Country toys for country children

WHEN YOUR son’s first word is “tractor”, it stands to reason the toys and games he’ll want to play with will have an agricultural or countryside theme.

Such was the case for little Tom Brittlebank on a dairy farm in Staffs – so providing the inspiration for a business idea for his farming parents.

It was only when Hannah and Richard Brittlebank went in search of toys and games to quench their son’s thirst for all things agricultural that the idea for Country Tots was born.

“We began looking and very quickly realised that it”s quite a difficult task,” explains Hannah, of Tean Leys Farm, Leigh.

“We spoke to our friends, who were having similar problems. All the children had ended up with a dozen cheap plastic tractors and nothing else.

“Everybody thought it would be great to have somewhere they could go where all the toys and games with a country theme could be bought.”

Hannah and Richard set about turning their idea into reality and Country Tots, an internet shopping site for the farmers of tomorrow, opened for business in March.

“We had been looking to diversify for some time because farming is such a precarious business,” Hannah explains.

That message was hammered home in no uncertain terms when an outbreak of foot-and-mouth in 2001 happened right on the Brittlebanks’ doorstep, although their 150-strong Holstein milking herd was not infected.

“We had been through lots of different ideas, but there was always something to put us off,” Hannah says. “We wanted something with a selling” element because my background is in retail rather than farming.

“I love farm life but I did not want to be completely immersed in it – you can so easily end up going nowhere and seeing no one.”

The biggest problem in setting up Country Tots has been sourcing the products to sell on the site – including hours trawling on the internet and attending numerous trade shows, toy fairs and country events. It sells a wide range of toys, games, puzzles and jigsaws, as well as books and videos, children’s gardening equipment and clothing with a country theme.

Hannah showed resourcefulness when she received a quote for 5000 to build the website for Country Tots. “I decided to build it myself, bought a book and taught myself how to do it,” she explains. “It took me three months, largely by trial and error, but it works.”

The Brittlebanks are keeping their options open, but admit they would like to have a shop at some stage and also trade by mail order as well as via the internet. “This is our first Christmas, so we don’t really know what to expect. But we’ve already seen sales go up,” she says.

And what does little Tom think about his Mum and Dad’s efforts? “He thinks it’s wonderful,” Hannah laughs. “He’s got a house full of his favourite toys, keeping them in their packaging is the difficult bit.” (