We are what we do

SCH SM Boss Smurf (W)“Papa smurf has really taken his CES (Chief Executive Smurf) job to heart, round the office the smurfs have started calling him ‘Alan Smurfer’ (though none of them say it to his face, they don’t want to be told ‘you’re smurfered’).”

I write product descriptions, it’s not my only job (not by a long shot) but some days it takes up most of my work hours. Recently I had a couple of pretty mammoth sessions and as I got more tired I unintentionally got a bit more creative (as you can see above). With this in mind I’d like to share some of my favourite product descriptions that I’ve written in the past few days.


schleich dragon hunter gremlin ankylosaurusSchleich, Dragon Hunter

“If you threw a Gremlin, Battle-cat from He-Man, a dragon and an Ankylosaurus in a blender…well you’d have a broken blender for starters…but if they somehow converged into one creature then THIS would be it (and if you don’t get the references in this sentence we now feel very old).” You can buy him here.


Sometimes you look at a group of linked toys and a story just emerges spontaneously. That’s what happened with business Smurfs. It started with ‘Marketing Smurf’:

SCH SM Marketing Smurf (W)Schleich, Marketing Smurf

“Last month’s smurf numbers are smurfing smurfable, if we keep up the smurfle media campeign and really push our bricks and mortar smurfs we’ll be in for a smurfer of a year!”

But once he was on-board the others all seemed to find their own place in the office, next came ‘Accountant Smurf’:

schleich accountant smurf figurineSchleich, Accountant Smurf

“We’re going to have to switch to generic coffee in the break room if we want to get our smurfspenditure down to smurfable levels but I don’t want to be the one to tell lazy smurf, it’s the only thing that smurfs him smurfing.”

After these I wrote Alan Smurfer or ‘Boss Smurf’ up (you can see his description above) and couldn’t help but feel that the middle management in this place would feel a little strained. This is where Manager Smurfette stepped in:

schleich smurfette manager figure figurineSchleich, Manager Smurfette

Smurfette is at her smurf’s end, why did she ever agree to manage this team of smurfless smurfs? The CES (Chief Operating Smurf) is demanding increased performance, while the accountant keeps smurferring on about lazy smurf’s coffee consumption, and the marketing team keeps telling her “It’s all smurf! We’re building smurfial media presence’ but that doesn’t translate into cold, hard smurf!


jack-reusen-cover-front2There are a heap more product descriptions but I don’t want this post to run on and on. Before I finish up I thought I’d do a wee plug. I’ve written a story book for children aged five and up (and for reading age of six or seven and up) called ‘Jack Reusen and the Fey Flame.’ It’s part one of a series and we’ve got a fully fledged website (and blog) about the book and the characters, if you find your way over there I’ll be very grateful. The kindle edition is out now, click here for a list of links for purchase in different countries.

As always thanks for reading, I feel like it’s important to be creative wherever you can and I hope you enjoyed a few of my wee sparks of creativity. How do you express yourself in your workplace? Do you find it easy to let your creative side out for a spin or do you feel as though you have to curb it until you get home? I would love to hear your own experiences in the comments below or even over on Twitter, Cheers, John

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War Games!

wpid-imag0743_burst002_1.jpgI know for a fact that there must be 10s (possibly 100s) of people playing/modelling with Games Workshop (Warhammer and Warhammer 40,000) figures in Crieff so it definitely has an active presence in the local area but sadly there doesn’t seem to be any centrally organised group set up for those wanting to arrange games-days/nights or even just to talk about the hobby with one another.

I’ve had a lot of kids in recently asking about local groups and seeing if there is anywhere that they can play locally and unfortunately I’m completely in the dark. In an effort to get something organised and simple together I put up a local wahammer/40K group on facebook but other than that I have nothing to point them towards. If you’d like to know more about the hobby and/or would like to be able to meet up with others who enjoy the hobby then feel free to pop over to the page. I used to play, a long time ago, and the shop is lucky enough to have a really hands-on Games Workshop agent so I can usually find the kind of answers you might need fairly easily.

wpid-imag0746_burst002_1.jpgGames Workshop produce an amazing array of assemble-your-own figurines which you then use to play war games. There’s a degree of customiseability that you just won’t find in ordinary board games etc. and because of this it’s a hobby that can be extremely personal, creative and expressive. You can turn up for a game with friends and show off your latest regiment and all the fiddly little customisations you’ve spent the past few weeks doing to it. Judging by the questions I’ve had in the shop there are rakes of children (and teens) who want to get involved but who are reluctant to start because they don’t know anyone else who’s involved in the hobby.

