Hoping youíre keeping warm?
Bristolís been a bit strange. Parts of it are frosty
and others donít look like thereís been any snow at
Shall I dive into the questions?... Can you please tell us a little of the background to
Magic Dragon Toys?
I was a head teacher in an inner city Bristol school.
That must have been challenging.
Was that when you had to be as much of an administrator
and manager as an educator?
Yes. I did it for seventeen years. Parents were always
interested in what to get their children, mainly because
thereís a large asylum seekers and multi-cultural
population in Bristol.
Yes, Bristol has always been very cosmopolitan hasnít
Yes, well about 68% of my children had English as an
additional language. Itís a very multi-cultural
population and new parents, new arrivals, often didnít
know what things to get. And Iíve always been
interested in toys and childrenís learning and that
sort of thing.
Thatís your excuse. (Both laugh) Iíve got a couple
of surrogate grandchildren via my girlfriend and we go
along to the school plays and what have you. Iíve seen
how the teachers get at least as much fun out of them as
the pupils. (Both laugh) So how important is it to you
that these toys are environmentally friendly? Very I
obviously, thatís why we started the business really
because we were looking for toys for our grandchildren
and at the time, this was about three years ago, there
wasnít very much available.
People had missed a trick there. Thatís one of your Unique
Selling Points really.
Yes, and the other thing is we want to provide personal
service and a lot of these big stores are so huge that
you go in there and want to buy something and you
canít find anyone who knows anything. (Laughs)
No, youíre right. I was talking to a lady who does
reproduction vintage design clothing and she said
thereís just no choice for anyone and everybody is
getting fed up with the sameness of everything.
How significant is the nostalgia factor when customers
are choosing toys for their children or grandchildren?
Well I think people think back to their childhood and
the sorts of things they enjoyed playing with and
thatís the sort of experience they want to give to
their children or grandchildren. The more traditional
type toys are the sorts we sell. We sell very little
Good. Good for you Lesley.
And we avoid plastic. So tactile toys and things that
are going to appeal to children really.
I can still remember the feeling I had when I played
with my favourite toys Ė a farm, a fort and a fire
engine. What were your favourites as a child?
I suppose things like Ė really old-fashioned, dolls
and soft toys. And to be honest with you, thatís what
children today go for.
Did you have a dollís house?
Yes I did actually.
Shop bought or home made?
No, it was shop bought but I think Dad had done things
Heíd added electrics and plumbing?!
Yes, Heíd added a few things.
Good old Dad. So what do you enjoy most about running
Although our business is online, we do have a fair bit of
customer contact really and I like looking for new and
innovative toys. I suppose weíre looking a lot to
Europe, and if I could possibly buy from the UK and
UK-designed stuff, I do. A fabulous company just the
other side of Warminster called Tyme Again and they
reproduce swords and shield and the sort of stuff you
see in the heritage centres and National Trust
properties. They hand-make everything there.
I know the sort of stuff you mean Ė like when I come out
into the gift shop at Warwick Castle -
which was conveniently built by William The
Conqueror when they built the castle. They do all those
Bows and arrows and also the historical bit so that you
can get a plain shield and then add a transfer with
mediaeval or Norman or whatever insignia on them.
There are lots of toys that arenít acceptable these
days that we used to play with, are there? For example,
you donít see bows and
arrows and cowboys with guns. You just wouldnít see
cowboys and Indians.
I donít think thereís anything wrong with that
Children these days are very aware of stereotyping.
Yes, itís the sort of thing you talk to them about at
school but I donít think thereís anything wrong with
children playing with toys like bows and arrows as long
as thereís a safe element to it. Iím not mad keen on
guns I must admit Ė I mean, I didnít buy my children
guns and itís not something I would encourage children
to pay with really. But, generally speaking, kids are a
lot more sensible than people give them credit for.
And than we were probably.
Yes. I mean, what do children play with? At
Christmastime theyíll play more with the boxes than
they will with whatís in it.
Yes, I have seen that.
As a toy retailer I suppose I shouldnít say that,
actually. You donít need to spend much money on toys
because thereís so much stuff you can use these days
and children can have just as much enjoyment from toilet
rolls, yoghourt pots and all the rest of it as they do
from something thatís shop bought.
People take the Mickey out of me because I have so many
early memories of my childhood, but I used to make a lot
of models and things out of matches and cigarette butts
and cardboardĖ disgusting really I suppose but I was almost
encouraging my mum to smoke.
Children will play with whateverís available and if
thereís nothing there then theyíll invent something.
I quite like seeing them playing with skipping ropes and
when I was at school I would let them play conkers when
it was the conker season. Youíd give them a little
talk about what was sensible and give them the ground
rules. But I think children will play with whatever they
can lay their hands on and you can buy them the most
expensive toys in the world and the thing theyíll play
with is some old rabbit that theyíve had since they
were two. What everyone goes for these days Ė back to
your old-fashioned teddy bears, rabbits and that sort of
stuff. Children love those sorts of things.
Do they still do that doggy on wheels?
Yes, Iíve got one of those on my website.
I havenít got any spinning tops in but I have seen a
supplier. And the other thing I wanted to stock next
year, and which I was really keen on, was some boats. You
know that you sail in the park?
Yes, they were great.
