Friday, 29 January 2010

Moulin Roty & competition winner

A little while before Christmas I launched a competition to suggest a new creature to join Moulin Roty's Grand Family range of toys (I should point out that this was just a bit of fun to win a soft toy - sadly I am not an adviser to Moulin Roty!) and I've had a wonderful response.

I will get on to some of the suggestions and the winner in just a moment, but before I do I'd like to introduce the two, actual new members that really are joining the Grand Family this year. They are Jeanne the Goose and Mimosa the cat.

Aren't they lovely! They should be arriving end of March so look out for them then (I just hope they don't send them over in the same box - I'm not sure Jeanne would fare too well).

Anyway, back to the competition. I had a few hundred entries so it's been quite a big job to decide a winner but first I settled on a few criteria:

1. The animal or name can't already exist in any Moulin Roty ranges
2. It must fit in with the existing Grand Family range - so I was looking particularly for woodland or domestic animals
3. The name should be 'quite grown up and human' to fit in with existing naming conventions
4. It can't be a discontinued Grand Family animal (A moments silence please for Philemon Pig, Agathe Cat, Clotaire bear, Charlotte cow... RIP)

Honestly, there were too many good, funny and original suggestions to mention, but here are a few of my favourites:

Gigi the goat
Holiette the horse
Florence the guinea pig
Cardew the stoat

Two animals in particular cropped up again and again and both are, I think, excellent suggestions. These are the squirrel and the badger. For each of these we had various names suggested, including for the squirrels: Estelle, Emmelie, Sebastian, Cyrille and Sabienne, and for the badgers: Horatio, Henri, Bernard and Silas.

But in the end, after much thought and deliberation (mainly over coffee and a biscuits) I finally decided on.......... (drum roll)........

Marcel the Badger!

This was suggested by Vanessa Mathieson. Well done Vanessa (and I will email you in just a moment to tell you the good news and invite you to choose a free toy).

To illustrate the winning suggestion I have borrowed a lovely badger picture from Catherine over at Bumpkin Bears. She makes lovely prints, cards and accessories featuring lots of different animals. This particular picture is called Time for an Adventure and is available in her etsy shop as a print, notecard and soon party invitations and gift tags. In fact I hope to have some of her work for sale at Cottontails in the near future.

For what it is worth I will send the suggestions over to Moulin Roty so who knows, maybe this time next year Marcel the Badger really will be joining the Grand Family. As a woodland creature I think he might get on well with Arsene the fox or Emile the hedgehog (oh hang on, badgers don't eat hedgehogs do they..?!)

On that note I must just finish by telling you that Humphrey is not very happy about the winner. For obvious reasons he is not a fan of the badger and has been sulking ever since I made the decision. I'd better go and have a word with him, see if I can smooth things over with a bit of digestive biscuit...

Monday, 25 January 2010


Hello everyone, this may seem a bit off-topic but it's a nice topic and I wondered if you might share some thoughts with me. What do you love / hate in and about soap. Shape, fragrance, packaging etc. Which are your favourites and why?

The thing is I am thinking of having a go at making some because I'd like to pop a little something in with parcels as a nice little surprise extra, and I thought soap might be a nice thing.

But I don't know where to start.

So - this is my chaotic piece of market research!

I'd be ever so grateful for your thoughts, and do ask your friends too.

Thank you

Friday, 22 January 2010

I survived a networking event!

I did something way out of my comfort zone yesterday and attended a networking event - and not only that, it was a breakfast networking event and thus involved getting up at 6am. A far cry from my usual mid-morning stumble down the garden path...

I once had a job where I had to go to these things quite regularly and always swore that, working for myself, I wouldn’t put myself through it. But the topic sounded interesting and as much as I struggle to ‘network’ it can be quite inspiring to spend a few hours with other people from time to time. I love working here at home by myself but brainstorming sessions with Humphrey can be limited affairs.

The event was a Designing Demand workshop, part of (to quote the literature) "a national support programme developed by the Design Council to help businesses use design to improve performance".

I inadvertently arrived half an hour before the event itself got underway (the dreaded networking half hour) and after spending as much time as possible faffing around with my registration badge and then hiding in the loo, I finally had to muster courage and join in. Picking a table at these occasions is always a lottery – especially when ‘interactive exercises' are suspected - but I was very lucky and ended up sharing a table with two very nice men who ran a coffee machine company and a chap who I think was an art director on film sets (very glamorous if so, but I may have misunderstood this?). A breakfast buffet was available but I skipped this – if there’s one thing harder than talking to strangers early in the morning it’s doing it while eating a large breakfast bap.

