Blue Diamond children’s toy and book buyer Carla Ringer is expecting a strong Christmas for the garden centre group 

Carla Ringer

I have been in retail for too many years to count, with a very varied buying history. I’ve been lucky enough to work for some fantastic businesses such as Harrods, Laura Ashley, and Toys R Us. I’ve been with Blue Diamond for three and a half years as the children’s toy and book buyer – and my son certainly thinks I have the coolest job! 

Blue Diamond grew out of a Guernsey fruit export company and is a very exciting business to be a part of. Managing director Alan Roper is a creative and visionary man who has a very clear picture of how he wants the garden centres to look. 

Blue Diamond is about offering our customers a unique shopping experience within an aspirational environment. The portfolio of centres is ever-changing: we are currently at 38 and we are spread throughout England, Wales, and the Channel Islands.

“You won’t find boxes lined up on shelves in our centres – it’s all about theatre and visual impact”

We don’t want to range products you can find everywhere. We are constantly looking for newness, and love to support smaller newer businesses. That’s what makes us different to other garden centres. We also develop some own-label lines that can’t be found elsewhere. The great part of working at Blue Diamond is that we don’t have to stick to a critical path and can add in new ranges at any time, which means we keep our customers returning. 

In the past year we’ve seen strong sales in the craft category for children. Our bestsellers are a build-your-own T-Rex mask and build-your-own unicorn mask (both from Fiesta Crafts) which are fun because once made, you can wear them. Also, the fidget category has seen really strong sales in the latter half of the year and will be a winner for Christmas.

There is a definite move from parents wanting to get their children away from technology, and our offering is not about iPads or mobile phones. It’s about parents and grandparents spending quality time with children: doing puzzles, craft kits, getting outside to search for bugs and wildlife and, of course, reading. 

We try and steer away from following the movies and licensing trends as these tend to be short-lived and don’t fit with our brand. We do support the classic licences though, such as Peter Rabbit and Winnie the Pooh. We also have a large selection of wooden toys and work with brands such as Bigjigs Toys and Orange Tree Toys.

Our visual merchandising is exciting and continually changing to keep the centres looking fresh. You won’t find boxes lined up on shelves in our centres – it’s all about theatre and visual impact.

We try to offer our customers a day out for all the family, with restaurants and, in some centres, play areas for the children. You could easily get lost in one of our centres for a whole day.

We are expecting a strong Christmas and sales are already off to a flying start. Christmas books are already doing really well, and customers have really got behind the book advent calendars this year. We are bringing our Grottos back again too, after the disappointment of
last Christmas.

2022 will be another exciting year for Blue Diamond, with the continual improvements of our existing centres and  working on the offering within our newest acquisitions to ensure they reflect the look and feel of Blue Diamond. For children specifically, we have got some new exciting outdoor lines coming for the summer and will be building on the successes of this year.

I’m very lucky that I’m a shopaholic, so what other job could I have?! It’s so rewarding when you look at the sales every week and know you have bought something that the customers love – and I love that we can be in the shopfloor and hear what customers are saying.

My favourites are the more traditional items that I remember from my youth like Tiddlywinks and Pick-Up Sticks. I’m also partial to decorating the pebbles, which are sold in hessian bags alongside pens, when I get five minutes to myself…

This year has brought with it different challenges and trying to get stock in the doors in time for Christmas has been very time-consuming and stressful. Luckily, we are in a strong position now, and ready for a fantastic Christmas at Blue Diamond.

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