My last Christmas in the toy shop

wpid-imag1527This isn’t easy for me to write but I want to say something about it. This Christmas will be my last in the toy shop. For the past nine years I’ve been ‘the toy shop guy’ and I wanted to say thank you to all of the people who have made it such an amazing experience.

I’ve already written about the strangely slow process in which kids grow out of toys and then disappear from the shop but at the time of writing I never would have thought that I would be moving on too. I’ve been given an amazing opportunity to do something that will be a huge challenge but which I expect will also be extremely rewarding. However, the toy shop will always be something very dear to me.

big movie tom hanks playing with toysWho wouldn’t love the chance to test-drive toys and play games for a living? I’ve enjoyed nine years doing a job that, as a kid, I would have gone crazy for. During that time I even had two kids of my own who have let me see toys through new eyes and who taught me more about the simple joy of play than I could have expected. I know they’re going to miss having their dad working in a toy shop too.

Being a “toy shop guy” is a job with a very transient clientele; every year our customer base shifts as children grow up just that little bit more. There’s something sorrowful, yet wonderful, inherent in watching kids grow up. Obviously as a parent I experience that every day with the little people in my house who are steadily getting less and less little. However, I feel honoured that I’ve also had the chance to share that a little bit with our customers.

I can’t list everyone I’m going to miss here because there are so many. To the parents and grandparents reading this I just want to thank you for the stories and the laughs we’ve had over the years as the children accompanying you grew with each visit. If it weren’t for all of you I would have just been some guy moving boxes around all day. You made my work in the shop what it was and for that I want to thank all of you.

You have also been amazingly supportive towards my series of children’s books. I can’t imagine a situation where getting a story out into the world would have been such a pleasant experience. Jack Reusen and the Fey Flame was my first proper jump into the world of writing and I wouldn’t have enjoyed anything close to the response I got if it wasn’t for you all.

For almost a decade I’ve made toys my life, I did everything I could to understand the ways that different types of play can help children develop their skills and talents, and more importantly learn things about who they are. I’ve always prided myself on the fact that I would be able to find something to fit a child’s needs. This is part of what’s involved in being part of the amazing team at Fun Junction.

To be honest the most important thing about Fun Junction‘s staff has always been that we’re kind of big kids at heart, we love our toys, we’ve played with most of them, and we want to make sure we get the very best products around, so that we can be sure that we have something for everyone. You can’t go wrong in getting a toy at Fun Junction.

I was so happy to hear that I would be getting the chance to enjoy one last Christmas at the shop. It is honestly the best part of the entire year; not because of sales or footfall, but because of the magic of Santa lists, siblings secretly picking out presents for each other, and of course the odd flying visit as some of the bigger presents are picked up by the big guy before the big day 😉 I would have been devastated to have missed all this.

My first ever John the Toy shop guy blog post 'Pocket Money'

My first ever John the Toy shop guy blog post ‘Pocket Money’

My last official day as John the toy shop guy will be on the 31st December (Hogmanay). It’s normally one of the quietest days of the year (and we normally close at about 4pm because of that) but I’d love it if you could pop by for a quick wee visit if you’re about (I’ll pop the kettle on). Again, thank you all for an amazing nine years, I really will miss all of this, it’s going to be very strange not spending my days in the toy shop. Hope Santa is good to you all, Merry Christmas, all the best, John the Toy Shop Guy.

When parents stop being heroes

The IncrediblesNow don’t freak out, I’m not sitting judging every customer who comes into the shop but I do notice trends in the kinds of things people buy and I can’t help but notice a slow change in the kinds of toys children are asking for. A common theme that still comes up when children are choosing toys is that a lot of them like get toys to do with a parent’s job. The strange thing I’ve noticed (and the topic of this post) is that this trend is waning, from an earlier and earlier age children are less inclined towards the traditional hero-worship of their parents’ jobs.

