Growing up, all I ever wanted was to be a Blue Peter presenter, a writer or a stationary shopkeeper. These career aspirations have stayed pretty much the same my entire life. The presenter dream was put on hold at drama school, when a mildy abusive relationship and Mum’s diagnosis of terminal cancer saw me introvert beyond recognition (I mean, I can’t even do an Instagram Story these days so maybe that ship has sailed).
I became a copywriter. The conceptual kind. The one that works with an art director in advertising, burning midnight oil for weeks on end over headlines, taglines and all the other lines you’d expect from that world. Fast forward seven years and I became a mum. It was quickly apparent that the two roles just wouldn’t get on.
So that’s when I started Plan C: the shopkeeper. ToyDrop was born out of a six-month business programme for mums, where I developed the idea for a toy subscription that would rid the world of unnecessary, ugly, plastic toys. I spent the best part of a year planning the details of this model and mapping out what I’d send to babies and toddlers each month.
They’d be ethical, they’d be relevant to their development stage and they’d look great, because no parent ever wants their beautiful home turned into a plastic junkyard. As my self-inflicted launch date loomed, I freaked out over the development stage thing (it turns out no two babies are the same) and decided to just launch as a regular online shop. Oh. The. Relief.
It was live! The dream had become real. My own beautifully branded baby was out for all the world to see and people actually liked it. They bought stuff. I made £3,149.58 in total sales in the three months before Christmas. Great! Well actually, not so great. Because from that £3,149.58, only £825.57 was profit. In three months. And that doesn’t account for Shopify fees, accounting fees, and all the little bits that add up in between. I’d worked myself into the ground for around £200 a month, which had to go straight back into the business to keep the cash flow healthy.
But £200 a month is something, right? Things can only get better? Well then it was January and no one buys toys in January. Or February to September for that matter. I mean, I don’t want to say flogging a dead horse but...
The reality is, while I was busy trying to build a brand, I was actually digging my grave. I was so busy frittering away money as I built my following, planned next steps and devised my route to eco-toy domination that I lost all sight of everything in front of me. We were paying £62 a day for a nursery while I “worked”, I became obsessed with my follower count on Instagram and every ‘like’ made me desperate for the next; an addict awaiting her hit.
I knew it was unhealthy from very early on but assumed this was the pathway to success. It’s what “the influencers” do, right?! And if I’m totally honest, that’s probably what I wanted. The weird fame thing again, rearing its millennial head.
Well there comes a point with most things where you need to reassess. Mine was a few months ago. With two small people to provide for now and a growing realisation that the business isn’t sustainable, I’ve made the inevitable decision to close ToyDrop down.
On the one hand, I’m mad at myself. How could something I worked so hard on end so unceremoniously? On the other, a tonne weight has lifted off our family. Arlo can get my undivided attention for a change, Rudi can have a bedroom that isn’t full of stock, Thom can get his wife back as I switch packing orders for being present.
It also means I can find myself again in the world I knew before babies. I’ve spent three years pushing myself to the extreme, learning things about myself I’ve never known before; how to be a multitasker, a pioneer and a (pretty shit) entrepreneur. The result is a pretty clear understanding of what I want from life: balance.
Easier said than done, sure, but for me, I now know what I’m looking for. Firstly, it’s a happy family. That one’s pretty obvious but has been neglected for a while. I plan to make up for that in 2019.
Secondly, it’s a flexible, salaried job that not only ignites my creativity (and has the kind of budgets to follow it through) but will keep me motivated, excited and relieved to know that when we pay for childcare, it’s not costing us more than I earn.
Thirdly, I want the creative autonomy that comes from doing something entirely for myself. It’s why this spring will see the launch of ToyDrop 2.0; an online parenting magazine featuring content to inspire a generation of kind, happy, sociable kids.
I won’t post every day. I’ll get some help with social media. I’ll invest as much in it as I would in a hobby, knowing full-well that it’s unlikely to earn much back. And I’m cool with that because for the first time I’m being realistic with what it really is: a passion project.
So yes, in some ways, ToyDrop was a failure. The dictionary definition in fact. But raising awesome humans was always at its heart and if closing the store means I can do even slightly better at raising mine, I can’t think of a more successful move.