Possibly the saddest thing for me is this lack of support locally for younger hobbyists who seem really enthusiastic about both the painting and gaming side of the hobby. I’ve had boys and girls in the shop buying models, paints and other peripherals who haven’t been able to find people to play against. I’ve suggested they join their school’s games workshop groups only to be met with blank stares, either their school doesn’t have one or whatever group they do have at school isn’t very well known (or isn’t, strictly speaking, ‘official’).

wpid-imag0745_burst002_1.jpgConsidering the rise of interest there has been in fantasy over the past few years I’m surprised that games workshop/warhammer/40K groups haven’t seen a booming growth in members. I’ve been assured by Yan (our rep) that we could easily manage to provide support for local groups and there are resources there that could allow us to provide some resources free of charge to any local group who thinks to ask us for it. Sadly we’ve been in the position to help for months and, as yet, no one has taken us up on it.

If you live in the Crieff area and want to join a group (or better still if you run, or you want to set up, a group) then pop on over to the Crieff Warhammer/40,000 group on facebook to ask for advice and other information.

Just going for a nice short post this time, as always thanks for reading and comments are always more than welcome, Cheers, John

When the Trains Take Over (Brio play days)

sheldon trainsAs the great Dr. Cooper says ‘Don’t be silly, you love trains!’. All the staff at Fun Junction have train brain this week, we’re going to be doing something a bit different in the next few days in our Perth shop: Brio have lent us a ridiculously large collection of trains and accessories and we’ll be popping it all out in store for kids to have a play. It’s as simple as that, no charge, no pushy sales-pitch just pop your child down with the trains and let them enjoy.

Freight Battery Engine (by Brio) Sturdy battery powered freight train can pull surprisingly well on just one AA battery.

Freight Battery Engine (by Brio) Sturdy battery powered freight train can pull surprisingly well on just one AA battery.

I love the fact that one of the companies we deal with has put together such a genuine and enjoyable experience. They haven’t pushed a rake of cash into a traditional advertising campaign, instead they’ve made a toy range that they’re proud of and they’ve decided to let the general public decide for themselves if Brio trains are any good. As any parent with a child with a train fascination knows Brio is not the cheapest wooden railway system on the planet, in fact I don’t know of any wooden railway products that cost more. That said I’ve found through experience that you really do get what you pay for.

Switching tracks with signal box and signal master. Add extra fuel to the imagination: what will you do with a runaway train!!???

Switching tracks with signal box and signal master. Add extra fuel to the imagination: what will you do with a runaway train!!???

Every wooden railway system is compatible with one another (well every system I’ve come across anyway), there are some that come very close to Brio’s quality level (like BigJigs) and cost a little less and there are others that are a lot cheaper. There’s therefore nothing wrong with shopping around to get bits and pieces from all these different companies to get a nice mix of quality and lower budget. That said I think the great thing about the Brio play day is that it’ll give parents (myself included) a chance to see what a train set made entirely out of Brio-quality pieces will be like. Not only that but because the set gets passed around group to group, shop to shop around the country we’ll all get to see how they do in terms of general wear-and-tear.

brio railwy uk fun junction toy shop scotland perth crieff perthshire

One of the only wooden railway trains that you’ll find that can take passengers, with spaces for two drivers and three passengers (Brio figures), you can get one here.

This is what I love about this event, Brio isn’t forcing an agenda, they’re not pushing a new line by throwing a pile of adverts in the middle of your child’s favorite shows: instead they’re saying ‘Here, we made something that we think is pretty great but you have a play, you decide, is it worth the extra cost to get a train/a piece of track/a station/any other accessory made by us?’ There’s nothing for them to hide behind, if your child plays with the trains and doesn’t like them then no amount of advertising will change that, so Brio has to make sure that what your child is presented with is something pretty awesome. It’s a gamble and takes a lot of bottle for a toy company to do what Brio is doing, but based on my own experience of their products I can’t say I’m all that nervous for them, I think they’ll do just fine.

