A FIVE-year-old child has landed his dream job as a chief toy tester after becoming the first employee of the family business.
Jack Slee has been helping out with his parents’ new toy making business over the past 12 months, ensuring their products meet the most stringent of standards in order to receive his seal of approval.
Andrew and Kate Slee, from County Durham, launched the family-owned business, The Heart of Imagination, to bring to market sensory, sustainable toys that help improve the learning experience and make education more enjoyable.
The company was the brainchild of Kate, who having worked in early years education for 14 years, had witnessed a real lack of natural wooden toys that aid children’s development and are produced using sustainable forms of manufacture.
After pitching the idea to Andrew, who has a real passion for woodwork and experience of making toys, the husband and wife duo launched the business from their garden shed in January 2021 and have since gone on to sell hundreds of products and expand into their own dedicated workshop at the North East Business and Innovation Centre (BIC).
Kate said: “I’ve been in the early years sector for 12 years now and have a strong passion when it comes to children’s learning and development. When we started our family a few years ago, it became apparent that my ‘career’ wasn’t something that I could just leave at work as I was so eager to put all my knowledge and experience towards my little one’s development and upbringing.
“So, after great discussion and having the opportunity to achieve our dream of starting a family run business that supports children’s curiosity, imagination and development, we approached the team at the BIC and our little business was born.”
Initially operating from their garden shed, the pair began producing toys and passing them to their son, Jack to test, as well as gauging the opinions of the children at the early year’s nursery where Kate spent her working days.
After a successful trial period of their first batch of products, the pair went on to officially launch their business and received support from the BIC, which played a key role in helping them understand the basics and getting the business off the ground.
Kate said: “From starting with the bare minimum, we were absolutely delighted by the support from the BIC. The courses and support were great in terms of guiding us through the individual steps we had to take to ensure we covered all bases and were fundamental to helping us get the business off the ground.”
Fast-forward a year and the couple have since moved into their own dedicated workshop at the BIC, launched their own ecommerce store and have invested in a state-of-the-art CNC milling machine to ramp up and improve production output.
“With Andrew’s manufacturing knowledge and my experience of early years education, we have carved out a real niche for producing hand crafted toys and resources, each of which are carefully constructed to make them safe, strong and comfortable to handle.
“Then, once they’ve received the approval of Jack, I work with him to carefully package the toys up, making sure they reach our high quality checks and send them out to our clients. It’s a real family affair and we’re delighted with how our customers have responded to the products so far.”
Donna Surtees, centre manager at the North East BIC, said: “It’s been fantastic working with Andrew and Kate on the launch of their business and to see them continuing to grow their business at the BIC is testament to the fantastic eco-system we’ve built here that not only provides people with the knowledge to start and grow a business, but also the space and resources required to scale. We’d like to wish them all the best for the future.”