This week Vivid Minds Vivid Futures interviews Beattie Alvarez and David Allan, the owners of Granny Fi’s Toy Cupboard. Beattie and David share a passion for fantasy, art, and making beautiful, unique, heirloom toys.
Tell us a little bit about yourself.
Beattie: I grew up in the Blue Mountains and moved to Armidale in 2010 to be with my mother. I met David, and we got married, had a baby, and did lots of art and making toys together. I’ve always had a love of books, particularly fantasy. It all started with the Chronicles of Narnia when I was young. Now I can’t go past an old wardrobe without checking the back of it.
David: I have always had a love of fantasy and myth and reading. I’m an artist and an illustrator and have been involved in a local publishing house, Christmas House, which I started with Beattie. Recently I’ve been drawn into textile art (toys), which I’m incredibly happy making. Fiona and I did the mural in the library. I mainly focused on the dragon and Fiona did most of the other parts.
What does Granny Fi’s Toy Cupboard do?
Beattie: We are a toy shop that focuses on unique handmade toys. We like to think of them as heirlooms, not landfill. We’ve recently branched out into harder to find things: Harry Potter, Dr Who and the like. If we enjoy it, we stock it. We also have a bit of fun with what we do; we like to not take life too seriously. We are a three-person team. Although I own the shop, Fi originally started it, and David does so much of the art.
David: Before COVID-19, we went to SUPANOVA Comic Con & Gaming conventions to sell our handmade products. Most times we sold out of our stock. The shop has been ideal for being able to provide a representation of who we are and what we love. The move to the mall has been great because we now have some more space and can focus on growth.
What’s the story behind the business?
Beattie: Mum (Fi) has been making toys since I was a little girl. She was quite famous in the 90s for making dolls. She was born and grew up here and came back in 2003 to look after her mother. We opened at the end of 2012 in Uralla, and were there for about a year. Then we moved into Armidale because it was easier with travel. At the beginning of 2015, we struggled due to family commitments. I was managing the toy shop when things started taking off, and in 2017 Fi handed the reins over to me. The longer we went, the more family got involved. In July this year we moved into the mall. Every year I make a new product for Mum’s birthday. If she sells it, we add it to our products. Our official toy checker, Charlotte, aged 8, checks everything, and if it doesn’t pass, we start from scratch.
What have been some of your challenges in starting a business?
Beattie: Money! We started in 2012 with $400. We have learnt how to be economical and thrifty with what we do. It’s also hard when you go days on end without customers, which was what happened during the drought, bushfires and now coronavirus. Also, learning how to display our business. A ‘one day closer to rain’ post went viral during Christmas last year – we sold out stock overnight, which was great. We made 42 toys in 36 hours without sleep.
David: Being a niche business in a small town is hard. Learning how to get our products out online via website and Facebook has helped. The ‘buy from the bush’ campaign has been great to get our products out there.
What do you like most about running your own business?
Beattie: Letting our imagination go wild without the bounds of what others think is possible. I like the freedom of not having to answer to a boss. I can be a few minutes late and that’s okay. I like that we can come up with an idea and implement it without having to go through the bureaucratic process that you might find in a larger company.
David: The satisfaction with this business is getting to see the customers’ eyes light up over something you have made.
What advice would you give a business just starting out?
Beattie: Hang in there, that’s a big one. Hang on while that horse is bucking and jumping around. Try and make friends in the local area – it’s great to have support. With networking, you can support each other, so getting those connections and friendships is important. Social media is a really big help in our industry, especially now because when people want to know something about a business, they often check Facebook. Have an imagination about what you can achieve, but also be able to bring some of your ideas down to a doable thing.
David: You must be very driven. Your business needs to be your passion. Try to find all possible avenues of getting the word out there for your product. If you can, think slightly longer term, then hopefully you can last the distance over the first five years. You need to be realistic about goal setting as well. And it’s good if you have family support and a good support network.
What’s next for Granny Fi’s Toy Cupboard?
Beattie: First stop, setting up a new shop in Narnia. Then it’s off to Diagon Alley, where we will establish our operations base to travel the world selling our toy dragons. In reality, the new move has been the next step. We have only been in our new shop for a few weeks. We want to boost online sales, and we also want to start a new range of toys. In the short term, we want to fill the shelves. The move into the mall has been good for sales, and we really need to increase stock.
David: We are looking forward to things opening up a bit, for new markets and the other events. Once SUPANOVA starts up again, we’d love to go back and show our new designs. At some stage I would also like to start selling the fantasy books I have written – that’s in the long term.