Belfast Telegraph

A boutique with a unique toy story wins prestigious award

By Claire McNeilly

Most people wouldn't dream of starting a business in these straitened economic times.

But a Northern Ireland internet kids shop – which has been in operation for under a year – has also managed to scoop a prestigious prize. Little Citizens Boutique took home the Best Online Gift/Toy accolade in the recent Junior Design Awards 2013 at a ceremony in London.

Company founder Alicia Waddell has a boutique in Holywood, Co Down, from where she runs the firm's website.

The 37-year-old entrepreneur said her business idea came after she had her now three-year-old daughter Zulema, with husband Jon-Barrie Waddell (41).

"There wasn't a lot of online shopping in this demographic that I could find, although I spent a lot time looking, so I decided to start an online store for kids with an international flavour," said Mrs Waddell, who is originally from America.

"It takes a long time to build on the internet because you don't have passing foot trade, so you start off slow, but it has picked up a lot.

"Christmas was an incredibly busy season and the first trimester this year repeated the Christmas trend so we've been going up and up which is fantastic."

She added: "Business is going well. It's still building, but getting an award like this is brilliant."

The clothes and toys sold by Little Citizens Boutique, which are geared towards newborn children up to the age of six, aren't exactly cheap.

But then they are cherry-picked from New York, Paris and Los Angeles among other far-flung destinations. The Vilac classic ride-on racing car costs £99, for example, and the Janod carmel rocking horse will set you back £110.

A book called Joseph The Hairy Shark is priced at £7, while baby blankets cost £30, and some cardigans for girls are retailing for £53.

Mrs Waddell said the price tags reflect the quality of the merchandise and she said that the Northern Ireland market wasn't her main focus.

"There are some things that are expensive, but there are some things that are cheap," she said.

"The toy department can still keep prices down while making really good quality things, but with clothing it's actually a very elaborate process and unless you're making millions of them you can't put prices down.

"You're actually paying to sustain the livelihood of an art and craft person, who is then paying other people to do a variety of functions. When you break it down it's not as expensive as it might look for what you're getting."

She said customers are people who put quality above quantity and would rather have fewer items which they want to last for longer.

"It's not necessarily really wealthy people who buy our products; it's more of a principle thing, it's a culture," she said.

"That's why we call it Little Citizens. It's about looking to the future our children are going to have."

Most orders currently come from the UK (mainly England), the USA, Japan and Australia, according to Mrs Waddell.

She added: "Putting money into the pockets of people who make things rather than giving it to corporations or fat cats is a big part of our brand."

Belfast Telegraph