5 Questions with Rebecca Founder Of Eric & Albert Toys
Tell us about yourself, where do you live, about your family?
We are Martin and Rebecca, a small husband and wife family run business, crafting and designing our wooden toy figurines with our 6 year old son, Dylan, in tow. We live in our rural converted School House in mid Wales in Powys in a little village that reminds us of Vicar of Dibley – for those that remember it! Our workshop and studio is a mile down the road in an old farm courtyard and are old barns from the 1800s. We’re nestled amongst the foothills of a beautiful backdrop being only half an hour from Snowdonia, and consider ourselves to be very lucky to live here.
Tell us a bit about your company and how you came to create it.
Our name - Eric and Albert - was inspired by our two creative Grandad's who shaped our childhoods with all things crafty! Eric was my Grandad and from a tiny age he was always teaching me new techniques to painting and sculpting and helping me to build wooden things from photo frames to chicken runs. We would always have such a giggle and there were always plenty of cups of tea and biscuits on the go! Something we’ve continued to adopt in the workshops here :) (how could we not)! Martin’s Grandad Albert was forever tinkering in the shed at the end of the garden and taught Martin many DIY and manual carpentry skills. They could often be found hiding in their little haven creating the next master piece or invention. I wonder where Dylan gets his inventing desire from!!!
We both previously had very different lives - Martin had an established career in IT, whilst I worked for over a decade in marine conservation. We have both always been very crafty (in the creative sense!) and have made wooden crafts on the side for the 10 years we’ve been together as well as before that individually. Having had Dylan we both had a change of heart and wanted to rebalance our lifestyle around that of family life rather than career.
We set up “Eric and Albert” in December 2017, initially working from our home garage and the dining room table. We launched our company in December 2017 with our original Winter Collection attending many craft fairs that Christmas having been crafting alongside full time jobs for some time. Having had Dylan a year earlier we felt that there was a real gap in the market for home grown/ handmade British wooden toys and so we created a few initial toys and were blown away by the response and ongoing support from people also wanting British sustainable wooden toys.
In 2020, between lockdowns (some might call us mad!) we relocated from Kent to mid Wales as it had always been our aim to do so and we knew we needed to build and expand a team around us. So we figured it best to move first!. That’s when Claire and Zoe joined the team in Oct 2020 and we had a Crowdfunder to help finance getting new tools and equipment to grow our brand.
Martin hand cuts each toy individually in our workshop from sustainable British hardwoods whilst Zoe and I help finish them and then they come over from the workshop to the studio to be hand painted individually by me and Claire using all natural, plant based, vegan toy stains. We carry everything out in house, from website design, marketing, customer service, packing… you name it… right here with our small team.
Our main aim is to be as sustainable as possible whilst providing a UK based manufacturer of wooden toys. Due to being hand cut and hand painted with these natural stains the wood grain shows through the detail of these animals meaning each item has its own beautiful unique characteristics. The natural products used to finish our toys means the integrity of the wood is maintained resulting in a wonderful tactile texture whilst still ensuring the toys are durable and robust.
As mentioned above we only use sustainable British hardwoods, sycamore and ash grown and supplied in Wiltshire, UK. We also use only recycled packaging and use recycled and FSC paper/card for all the printable extras i.e tags, admin tissue paper. We use natural hemp twine and cord for tags and tails and our wood wool is a byproduct from a local joinery.
Your company creates toys that encourage creative play, how do you go about designing your toys?
I wouldn’t say that we have a very formal design process - we listen to our customers and our hearts! What we feel excited about making or is missing from our collection when being played with, that is what we design next! Inspiration can quite often come when chatting as a family at the dinner table or whilst out on a dog walk or playing in a river! We also love to hear suggestions from our wonderful customers – we’ve had some great ideas from people over the years that had never even crossed our minds and they can often be some of the very best!
Once we’ve decided upon an idea, we play around with sketches on paper first then start the prototype process by taking a few chosen designs the whole way through the process. We then tweak sizing, positioning and painting detail accordingly as they are never the same on paper as a 3D wooden toy and it takes a bit of playing (literally) to get it right!
Our son Dylan is of course the head toy tester and often has very valuable input – it’s always amazing to run the designs past your target audience first to see what they like best or don’t like. He almost always comes up with something we hadn’t considered!
How do you juggle motherhood and career?
It certainly has been a juggling act! Initially one of our main reasons for building our own business was to have more time together as a family rather than working both separately in our previous full time careers which often took us away from home and made family life such a juggling act. Whilst we do certainly spend more time together, often that is whilst working! We have worked so very hard to build the business to where we’ve reached so far and still have a lot more we want to achieve, but we’re still trying hard to keep boundaries in place and over the last year or so we are finally beginning to get a little bit more of a work-life balance. Last year we even had a small UK holiday break!
I think a lot of the time people don’t realise how all consuming running a business is and whilst we love it, it can be hard – you want to build it, put all that you’ve got into it and make it as successful as you can. But it’s different when it’s your own baby and it means so much to the both of you – it’s often hard to keep to boundaries or not get too emotional about things. It’s our entire livelihood now and we wouldn’t change it for the world – but consistent family time out and a bit more work/life balance wouldn’t go a miss!
What is next for Eric & Albert?
Just over two years a go we held a Crowdfunder with our Reach for the Stars Campaign to help us expand 3 years into the business just after we had relocated to Wales amidst the Covid lockdowns. It was a very strange time but the Crowdfunder was such a huge success and very excitingly enabled us to get the additional tools, furniture and general set up we needed to ramp up our production with staff in tow.
The support from our customers and fans was incredible – and we just love seeing those ‘Reach for the Stars’ pieces pop up in photos reminding us of the wonderful community and support we continue to have around us. We’re at a point now where we are ready to ramp up our production further and had planned to take on another member or two of staff and expand our workshop further this year. It’s another funny old time economically globally right now so we’re biding our time a bit to see what the coming few months bring but hopefully we can continue to ramp the business up again this year.
We’d also like to start running some local workshops a few times a year to give people a tour behind the scenes and a have a go session over tea and cake! So watch this space! Hopefully we can make this happen soon!
As always we have a very long list of both additional wish list products/collections we want to add in as well as a long waiting list of interested retailers so we hope we can just keep growing and adding to the Eric and Albert family!