Rex Cousins, Jennifer Cousins and Vikki Ryan formed Smallworld Limited in 1982, to design and manufacture mobile children’s toys. Their ambition was then, and still is now, the production of sturdy, value-for-money toys for children from three to thirteen. Our motto is “If its child’s play, we make it better”. Operating out of a converted plating shop in Clerkenwell, the company produced the Preston Tricycle, its first production line item, at rates of up to 100 per week. The Preston is still in production today. The next five years saw the introduction of new lines including, in 1984, the highly successful Blackburn First Bicycle, designed to take children through from learning to ride to a mid-range bicycle, and in 1986 the Fleetwood Scooter.
In 1990 the company moved all its production to the Far East, opening a new production unit in Malaysia. Only Design, Distribution and a small Repair Facility have been retained in the UK. We signed a five year deal with the Malaysian Government, whereby Smallworld Limited agreed to operate to UK safety standards in exchange for a 75% rebate on profits tax and a 50% rebate on employment tax. The first product to be built exclusively in Malaysia was the Penang Pedal Car. Fifty per week were produced in the first year, 1991, rising to a peak of 350 per week, which has been maintained since 1994.
In 1991 Smallworld Limited’s Head Offices and Distribution Unit moved to new, purpose built premises on the Rockwell Industrial estate, just off the M6, south of Birmingham. At the same time a Design unit was opened two miles away on the Darsley Estate. The modern Distribution Unit now serves the whole of the European Community. This year saw the introduction of the Straits Minirider, a sturdy tricycle for the 3 to 5 year age group. Production to date has been 75 units in the first three months. Our plan is to reach a steady 250 units per week from next year. Meanwhile our design team, working out of Darsley, is developing our next generation of products, but details of that must wait until our launch at the Stockholm Toy Festival in September 1997.
We are justly proud of our safety record. When the company started we were aware that our production used lethal materials that had to be treated with great care if we were not to have fatal accidents. Our plating solutions contain cyanides and hot caustic soda and our bonding agents contain arsenic, all of which can kill if ingested. We keep our chemicals under lock and key in the chemicals store. Only Bob Cousins and the duty manager hold keys, with all access to the store being recorded in our stores book. Because the store is too small we have to keep our empty containers outside, but we ensure that the supplier takes them all back for reuse. We have sought planning permission to extend the store to hold the empty containers. All our staff, including those in our offices, are warned of the dangers of handling even the empty drums. All our managers have been trained to cope with emergencies and antidotes are always available, but so far not needed. We are still using the same accident book that we started when we opened for business in 1982 and we have only reached page 3. The safety record of our Malaysian plant is equally impressive. Their book is still on page one. We intend to maintain our unblemished record.