Have you come across any companies (toy or otherwise) who surprised you like this? Are some companies good enough to do away with traditional advertising or do you think that, without TV ads constantly reminding them, kids will just forget about a toy/brand? I’d also love to hear any experiences you’ve had with Brio (good or bad). As always thank you so much for stopping by, I’m one of these sad people that get’s a bit of a buzz from things like reader counts and comments so it’s always brilliant when someone stops by for a read and it’s even better if you leave a comment. If you’re in the Perth (Scotland) area then pop along to our shop on the 15th, 16th or 17th of May to join in the fun (they’re open from 9:15am till 5;15pm, Cheers, John

UPDATE: Please note our Brio play day has passed but we have every intention of hosting another one soon 🙂

Throwback Thursday: All hands on deck

This post comes from around this time last year when we were all set to go with our brand new web-site. Little did we know then that it was set to flop, in the entire time we had the site we had about 3 or 4 sales, which hardly felt worth the effort. We’re up and running with our brand new (and improved) web site this year and we’ve also set ourselves up with a myhigh.st shop with a select group of our favourite products. I like to think that since we’ve moved on from our old site and dusted ourselves off after a less than exceptional first year. I’m hoping we can approach the new site(s) with some experience and realism. On with the ‘throwback’; when I read through this old post I can’t help but think  ‘poor old 2013 John’, how little he knew…

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I always write about toys (or at least I try to stay on topic as much as possible) but I thought I might also write a wee post today about the ‘toy shop’ from ‘John the Toy Shop Guy’. For those of you who didn’t come upon this blog as a result of a link from Fun Junction’s facebook page, I work in two fairly small independently owned toy shops in Crieff and in Perth in Scotland. I have to admit the opportunity to play with toys for a living is really rewarding and one of the best things about my job is helping people to engage with toys that they may be less than familiar with. Second to that is the exciting prospect of new and unusual toys which accompanies every new catalogue we get through the door.

The hour is drawing close

The hour is drawing close

Here at Fun Junction these two things are coming together in the work that we’ve all been doing lately on our web-site. We’ve (wisely or not) pledged to have this web-site ready for orders at the start of May and it’s becoming all too apparent just how close by this deadline is. One of the main problems has been the time it takes to write a product description, we made a decision fairly early on to try put in our own description of a product, where possible, rather than simply copying and pasting the manufacturer’s. The idea behind this was to personalise the description and use it as something like a store-based product review of the toy.

It’s been hard going: at times writing these descriptions has been fun (my personal favourites are this and this [dead links]) at others it simply feels nail-bitingly slow going and I have to admit a few products have ended up with copied and pasted descriptions due to time constraints. However, as time goes on we’ll hopefully get a chance to inject some personality and humour into the ones that have slipped through the net.

tumbleweedWe have less than a week to go and to be honest most of the site looks right to me, though there are loads of behind the scenes tweaks to deal with. We’re also all panicking about how we’re going to deal with deliveries and we’re not sure what to do in terms of postage. We’re pretty sure we won’t be getting enough to warrant an account with a courier to start with so the cost of deliveries will probably be pretty high to begin with. What’s more a lot of things on the web site itself feel like a work in progress and we’re seriously considering asking friends family and some regular customers to be ‘beta testers’ for us, just to iron out any problems. I think the main worry (it’s certainly my main worry) is that we’ll launch this newly revamped web-site next week, after months of work and nothing will happen; no one will shop there or even browse it and we’ll find our site bombarded with virtual tumble weeds. This is probably one of the most common worries you can have about a new endeavour, that you put time and care into making something and no one cares. Though perhaps the opposite is equally frightening: what happens if our site goes viral and everyone in the world loves it and has to buy something from us? The truth will hopefully be somewhere in between, and putting all our worries to one side we’re all in all pretty excited about this new addition to the business and I hope customers enjoy their visits there.