Our ‘facilitator’ (what a word) kicked off proceedings and after a bit of an introduction we had our first interactive exercise - we had all been asked to take along an example of design we either liked or loathed and had to discuss this with our table. I took the lovely new Belle and Boo catalogue (that’s a ‘liked’, obviously). The film chap brought a photo from the set of an iconic film I hadn’t seen, and the coffee machine makers forgot to bring anything at all so talked about their Blackberrys. This pretty much summed up the relaxed nature of our table which was such a relief.
Throughout the morning we heard a lot about the role of design and ‘design processes’ in business, watched one another eat yogurt (thinking about the minute processes involved), played games with bottles of water and 'Matchbox - a business development tool' and looked at how great design has transformed the fortunes of a sewage company and some sausage makers.

As far as Cottontails is concerned I am not yet certain what I will take from it – at the very least it has got me thinking about the Cottontails brand as opposed to the toy brands I supply, and I love the idea of taking inspiration from my 'environment' and making more of our premises – i.e. my home and garden. I think this might have a name - environment design? - and it sits well with some of the product directions I want to develop - for example, here I am working in a garden office, we have a beautiful garden, and I have a lovely range of children's gardening stuff due in soon. I'm sure there is a way to tie all this in, same with the house and kitchen and all our lovely play kitchen toys. I adore the 'french-ness' and 'scandinavian-ness' of the brands we support, but I'd really like to make more of how these can sit within an English countryside lifestyle. (With lots of rabbits thrown in too of course). Lots to ponder anyway.

Finally the networking part was nowhere near as alarming as I thought it would be and I met some nice people who I said I would mention:

The coffee guys - otherwise known as Cafe Marseilles
A nice photographer called Julian Grant
Simon Washbrook from Alkaline (who has a 9 month old baby boy, come on over to Cottontails..!)
Mark Treverton from Marksman Leisure (outdoor fun activities) who was very proactive and brought leaflets around to everyone - I was too shy to hand out catalogues.

If anyone is interested in attending one of these events, they are being held all over the country and are free - there are details here on the Designing Demand website, and finally here are a few pics I took on my phone:

Networking in action - everyone looks very smart don't they? I, on the other hand, wore a flower in my hair (it was 'business-like black' though).

Here's our table playing the 'Matchbox' game and trying to use it to help the coffee guys design a new machine. Fortunately a nice lady from Designing Demand joined us to bring a bit of professionalism to proceedings.

And this, apparently, is the answer to the coffee machine problem. Simple!

Thursday, 7 January 2010

Rabbits in the snow

This is completely unrelated to Cottontails really but I just wanted to show you something lovely which I had for Christmas. It is a beautiful limited edition print of a painting called 'Mona' by Kate Wyatt. Isn't it gorgeous? You can see more of her work on her website.

Looking at it in the sitting room last night, it struck me that Mona has similar colouring to Humphrey, and I wondered if I might be able to capture a photo of him in a similar pose, with all this beautiful snow as a naturally plain background. Well I had a go today - and the answer is no, not really! Humphrey simply wouldn't 'play ball' and stand up so this is the best I could do... :-)

He had great fun scooting around and digging in the snow while I tried to get him in position - and I just got very cold wet feet running around after him in a skirt and unsuitable shoes!

To finish off, and to tie this post into the shop a bit, here is one more rabbit - he was designed by Maileg last winter and I immediately called him Snowflake Bunny because of the design on his jumper. He is also wearing cosy mittens and boots, and as such is much better prepared for snowy conditions than I was this afternoon!

Wednesday, 6 January 2010

Happy New Year

Hello everyone, and Happy New Year...

I have re-opened after the Christmas and New Year break this week, although with all this beautiful snow around and so many roads and places closed, it still feels kind of holiday-ish here in Herefordshire.

Working as I do in a garden office I'm afraid I have no excuse not to make it into work, but at least I am blessed with a lovely (and incredibly short) walk to work and some beautiful views from the windows.

The down-side to all this glorious snow is that my parcels aren't being collected for the second day running which means that our UK orders are being a bit delayed at the moment. I do apologise to anyone who is waiting for something and want to reassure you that every order is packed up and ready to go just as soon as UK Mail feel able to make a collection. Tomorrow hopefully.

Took a few snaps of Humphrey in the snow earlier - he quite likes it I think, I love the shot of him running through the snow towards his summer run, I have captured him 'mid-leap' and you can see his paw prints in the snow and his legs in the air!