Toys - metal pedal cars, trikes, planes and trains with a
traditional look and built to last.
Digger talks to Brian at syoT Toys. Brian's engineering
background and love of classic cars prompted him to set-up
syoT and they are now established as the leader in the field
those of us who remember the joy of playing with their pedal
cars when we were young, these cars are a great gift for our
children and grandchildren so they can share the same
range of pedal cars and planes,
including the original Comet (top left)
Hello Brian. What
is your background and the background to Syot?
I'm actually a power generation engineer. I was born and
educated in the UK and then graduated and emigrated to
Australia. In my travels I've lived in eight different
countries around the world.
Wow! On different continents?
Yes, and I travelled through 54 countries in my travels - I've
seen a lot. I used to work for two years and then take a year
And is Britain still one of the best places to live?
Yes, it is. It's not bad. Even with the recession and its ups
Everything we can moan about here.
But then that's one of the things with this country - we are
allowed to moan.
Yes, that's absolutely right. If you moan in China or
elsewhere, you end up
in trouble. Nowhere's perfect, but Britain's got a lot of
history and culture and you're parked right next to a
continent with 800 million consumers. It's quite a big
trading block and more influential than The States, although
people don't realise it. So, I did that and on my last years
of travelling in my mid-thirties I was heading down to central
America for a year. So I went to Spain for a couple of months
to brush up on my Spanish and ended-up teaching people English in the middle of nowhere. I
never got to central America - I stayed in Spain for longer
and one of the students there ended-up being my wife! Then we
came back to the UK and, remember, I wasn't a resident, I was an
Australian. That was simply because I had a house here and my
parents were still alive. We came over here for a year to
teach my wife English and ended-up staying. The problem was, they
weren't building any power stations fifteen or twenty years
ago and so I thought about an engineering company. But it was quite
hard to export then due to the high value of the pound. I had
a lot of contacts in the far-east, because I spent a lot of
time selling in China and Asia, so I went out there looking at
products they were selling in the USA and Japan and that they weren't selling in Europe.
I looked at a number of ideas and
two or three ideas took off - the biggest one has been the
retro metal pedal cars.
Who knew? As the Americans say.
The Americans were the ones who made them in the forties and
fifties when we were strapped after the war with no money and
I would have assumed they would have been German with their
tin toy pedigree and history.
No, there was nothing coming out of Germany or Europe.
Certainly in their heyday in the thirties, forties and fifties.
Which is why metal pedal cars and the old-fashioned ones
particularly are heavily skewed towards the American designs
and most of them were made up in the industrial belt around
the Detroit area.
These posh car manufacturers today have the Dad's car for £70,000
and the miniature replica kid's car for £4,000 don't they in
their showrooms? They look great.
Yes. They're generally hand-made because they don't sell in large
What a surprise!
They generally sell to the mega-rich and you're only talking
handfuls, so they're all custom-built really.
That's a fascinating background to the business Brian and you've clearly got
that love of Spain as well?
Yes, we've got a couple of children who love riding in the
family and my eldest is fourteen and has been there 56 times
now. We spend a lot of our time going backwards and forwards.
Fortunately, we have a ranch out in the middle of nowhere with
2,000 acres so we go down there quite a lot.
We did open an office in southern Spain and a warehouse
thinking we were going to distribute to southern Europe but it
didn't work financially because the distribution costs out of
Spain were too expensive. And certainly now the recession's hit
southern Europe's been hit quite hard so we had to shut it
I heard a joke the other day - a Greek, a Spaniard and an
Irishman go into a bar and the German pays.
(Laughs) Yes, that will be about right.
Why do children today, with all the technology they are
bombarded with, still appreciate classic toys?
I think because they last. A lot of the toys made today are
almost disposable - you get them Christmas Day and by New
Year's Eve they're in the rubbish bin.
What sort of stuff did you get when you were a kid?
Of course, I had an old-fashioned pedal car.
Good for you, just like me.
My father built it and we played with it for donkey's years.
Did you have a go-kart as well?
Yes and the three-wheeler, the old-fashioned trikes, so
they're the things I remember out of all the toys.
Scalextrics, the metal pedal cars and the trike are the ones
that stand out. And maybe also, because I'm an engineer, the
It's French now, Meccano. I can't believe it.
You have many impressive household name clients in the world
of retail. How have you achieved this and what are your
I think the way we started was to look at the old designs
of the 1940s and 1950s, but just taking them wouldn't have been
appropriate because the old designs wouldn't meet the new
European safety standards. Then we re-made the tooling,
starting out with the classic designs to start into the market
so people could see these toys as they had in years gone by.
And from that starting point we developed newer ranges and
models and designs for different markets. What we noticed
was that the larger guys who retail and sell like the Argos's
and WH Smiths of this world are not trying to appeal to an
upmarket client with a better product - they're looking for
the cheapest plastic pedal cars that they can obtain from a
factory in China. Because they're looking to sell thousands
and thousands of units cheaply whereas our products are more
upmarket and more expensive because they're made in metal and
They're not hugely expensive though are they Brian?
Compared to an equivalent-sized plastic vehicle, yes they are.
They're typically twice the price - the cost for making an
injection mould for a pedal car is probably $10,000 and to
make one for a metal one is $50,000 so the manufacturing costs
are substantially higher and also that means that the
production runs are lower. So therefore more expensive and thus
you tend to target the top 10% of the market.
But because you're Internet-based then that's the top 10% of
the market in the world.