It’s sometimes easy to get caught up in negative thoughts but all I need to do is remember our facebook following and the extremely discerning and intelligent people who read this blog and I can relax a bit. Here’s hoping that people at least stop by for a look next week. If you do happen to find yourself browsing our website after next Wednesday then feel free to let us know what you think to it and give us suggestions for improvements either here on my blog, on the facebook page or on the contact form [another dead link] on the web site. Sorry for the slight departure from the norm today, I just felt like venting a bit of this mixture of excitement and trepidation, thanks for taking the time to read this and wish us luck on next week’s launch. I should also point out that this blog is now a member of the Mumsnet bloggers network, so I’ll say a quick hello and welcome to anyone popping in from there. If you’re new to my blog my posts are normally more topical and toy centred, feel free to have a look at past posts in links on the right.

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It’s an uncanny experience being able to read the positivity and energy (and the slight trepidation) I had at the start of an endeavour that I now know was doomed to failure. Part of me feels I’ve learned some lessons, gaining some new skills and abilities in the process, and part of me is resentful of the time that feels wasted. The strangest thing is probably the fact that it’s almost impossible to be able to see how a venture will play out in the early stages. Certainly a few months in it became clearer and clearer that the time was not well spent and that the web sales we’d hoped for just weren’t materialising. It makes me a little worried that our new site could become a case of history repeating itself, I guess time will tell.

What kind of similar experiences have you had, where optimism and energy just weren’t enough? Do you think people can tell, deep down, when something won’t work and that I was just kidding myself back in 2013? and possibly the most important question for me: What do you think of our new web site (here’s the link)? (sorry couldn’t resist a plug) Thanks for reading, all the best, John

Top 5 chocolate-free gifts for Easter

playmobil easter eggs 2014There’s a new trend on the rise; people are buying toys/gifts for Easter instead of the traditional chocolate eggs. Last year I talked about this trend and it seems to be showing no signs of stopping. The latest thing I’ve noticed is that toy industry publications are starting to issue the same kind of ‘top 10’ and ‘top 5’ lists normally produced in the run-up to Christmas. Apparently the predicted ‘top toy’ for Easter 2014 is the aqua dragon dino egg which we actually stock at Fun Junction (so that’s a nice surprise).

With this in mind I thought I’d tell you about some of the other ‘crackingly’ eggcellent toys which might go down well for Easter 2014:

wow easer egg 20145) Wow’s ‘Chirpy Chick’ egg: This is a new addition to the Easter-themed gift selection this year and it’s very useful for a couple of reasons. For starters it’s great to be able to provide children younger than five with an Easter-orientated toy. On top of that it’s great to have an option for little ones which doesn’t involve handing them an egg the size of their head only to take it back and ration it off over the coming days. This way they get a gift and they can keep it for the duration, no worries about tooth decay at all.

4) Games: This might sound strange but bear with me. More and more families are using Easter as an excuse to get together and in some cases head off on holiday together. With this in mind it seems to make sense that you might want something for the family to do once you’ve got them all gathered together. Although games aren’t specifically Easter-themed I’ve certainly noticed a lot more holiday makers popping into the shop to pick up something to keep kids occupied (especially on the rainier days we’ve had so far this holiday). Some family bonding seems as good a reason as any to go for something more box-shaped than egg-shaped as an Easter present. Here’s s selection of the games you can get at fun Junction.

3) Outdoor activities: This is on the list for almost exactly the same reason as games: it’s something to do. On the drier days of the holidays (and we’re lucky enough to have had a few of them recently) it’s great to get the kids outside: balls, buckets and spades, frisbees, outdoor explorer kits, we’ve been seeing all of these having a dramatic boost over the holidays and anything that a kid could pop outside and play with would be a great alternative to chocolate.

2) Playmobil (pictured above): This is an old favourite and to be honest I think they’re one of the first toy companies to have come out with an egg shaped pack. The really great thing about the playmobil eggs is that there are more than just one type of playmobil egg available. Each egg comes with a figure and some accessories. Every year they bring out something different too, a quick glance at the Playmobil eggs that we’ve got left in the shop includes a fairy, a biker, a top agent and a native American with animals. They’re a great alternative to yet more chocolate at Easter and I know at least one five year old boy who’ll enjoy getting one. (when Playmobil eggs are in season you’ll be able to pick some up by clicking this link)

aqua dragon jurassic dino egg1) ‘Aqua Dragon Jurassic Time Travel EGGspress’: As I’ve already said, this is being touted as the ‘top toy for Easter’ and to be honest it’s easy to see why: it’s simple and gets you set up with your very own set of ‘aqua-dragons’ (tiny crustaceans which hatch from dried eggs when placed in water). The life-cycle of an aqua-dragon is 45-60 days so it’s a nice introduction to the responsibilities of having a pet. Something that’s definitely a step away from yet another chocolate egg.