I have stocked stuff like paper aeroplane kits too.
I used to make those out of balsa wood.
Thatís right, and thereís another manufacturer we
use who does retro games and they do stuff like the
trapeze monkeys. Did you see Not On The High Street - the
They had the toy shop and some of the toys they had in
there were from a Somerset company and they also do
things like Beetle Bingo and all that sort of thing. So
Iím always looking for something thatís just a bit
Thereís a guy whoís doing Pelham Puppets.
Yes, Pelham Puppets are still going. They were bought out Ė
Iím not sure who by.
What are your best sellers?
Well, anything to do with firemen, fire stations and
that sort of thing. Fire engines Ė the wooden ones and
weíve got a nice old London bus which is very popular.
The Routemaster bus.
Yes, and the other most popular item is our rag doll
range. Weíve got the whole range and they all look
like the little Raggedy Annie. In fact, we have quite a
lot of adults buying them because they remember them
from when they were little Ė you know, ďItís like
the one I had.Ē
I was almost tempted to buy an old die cast truck the
other day which reminded me of one I had when I was a
kid. I remember my parents buying it for me on the
motorway in the sixties and I loved that truck!
The other thing thatís been really popular this year
is a game called Amazing Magician. Itís a sort of
magnetic game where you have this little figure and you
ask it a question and it shoots round to the right
I think I remember that from the old days as well.
Yes, from the 1950s and I think it was called Confucius
Says but I found a company that does a version of this
retro game. I got ten in thinking I wasnít sure they
would sell and they all went out the door before I could
them in. I think it was people buying them because they
remembered them from when they were young and thinking
ďOh yeah, I remember playing that.Ē
So I think there is a big nostalgia factor in
And why not?
What does The Internet mean to your business?
We wouldnít have a business if it wasnít for The
Internet. We are purely an online business.
A lot of overseas customers as well?
Yes, all around the world. Russia, Latvia, Estonia. I
think Russiaís the furthest place. Quite a bit from
the States and increasingly weíre getting a bit of
trade from Australia.
And The Internetís the only way you could reach a
worldwide audience, couldnít you?
You come in and you have a few orders and a few
enquiries in the morning?
Iím running the business from home at the moment. Most
people seem to shop at about 3:00 in the morning, Iíve
You donít want the machine beeping at you when an
email comes in at that time of the day.
Youíre right. I switch it on in the morning and the
orders are waiting to get packing and wrapping.
Thatís great. Where do you see the future for Magic
I want to extend the range, really. Weíve just
revamped our website and are spinning that forward in
January. Itís got some more swanky features like a
proper search facility on it so people can find toys a
lot easier and itís got a pre-checkout. The front of
it stays the same but the way it all works is better.
Youíve got to take into account things like safety
with data protection. Weíre also going to have a
Paypal facility on there because a lot of people want to
pay that way.
It seems to be the way forward.
Then we have links to a Magic Dragon Facebook page and
we Twitter too.
Have you got a lot of followers?
(Laughs) Yes, weíve got a few followers.
It makes sense to be on those if youíre selling
Itís just a question of remembering to Twitter and
knowing what to say. Actually we get quite a lot of
customers driven through the Facebook page, and we sell
on Amazon as well so we get a lot of feedback that way.
Excellent. Thanks Lesley. Itís funny how things have
developed. When I was in IT up until the nineties,
people used to accuse us of using jargon and using
machines that they didnít understand. And now everyone
uses the same sorts of technology and the sort of jargon
we were using. Nobody had heard of eBay when I was first
using it in the nineties.
Funny isnít it?
And now we all totally rely on The Internet and
I have an eBay shop for Magic Dragon but Iíve also got
one called Spice Cook which is for curry kits.
Great, I'm all for diversity.
Yes, well the Spice Cook Ė that just popped into my
head one day because I thought people are always cooking
curries. My parents came from Burma in the early fifties
but I was born in this country and so we were always
eating food that was totally different from everybody
else. I didnít realise when I was at school that
everybody didnít eat what I ate. So since then
thereís a whole curry culture and I thought Iíd
stock ready-done curry kits Ė a number of varieties of
them. And then we just branched out selling kitchen bits
and pieces really. But Magic Dragon is our main
Magic Dragon could be the name of a company that does
curries as well.
Yes, it could be.
Maybe you should become the Pataks of the west country?
(Laughs) I think I missed the boat on that one.
Well, if you could get some kind of USP?... Think of
Reggae Reggae Sauce. We love our comfort foods.
Do you know, itís so interesting because I found a
supplier that does chicken curry and that sort of thing
and I stuck them on the site and theyíve been flying
out the door interestingly which I didnít think they
would do. And also lots of people abroad are buying curry
kits Ė all around the world really. Because theyíre
small and theyíll fit in an envelope and they donít
cost a lot to postÖ
That sounds promising for the future. Iím very
impressed. You are literally an entrepreneur.
(Laughs) After seventeen years of running a school I
just came out with ideas from my head and I thought ďI
canít do anything to do with education.Ē But itís
in my veins.
I think sometimes all the stuff youíve done before is
in preparation for what youíre doing now. And also, as
you said, you couldnít have done this until The
Internet came along. The other skills youíve developed
have helped and now is the right time. Good for you.
Take care David.
And you. Bye.