.
What are your plans for the future?
We have grown very quickly and will consider growing further if conditions are right. We plan to continue to discover more and more great products and present these to our growing customer base. We want to stay independent and ensure that we still enjoy playing with the toys!
If you could recommend one Whirligig toy, what would it be?
We love the Timberkits range – great automata models that children can build and then make them work. A great design with a lovely activity make these great presents.
Have a look at what they’re up to by following them on Instagram, and Facebook or maybe even give someone a Goodmoney voucher for Christmas and they can use it to treat themselves to a gift from Whirligig! Keep an eye out over the new few weeks for a festive giveaway…