As I’ve already said I talked about this trend of toys for Easter a while back and it doesn’t seem to be showing any sign of stopping. I wonder whether anyone out there has a problem with it. Speaking as a parent I have to say I like the idea that my kids could get something nice for Easter that won’t leave them wound up like coiled springs (or make them sick with indulgence). I can already predict the kind of reactions that this shift in tradition might get though, including (but not limited to) pointing out how commercialised Easter is getting, that the ‘real meaning of Easter’ could be compromised by this shift, that a bit of chocolate never hurt anyone or even that Easter gifts at the very least have to be egg-shaped (unlike items 3 and 4 on my list).

I agree and disagree with these arguments in my own way but I’m more interested in seeing what you think. Is there something to be preserved in our Easter traditions? Has Easter ever really had a clear set of traditions (like Christmas does) or has it always been a bit harder to define as a holiday/celebration? and the last one (which is kind of a biggy) Is there anything inherently religious about the standing traditions of Easter or do chicks, eggs, bunnies, and egg hunts have more to do with the arrival of spring than anything? What do you think? As always I welcome comments on here (it makes it feel like my writing has been worthwhile), thanks for stopping by for a read and don’t forget to follow me on twitter to chat about toys, life and people. Cheers, John

Being independent, the pros and cons

lone wolf foil art fun junctionThere’s safety in doing what the majority is doing: for starters you’re less likely to be admonished or ridiculed if you follow the status quo. However it can be limiting as well, not only that but it makes it harder to think for yourself and act in ways that differ from the norm.

For my regular followers, this post is going to be a bit different and I’ll be straying pretty far off my usual toy-related topics. If you fancy joining me for the next few paragraphs I welcome anything you have to say about. If you’d rather wait for my next toy post then our regularly scheduled programming will resume shortly and in the mean time feel free to check out some toy related posts I prepared earlier ‘How to Play‘, ‘Why are dinosaurs so universal?‘, or my first ever post which was about my son’s favourite toys at the time ‘Pocket money‘.

Today I’m going to be looking at independence in children and in independent businesses (please bear with me, I’ve got genuine reasons for thinking they’re related). For starters there’s the obvious notion that a business is often the ‘brain child’ of some entrepreneur. That said it’s worth spelling out what real parenting is like, since ‘brain child’ makes it sound like it’s something complete, like the job is done, which just isn’t the case with parenting.

Every new parent has absolutely no clue what they’re doing and will rely heavily on the help of others, consulting the advice of other parents, parenting books, blogs and a whole host of other sources. As time goes on a relationship develops and you start to realise that what you’re doing isn’t a job with a list of check-points to tick off but instead it’s a more responsive and evolving role as you provide support and advice that you hope will steer your child in the right direction.

So how does this relate to independent stores? In some ways it really doesn’t, especially the help element, since (for starters) some independent businesses can be so specific that there just won’t be a book/web forum/advice group that fits the bill. That said, most parents eventually learn that something like this is true of their children as well; they’re individuals, what works for one parent with their child might be a terrible idea to try out with another. It’s all about relationships.

One very clear similarity between a child and an independent business is that an independent business (especially a retail business) will start to develop it’s own ‘personality’ pretty quickly. Regardless of what you want people to think about your business they’ll make up their own mind. (I’m basically borrowing/stealing/being-inspired-by an ‘Un-Podcast’ post here). With this in mind independent shops are in a pretty good position to micro-manage their behaviour in ways that bigger businesses just couldn’t.

If a large company makes a mistake in policy which causes them to inconvenience customers (or even annoy them) then it could take months for them to realise and make the required changes. In a small shop it can be as simple as a phone call and you’ve got a happy customer. All the same it can still be hard to keep track of what your business is becoming.

