Photo features business owner, Helen Holmes with her daughters Grace (left) and Ruby (right)
A Tynemouth entrepreneur has fast-tracked a unique new business opportunity with the launch of a new online children’s lifestyle store designed to put the imagination back into children’s playtime and encourage the development of inquisitive minds.
Helen Holmes, 45, from Tynemouth launched Ruby and Grace at the end of June 2020 thanks to help from the North Tyneside Business Factory, the business support programme from North Tyneside Council.
The new business aims to address the rising demand for unique toys and entertainment options to help children process the complex and challenging world in which we live and to compete with electronic devices. The business aims to champion STEM, Racial & Sexual Equality, and celebrate the power of dreams, perseverance and the importance of asking why.
Helen, a Psychology graduate and former global customer experience manager for a major car rental firm, applied her understanding of child psychology and corporate knowledge to the creation of the new online brand in the latter half of 2019. The goal was to launch at the end of 2020 but was immediately brought forward when the worldwide lockdown had an immediate impact on the family tourism business.
Commenting on the launch, Ruby and Grace founder Helen said: “Ruby and Grace has actually been in development for some time, as I’ve spent several years researching suppliers from across the globe and creating a brand that suited the kind of ethical and sustainable business I wanted it to be. Although we have had to speed up the launch – creating a website, brand, distribution network and supplier contracts in a matter of weeks – the end result is exactly what I had hoped and imagined. We even included a rainbow in the main branding in reference to the hope and joy we hope to offer children and their families and the symbol of the lockdown period in which we launched.
“The main selling point for Ruby and Grace is the range of products as we tend to focus on global brands which match our ethos and offer a unique proposition to parents and children. I’ve spent years trying to source beautiful, quality, ethical and imaginative toys, books and home accessories for my own children and was often asked where I found certain decorative items or toys the girls were playing with. Ruby and Grace seemed the natural extension to always letting friends and family know where to find the interesting products they had seen around our house – why not just sell them myself?”
From washable gel window pens to colour-in world map tablecloths, Helen hand picks the range of toys and brands on the website based on the direct reviews of her girls, other children and parents. To make the grade each item needs to be beautiful, inspiring, ethically sourced, great quality and fun.
Helen continues: “The Scandinavian brand, Maileg has been a great addition the site but we also have some gorgeous wooden toys, creative building brands like Zolo and Clockwork Soldier and some wonderfully immersive arts and crafts products from American Brand Ooly and Eat Sleep Doodle.
“The critically acclaimed ‘Little People Big Dreams Books’ have proven particularly popular. These books aim to inspire the next generation of outstanding people by exploring the lives of high profile figures past and present, from Greta Thurnberg to Anne Frank, Martin Luther King, Rosa Parks, Bob Dylan and David Bowie.”
The launch of Ruby and Grace was brought forward with a view to helping the family overcome the interruption to trading in the family tourism business brought about by changes to the way people travel.
Helen continues: “For many years we have run a successful family business in the tourism sector but unfortunately, when lockdown started, our entire 2020, and to an extent 2021 booking schedule was almost universally cancelled. We stood by our customers, refunding everyone as quickly as possible. In the meantime, however, we have Ruby and Grace and given the initial reception and orders coming through over the past 4 weeks – we are confident in its success.”
Helen worked with the North Tyneside Business Factory to set up the business, collaborating with a business advisor to manage the different elements of starting and running a business. Supported by the ERDF, The Business Factory is delivered by TEDCO in North Tyneside to help new enterprises access the help and guidance they need to finance and set up a new venture in the Borough
Ross Laffey, business support manager at North Tyneside Business Factory comments: “We are delighted to have been able to support Helen in the rapid set up and launch of her business. Ruby and Grace knows its customer well and we anticipate a very positive reception to the unique range of toys available – particularly for those looking to entertain children at home during what has been a prolonged period of home schooling.”