Behind the scenes with renowned toy figure manufacturer W. Britain

19 November 2010
imports_CCGB_p6_13392.jpg Behind the scenes with renowned toy figure manufacturer W. Britain
Mike Blake presents a special behind the scenes report about W. Britain. ...

*This is an excerpt of the article 'How do they do that?' first published in Collectors Gazette's December isssue. To see which issues of Collectors Gazette are available to buy online, click here.


William Britain as a company has been making toy soldiers for an incredible 117 years! How has it managed to keep going for so long? Managing Director, Richard Walker, believes it is because they are good listeners...

The past
‘W. Britain, ‘Britains’ or even just ‘WB’ – most, if not indeed all, of today’s toy soldier collectors know the name. For many years in the UK and US this iconic name was synonymous with toy soldiers – even figures by other makers were often described as ‘Britains’ by the public. Ever since the first sets of gloss painted hollow cast lead figures were produced in 1893, the company has been a major player in the hobby.
Familiar as we all are with the end products, few of us have any real idea of what goes on ‘behind the scenes’ in order to get the beautifully sculpted and painted figures on the shelves of the retailer and then collector around the world.

Listen, listen and… listen some more
W. Britain sells through a network of retailers. It listens closely to them, and seeks to respond to what they say about their customers – the collectors. Many of the retailers are also collectors themselves. Often this is how they got started, turning their hobby into a business. Sometimes it is the other way around – they had a business, and were so taken with W. Britain’s figures that they started to collect them!
W. Britain also listens closely to what collectors have to say about the figures being made, and what they would like to see being made. This covers not only new figures in existing ranges, but also ideas and requests for entirely new ranges too. Richard Walker really enjoys going through his post, be it snail mail or email, because he knows that what collectors and retailers have to say is a key ingredient in the success of the company.

How do they do that?
But, how do the ideas get to become figures in the shops and on collectors’ shelves? That’s something few of us ever think about, and indeed we often complain that there are not enough new sets and that they are too slow appearing! Let’s take a look at the sequence of events that has to happen in order to put smiles on our faces!
First, Richard, himself a long-term collector and history buff, and his team consider literally thousands of ideas which have been generated. Key to this is the W. Britain’s team’s experience and their ideas of what fits the company’s ethos. UK Sales and Marketing Director Sam Kiff’s professional expertise is in the collectable’s market. Input from history specialists, sculptors and painters all gets pulled into the mix...

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