Supporting role: Big Little Toys   

May 1, 2018

Big Little Toys, a Durham-based educational toy manufacturer, is looking to extend its international reach after securing contracts with three overseas distributors in Australia, South Africa and New Zealand, with help from the Department for International Trade (DIT) North East. Here, Sarah Greenwell, founder and CEO of Big Little Toys, and John Doolan, DIT international trade adviser, explain more

Sarah Greenwell 

I established Big Little Toys after searching for a toy to give to my daughter that would also become a Christmas tradition. When I couldn’t find anything, I decided to make my very own Christmas elf toy. Recognising a gap in the market, I launched the company in September 2015 and dispatched the products from my kitchen table. To my surprise and delight, they sold out in under ten weeks.

Initially, I didn’t proactively explore the idea of exporting but found that we were getting orders from overseas and quickly realised that there was a clear demand for the product abroad.

I started working with DIT in 2016 as I wanted to tap into the team’s expertise.

DIT helped Big Little Toys in so many ways – including identifying overseas opportunities, providing advice on our distribution deals and helping us crystallise our business plan to match our market ambitions. John provided ongoing one-to-one coaching sessions, advised us on international logistics and helped us in ensuring our products met international toy safety standards.

During the Christmas period of 2016, Big Little Toys began to get initial enquiries from Australia and the US and by Christmas 2017, we had set up a dedicated Australian e-commerce site to meet the growing demand and appointed a distributor.

Big Little Toys has gone on to secure on-the-ground distributors in South Africa and New Zealand. At the same time, we were selling our products to individual customers around the world – including China, the US and Canada – through our website.

We’re now actively looking to grow our presence in several markets over the coming year, including the United States, Scandinavia and the Baltics.

My advice to a company looking to export for the first time is make the most of the wealth of support that’s available. If a small start-up from Durham can do it, anyone can.

John Doolan 

We first started working with Sarah in September 2016. Australia was a market of particular interest to Big Little Toys, and as I had worked and lived there, I was able to work alongside the British Consulate-General in Sydney to help Sarah develop an export strategy with my first-hand knowledge of the market.

We helped Sarah to identify routes to market – both in Australia and other territories  – and explored how the product would be received. Knowing the demands of each market means that you’re able to be effective in your export strategy, tailoring your approach for each market. We worked with her through one-on-one coaching sessions, which really helped us build a solid understanding of her company, her aspirations and her products. This allows us to provide timely support with any exporting challenges she may come across.

I saw huge opportunity for international success with Big Little Toys. Its products translate globally and the idea of a product that promotes family bonding means that it is naturally set apart in the toy market. On top of that, Sarah’s sheer determination to seek support and overcome hurdles means she was already setting herself up to succeed.

Our main advice to Sarah, and other exporters, is to research, research, research. If you’re well prepared, then you’ll be in the best possible position to tackle any challenges you come across at home and abroad. DIT can help by sharing their insight and by pointing you in the right direction for answers.
Sarah and I are still meeting regularly, and DIT is now looking at how we can help Big Little Toys address the next stage of their exporting journey into new territories.

Big Little Toys

Department for International Trade North East