When you think of modern-day children’s entertainment, you would be forgiven for thinking the market was dominated by computer games, heavily branded toys and other gadgets.
To an extent, it is. But there is also strong demand for traditional toys, interesting play kits and other hands-on fun. Tai Broadhurst and her business, The Little Experience, has managed to tap into this market with stunning success.
Set up in 2002 from a small office in Arundel, The Little Experience now supplies over 300 stores in the UK, including Selfridges, with activity kits offering everything from baking and painting to clay and model making.
The rapid growth of the business has seen Broadhurst thrust into the limelight, being nominated for several prestigious awards. In October, The Little Experience was named Micro Business of the Year at the Startups Awards.
The speedy success of The Little Experience is even more impressive when you consider that Broadhurst and her partner spent the first full year of the venture’s life researching, designing and developing over 100 different kit ideas.
Broadhurst recalls that this period put a severe financial strain on the fledgling business, with high street banks reluctant to part with funds.
“Banks in general do not support research and product development for fledgling companies,” she explains. “Our bank did not even give us the loan guarantee scheme, even though it’s 70 per cent guaranteed by the government.
“If I could have done something different I would have changed banks.”
The Arundel-based entrepreneur had to finance the business out of her own pocket – a risk she was prepared to take with savings, loans and credit cards.
“It was extremely difficult as the business had to go through a year-long period of research, design and development of the kits and then safety certifications,” she says.
“I had to personally fund wages, rents and expenses for more than a year before we even begun trading.”
The Little Experience eventually released 47 products for initial consumer trials and were then sold via 10,000 mail order catalogues and two London-based trade shows.
Broadhurst cut down the range to the best thirty products and almost immediately took the first order from Selfridges. Products supplied by The Little Experience can now be found across the UK, as well as online.
The healthy demand for the activity kits has vindicated Broadhurst’s decision to risk everything to create a business that supplies stimulating children’s toys.
“My analysis of the market revealed that although there are a number of children’s kits or activity projects available, the market itself was highly fragmented,” she explains. “The market had failed to evolve.
“The focus on the highly profitable computer games has made them a more competitive stock investment. However, the volume of this type of product on the market was testimony to its demand.”
With a redevelopment of The Little Experience website, which will be translated into five languages, 2005 looks promising for Broadhurst, But what would her tips to other entrepreneurs be?
“Make your products different from your competition in some way,” she advises. “Don’t just use the business plan as a means to an end to get money but use it as a working document.
“There’s nothing like for focussing the mind. It makes you ask tough questions.”