BamBamFirst off the job thing has probably been done since little Ug junior got a club just like his daddy’s and went through a stone-aged world trying to bop unsuspecting pre-historic creatures on the head. Nowadays there are more subtleties, I’d imagine, in the kind of jobs parents do. For years the definitions and responsibilities of different jobs have been changing, there are new technology-based jobs that never existed before and a growing industry of information processing and content creation which make it harder for parents working in these fields to explain their job to their child. When this happens you either find that the child ends up mimicking a simplified idea of what their parent(s) do for a living or they give up on the whole thing and get into superheroes and other non-ordinary characters (like Barbie and characters from cartoon shows).

This is before you even get into how exciting or boring the parent’s overall job is. I work in a toy shop, exciting right? Well yes, sometimes, the toys are exciting but I’m not sure how exciting they find the shop work so when my kids get tired of playing shops they’ve got a mummy that works in a swimming pool, a grampa who’s a farmer and another grampa who’s a ‘fixer’ (my dad ran a handy-man company then went into fixing up properties). Out of all of these my kids are pretty much sorted for emulating jobs but when families that have more unusual/difficult to explain jobs come into the shop I have to admit you see a lot more super heroes and other fantasy jobs getting looked at.

I can’t help but wonder what this feels like for these parents. These parents probably emulated jobs as kids but now their own jobs are so hard to define that their children just give up on the early-years hero-worship of their parents’ profession and plunge right into the avengers, frozen, spider-man, batman, disney prinesses etc. etc.

the thinkerI had a small taster of how difficult job explanation can be when I was doing research for my MPhil. Back then Logan was only four and he just didn’t get what I was writing about. He often got upset when daddy had to go to the library to write for the day or when I had to head through and teach in Edinburgh. Far from something he wanted to emulate, for the most part I think he kind of resented my work. There were of course times when he would sit at his toy laptop and do his ‘writing’, he clearly wanted to understand what I was spending my time doing, he’d often choose to do his ‘writing’ when I was working at home. I loved it when he did this,  but at the same time his interest would wander and fairly quickly he’d be back to being a zoo-keeper, an animal doctor or a palaeontologist. The thing was, even if he managed to understand the nature of my work, at the end of the day it just wasn’t very exciting.

Perhaps that’s the tricky point so many parents are having to deal with, underneath all the difficult explanation lies a job that is quite simply boring (at least in the eyes of the average pre-schooler). With this in mind perhaps it’s better leaving a hint of mystery around what they do for a living, at least the mystery itself can make the job seem a little more exciting.

Do you have an unusual job, or just one that’s hard to explain to your kids? How have you gone about describing it to them, do they try to emulate it? Feel free to share in the comments area below, chat to me over on twitter or if you’re feeling particularly nice you can subscribe to get e-mailed my new blog posts as and when they come out (box off to the right). As always thanks for reading, Cheers, John

The power of Mums

Triceratops mother and baby

OK this post could be about the impending mothers day (2 weeks this Sunday, Dads mark your calenders), it could even be a post about how great Mums are but it’s not: instead I want to highlight just how much Mums count as a factor for the toy industry now. On the 16th May ‘Mums Show Live’ will open its doors to a host of companies aiming to show their wares to the mothers community and now that the regular toy shows/fairs are out of the way many companies who are associated with providing family/child orientated products or services are preparing for this event (full list of companies here).

mumsnetWhat I think this shows is that Mums are being recognised as a (if not the) major factor in how a family budget gets distributed. Companies are finally starting to recognise the need to pay attention to the parent’s expectations and wishes when trying to sell a product to children. I’ve heard from a number of sources (though I can’t find any statistic to back it up) that Mums make up the vast majority of bloggers and blog readers, and this I could believe. What is clear is that the online presence of mothers is both vast and organised and when a multitude gets organised they typically get powerful. One funny thing about this mum empowerment is the distinct lack of a Dads alternative and this isn’t the fault of mumsnet or any other mother-orientated community, in my experience as a dad it comes down to one thing: we just don’t typically befriend other men just because they are a dad.

