Peter Allinson describes himself as a full-time toy tester.
He travels across the world to trade fares, and spends hours in his shop stacking, puzzling, bouncing, building, and playing with everything from robots to dinosaurs to DIY castle kits.
Peter runs the Whirligig toy shop on Sun Street. The novelty emporium threw open its doors on July 1st, 2017 and joined the fraternity of Canterbury shops that are bucking the national trend and prospering in city centre retail.
Continuing our series on high street success stories the Journal sits down with Peter, surrounded by enough toys to put Santa out of business.
“The biggest challenge we’re facing is the constant negative press” he says.
“People come in and say they hope we’ll still be here after Christmas. In actual fact we had just as good a Christmas as last year.
“The bad news stories just chip away at people’s confidence.”
Peter started his business in Brighton in 2012. The former primary school teacher was struck when his nieces and nephews got a bit older that toy shops were beginning to lose their appeal.
His answer was to start a business selling playthings that concentrated on ‘doing’.
“The toys you remember from childhood are the ones you put together yourself” says Peter.
“Building is also an opportunity for grown-ups to get involved too.”
Whirligig came to Canterbury almost by chance. Peter had decided, for no discernible reason, to cycle from Calais to Amsterdam. En route to Dover he needed to change trains, and with a little time to kill decided to have a wander.
Impressed by the vibrancy of the city, he saw an opportunity to expand his business among other like-minded traders.
“Canterbury is a great place for independents. The smaller units are good for start-ups and being near to other independent traders helps. Like breed likes.”
I realise he’s not taking about social media, although Whirligig has an active Facebook following.
Children are encouraged to send in photos of items they have made for the chance of winning a prize. It’s the sort of simple, but effective idea that good businesses excel at.
Peter tells me the largest part of his customer base are locals buying gifts for other people’s children.
“Most of our toys are under £20. You don’t have to wait for delivery and there’s no chance the postman won’t turn up. They make ideal presents.
“If there’s one thing we need, it’s for people to find us. Once they are through the door, the kids can touch and play – it’s ok to get things out of the box – and they love it.
“Customers are bored of a bland retail encounter in a big warehouse. All our staff have to make every toy that comes in, so they’re all product specialists. Shopping here is a proper experience.”
Before leaving, I discover Peter is nicknamed ‘Bunny-boo’ by his staff. The name refers to a logic and thinking game for two-year-olds that he couldn’t stop evangelising about.
I’d say Richard Peter has found his niche in more ways than one.
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