Yes, we have now become the company with the biggest range of
metal pedal cars in Europe just by specialising in our market
and we're too small for the big guys to muscle-in and bother
Is there much 'coals to Newcastle?' Are you selling much to
The US market is the only market we don't sell in. The reason
is that that cost of insurance goes up about ten-fold if we
sell into the US market because of the way they have a
litigation-based culture and they're afraid of anything which could
cause an accident.
Health and safety?
Yes, so we decided to sell to almost every other country in
the world apart from the US and it works well. There
are American companies who sell to the US market because they
have to have that insurance and we have an agreement where we
sell elsewhere and they don't sell into our markets. We swap
contacts and leads and so on.
We're not a large company and it would be quite hard to sell
into the world's second biggest consumer market after Europe.
Yes, marketing and promotion would be quite expensive.
Yes, so we decided the promotion and insurance costs are astronomical
- it's not just like we were going to go in and sell just a
few units. You have to do it big time or not at all and we'd
much rather concentrate our sales effort on the UK and Europe.
What are you favourite designs?
My favourite is the one we started with, which was the Comet
pedal car, originally made in 1954 by The Murray Comapny. It's got a Buick round-nosed front end on it and it's very
typical of one-piece pedal cars. Very sturdy design...
Space age in its way?
Yes, and because it has the Buick design round front on it
then it's very classic fifties American design and something
that's never going to age. Like the classic Chevy '55, which we
also make. It's set in stone and you don't need to update or
modify it, it's a classic in its own right. It's still one of
the strongest selling ranges we have.
It's a big shame that so much of our motor industry here has
now gone - we used to lead the world.
It is a shame - I think it goes back to the seventies when the
government nationalised the whole of the motor industry under
British Leyland and that was the death knell for a whole number of
classic British names.
What are your key strengths at syoT and what makes you stand out?
Being different, I think, makes us stand out. We don't sell
the cheap and cheerful plastic rubbish. We specialise in the
top 10% of the market and focus on quality and particularly on
the retro pedal cars as well as the modern pedal cars. And
also having the biggest range - there are other companies that
sell pedal cars but they tend just to buy the cheapest single
design out of the Chinese factory and don't do their own designs
and don't develop their own models. I think also we went into
licensing of the products as well, so we hold the license for
the Thomas the Tank Engine metal pedal train and the Postman
Pat metal pedal car.
Do you do a lot of the trade shows?
We tend to concentrate on the European trade shows, so the UK
and the Nuremburg one in Germany which is the biggest in the
world which we do every year. That would be fun if it wasn't
minus 20 degrees in the Bavarian mountains in February!
(Both laugh) What sorts of comments and feedback do you get from clients?
It ranges actually and we do get comments saying "Beautiful
but expensive." And then a lot of customers say they're
economically-priced. There's also some who are used to the
cheap stuff out of China.
Digger: There is a phrase that some people 'know the price of
everything and the value of nothing'.
Yes. I think that more often it's the parents or the
grandparents buying it and they remember not only the one they
had when they were children or their children were young, but
they also remember how long they lasted compared to modern
toys. People tend to buy them and not throw them away - they
put them in the loft for the next child or even in the loft
for their children's children.
My Auntie Rhona used to go to a really expensive clothes store
in London and pay four or five times as much as others to buy
her coats and people would say she was mad spending that much
on a hand-made coat. But her coats would last for donkey's
years while other people would get through several coats in
the same time.
Yes, it's the same thing.
Why do you think retro and vintage is still so popular and
seems to be increasingly so?
I think it's just a reaction to the disposable society that we
live in and a lot of people, particularly as the wealth in the
western countries has increased, are not willing to buy
something which they know they're going to put in a bin a few
months later. They're looking for longevity in products and
those that are environmentally-friendly and have a smaller
carbon footprint. Even more importantly those products
that in the long-term will be more economical. What's the
point of buying a plastic product half the price if you know
you're going to be throwing it away in a year or two? You can
buy a metal product that's going to literally last for
generations. I think that's one of the strongest selling
points - even if Johnny knocks it or bumps it or dents it then
with a bit of a repaint it can last for generations.
So you also have strong green credentials.
What about the future Brian?
We are planning on doing some specialist products - maybe
custom products or hand-made products, bespoke work.
I suppose there's quite a few options there? If it catches on
then people will see that someone else is doing it and they'll
want to do it as well.
Yes. It's not a huge market where we will be selling in the
tens of thousands but more likely in the hundreds. But that's
also quite nice where your business is personal and you know
your clients quite well. It's a nice business to run.
Thanks for letting us know all about it Brian.
Thank you David.
range of pedal cars and planes,
including the Noddy model (top right)
syoT Limited - Europeís
largest supplier of
Metal Pedal Cars
syoT Limited is
Europeís largest supplier of Metal Pedal Cars. syoT
also supply a large range of Metal Pedal Trikes, Trains
& Planes as well as Electric Ride-On Cars, Scoot
Along Cars and a large range of high quality menís
syoT Limited manufacture in the UK and Far East, and
supply retail customers across Europe and around the
Started by an Engineer and Classic Car Enthusiast 12
years ago it has steadily grown into a company with a
reputation for high quality and first class customer
Listed among its customers are the giants of retail like
ToysRus, Costco, Auchan, Renault, Hamleys, Amazon, Play
etc right down to the small single shop independent
Offering a 'Direct Dispatch' / 'Drop Shipping' service
across Europe and the possibility to mix products in FOB
containers for delivery across the world, syoT can offer
you a flexible and economical way to sell these classic
retro products. Contact us now for a catalogue and trade
The Old Village Cobblers Shop
Tel: +44 118 973 6688
Fax: +44 118 973 6622