“Toys have to be fun. If you don’t love it, don’t sell it,” says Jos Benner, founder and managing director of Kaleidoscope; winner of the 2015 Toy & Hobby Retailer Industry Awards Toy Supplier of the Year.
When Jos Benner founded Kaleidoscope in 1989, she was convinced there was a need for better quality toys in Australia’s local educational toy stores. It is the continuation of this quest that has led Kaleidoscope to be named the 2015 Toy & Hobby Retailer Industry Awards Toy Supplier of the Year.
Benner started by importing products manufactured from natural materials in New Zealand and established the company in her home office in Brisbane. She gradually built up her ranges to serve an ever-increasing number of customers. With a young family and limited travel opportunities, making contact with potential customers was difficult in those days.
Looking back, Benner says a highlight would have been attending her first New York Toy Fair and securing the distribution rights for the Folkmanis puppet range, a mainstay of Kaleidoscope’s product offering and one of the first brands in the company’s portfolio.
Kaleidoscope’s growth spurred a move from its original digs to an office and third party logistics facility. Three years’ ago, Benner bought her own warehouse and brought the Kaleidoscope’s wonderful range back in-house.
“This has enabled us to manage our dispatch, tend to specific customer requirements, direct inventory control and quality control – not to mention the daily SOS from someone,” she says.
Although Kaleidoscope’s original focus centred on education and special needs, the product range evolved to include more mainstream products, which today enables the company to serve a much broader customer base. Essential to Kaleidoscope’s longevity continues to be the strong relationships forged with brand manufacturers and the ongoing liaison and mutual support, while being mindful of market changes and shifting trends.
“We’re well-known for our wooden toys, which are sustainably produced in Indonesia, and we’re very proud of the Wheely Bug range because it’s designed here in Australia,” Benner says.
“They’re well-loved by children and are very durable.
“Djeco continues to amaze us with the huge variety of engaging and interactive toys it releases each year, and last year it won the Toy & Hobby Retailer Art and Craft award. Variety in the marketplace is critical, whether in theme, price point, age group, gender or materials used.
“We strive to be nimble enough to stay one step ahead. We were one of the first distributors to import European brands in the early 2000s and we really like the styles and designs from Europe. We also choose brands that complement each other. It’s always challenging to find new and innovative products that are affordable, and it’s important to keep the ranges fresh and be responsive to market changes.