Over the next week (possibly more) I’ll be posting about what I feel stands out about the company I work for: Fun Junction. I’ll mostly be talking about toys, games, books etc. which we stock that I find really distinctive and many of these come from companies that a lot of people may not have heard about. I’ll be posting a link to this blog post on my twitter account, tagging other independent business for ‘Follow Friday’ (today) so if you’ve found your way to this post from there, welcome to my blog, thanks for stopping by and please feel free to share your own experiences of being on the inside of an independent business. I also welcome comments from readers regarding why they do/don’t shop local. I know it’s a departure from my usual subject matter but I hope it drums up some interesting discussion. Thanks for stopping by, Cheers, John

Top 5 toys this March

night narcissusUnlike lists of ‘top 5 for Christmas’, in some ways these kinds of lists can give you a more honest idea about the kinds of things kids like. For starters the top 5 for different months of the year can be less influenced by advertising but more than that they often reflect pocket money/ holiday money spending. This kind of thing can give you a real insight into the kind of things children really want. What they spend their own money on can often be wildly different from the kinds of things they might ask Santa for.

So without further ado lets have a look at what toys/games etc. seem to be flying out this month:

brookite stunt kite5. Kites: There’s no doubt that this one is weather induced but who can blame them? The wind has been so strong it’s been blowing the door open all week (and it’s a heavy door), it’s definitely kite weather. Just today I’ve sold four large kites, one of them was a huge two handled stunt kite from Brookite, it’s actually got a warning on telling parents not to allow younger children to use it in case they take off (no I’m not joking). Given how windy it is at the moment I’m expecting to see children flying past any minute now.

shopload of books4. Books: We’ve just had world book day, kids seem to be excited about their favourite authors again and I have to say books would be much higher on my list if I was just just counting interest, as there’s been a huge increase in the amount of kids just hanging out at the book section and browsing through what we’ve got. Electronic games haven’t beaten the appeal of a good story just yet.

gruffalo jigsaw puzzle book3. Puzzles: Puzzles are pretty much a staple in Fun Junction with loads being bought for birthday presents. A lot of the time it’s one of the easiest ways to track down something featuring a favourite character but it’s also a popular gift for children just turning three as they move on from toddler toys and onto more advanced pre-schooler activities that stretch their skills and help with their development. I can vouch for this, I was really excited when both boys started doing puzzles, it was such a great thing to see their little brains getting powered up and developing motor skills and hand-eye coordination as they figured out where the pieces went and how to orientate them.

This isn’t to mention the 500 and 1000 piece puzzles we sell for grown ups which are becoming more and more popular in our Crieff shop (they already have a long-standing and loyal following through in Perth). With all this in mind I would expect puzzles to feature in the top 5 list of any month.

top-model-make-up2. Top Model: Like puzzles Top Model is a staple, it’s a brilliant yet simple range of fashion-orientated colouring books (for want of a better word). You get a book full of pages which are blank but for a simple line drawing picture of a ‘model’ which children dress in clothes of their own design and then colour in. It’s been in our top 5 sellers list for years and to be honest it doesn’t seem to be showing any signs of shifting.

lego movie space lego guy everything is awesome1. Lego Movie kits: Every now and again something toy related climbs into the public consciousness and if the company is lucky it’ll be for good reasons that lead to a massive level of awareness. The Lego Movie came out just a couple of weeks ago and it has just skyrocketed in public awareness. No advertising campaign could have done what this movie has done for Lego: it’s pushed Lego sales from a steady constant (high level) to something way beyond. We’re genuinely amazed at how much Lego is going this month but having watched the film with my boys a day or two after the premier I can safely say it’s simply too awesome a movie to disappear. I loved it and I’ve a feeling Logan will be after a bundle of Lego (and the DVD) when his birthday comes around in July (and I won’t have a problem with that at all).

This isn’t necessarily a list of my favourite toys, they’re just the biggest sellers I’ve noticed so far this month. That said I do like everything on the list and I’m pretty sure I’ll be requesting some Lego for my birthday next month. I’m expect that things will probably change a bit in the run up to Easter (20th April this year) as more and more people are starting to opt for an Easter gift which doesn’t feature too much chocolate. I’ll pop another ‘top 5 sellers this month’ in April and we can see how things have changed. I’d love to hear what other people think about the toys on this list and I’d really appreciate it if you would take a minute to share your views in the comments below. As always thanks for reading and don’t forget that you can subscribe to receive my blog posts straight to your inbox (new subscribers are awesome!), Cheers, John