Despite a clear common interest and shared experiences many Dads are reluctant to talk to each other, preferring to hang out with the same friends they’ve had for years, regardless of where those friends are in life (single friends, friends in couples with no kids etc.). Maybe we do it to keep in touch with the ‘rest of the world’ (you know non-parents) but I think there’s something deeper going on here. Whilst there are cultural niches set up for mothers to connect within (parenthood seems to act as membership to the exclusive club of Mums), being a dad isn’t as celebrated or inclusive. In some respects, in terms of one’s being seen as a father, it’s a rite of passage; other Dads will have a laugh about their situation and recognise in each other ‘proper men’ or ‘real men’. However, once the mutual respect is in place there isn’t a set-up in which to explore the kinship any further. Culturally it was once the case that Dads were expected to be at work and then at home and occasionally to go hang out with their friends/team/band/workmates etc. and to an extent not much seems to have changed.

DadsI recently watched ‘What to expect when you’re expecting’ and in it there’s a group of Dads that often meet in the park and talk about their lives. There’s an element of ‘fight club’ to this group (what passes between them is divulged to no one, especially their wives), which I don’t see working in real life as keeping secrets from your wife isn’t really on the list of advisable/healthy activities for a man. However, the general idea that Dads might hang out with other Dads purely on the basis of their shared status is great. Crieff has its own attempt at this with a Dad’s group where you bring your kids along on a Monday night (I can’t remember specifics about where it’s hosted or exact times, maybe someone could let me know in the comments). This is a fantastic idea and much needed but it has the issue of being a place where kids are probably more likely to mingle than the Dads, perhaps I’m wrong, not having attended yet I don’t really have a say in how the dynamic works out.

Anyway back to Mums, the recognition of Mummy power is on the rise within many different industries (just look at the exhibitor list I linked to earlier in this post) and one thing that is becoming clear is that Mums are definitely seen as the representatives of family households. Dare I say it, they seem to be steadily seen as something like the traditional ‘head of the household’. So I suppose there are two main points I want to try and get across in this post: i) The toy industry (and many others) are starting to take mothers very seriously ii) If anyone has a problem with a particular business tell the Mums, if the complaint reaches a significant number of Mums something will be sent that company’s way and by the sound of things, often, companies will listen to them.

I could harp and moan that Dads aren’t fairly represented but as I think I’ve made clear the kind of representation they get is fair because we Dads (as a group) are not anywhere near as unified under the banner of ‘parenthood’ as the Mums. If we want more representation we’ll just have to work for it, building the same kind of organised setting as groups like mumsnet to allow us to come together and discuss our issues as parents.

mum powerSo the Mums are our representatives when it comes to family allegiance to providers of products and services. Typically they are the ones that advertisers aim at, they are the ones that companies are scared to anger. The message I suppose is that Mums are powerful, possibly more so than any other demographic group, thanks to their number, their ability to find kinship with other Mums (often solely through that common ground) and their ability, as a group, to disseminate both complaint and compliment. In terms of having a hand in the way many markets will turn Mums have the rest of us beaten hands down. (N.B please don’t take offence at the image on the left, motherhood is a choice that, were women not making it, would leave the human race in a bit of bother in around 75 years, I have no intention of looking anti-feminist by saying this, I simply intend to be realistic about where human beings come from)

I love to hear what people think about topics like this so please feel free to leave a comment at the bottom or on the Fun Junction facebook page. Perhaps people disagree with my depiction of the power of Mums, I’m sure as individuals many mothers have had very different experience to what I’m describing here. However, what I wanted to make clear is that, in terms of getting companies to pay attention, an individual Mum does not have to stand alone and that when Mums, as a group, get mad about something a lot of people not only will listen; they’ll want to listen. Again thanks for reading, feel free to comment to your heart’s content. Cheers, John