A change is as good as a rest

The Little Cardboard Co. is the idea of Claire Oxenham, Sales Director at iDesign Group, and was born out of Claire’s desire to provide eco-friendly, educational products to children.

“The idea had been in my head for some time, but was catapulted into reality when COVID-19 hit in and home schooling became the norm,” Claire explains.

“With three young children of my own, I am always on the lookout for eco-friendly products which support developmental milestones and encourage learning in play,” Claire says. “We have such an awareness now of how and where things are made, and I think our generation now is looking to ditch the plastic toys in favour of greener options.”

Time on their hands

iDesign Group is a NSW boutique design agency providing global brands and retailers a focused service of permanent POS display design and implementation. When lock down measures were put in place, it drastically affected the business. They could no longer continue doing national installations (and where they could still do installations became a big challenge through having to adhere to social distancing rules). The company’s teams couldn’t cross borders, couldn’t see their clients face to face and had to adapt to remote client meetings.

But, with time on their hands and embracing Claire’s vision, the development of cardboard desks and play spaces – such as cubby houses and rockets – happened quickly, with the whole iDesign team realising that they had struck gold when all of their own children couldn’t stop playing with the the prototypes.

“The products are extremely fun for little ones, but also importantly, offer that ‘edu-PLAY-tion’ that I was after promoting language, motor skills and cognitive development,” Claire says.

With COVID-19 manifesting itself in the way it did, and the resulting reduction in projects for the iDesign Group team to work on, they decided to launch a sub company – The Little Cardboard Co.

Collaboration the key

Claire teamed up with social media agency Cloudsitters to promote the Little Cardboard Co. and created a brand new website for the spin-off business. And iDesign’s suppliers have benefitted, too, with the production of the Little Cardboard Co.’s products keeping those suppliers’ machines turning and their workers working.

“Once we’d developed the idea and decided to launch, we worked closely with our Sydney factory to produce,” Claire says. “The focus on ‘Australian made’ is so important right now and is definitely something our customers want.”

The new products are sold online, through the new website, although Claire is exploring the opportunity of selling via larger, established online retailers. The reception has been instant, particularly in NSW where social-media marketing has seen the products taken up by parents’ Facebook groups, generating sales among those groups’ members. Enquiries from interstate have been ramping up in recent weeks.

And Australian kids won’t be the only ones able to enjoy the twin educational and fun benefits of the products – iDesign have a rep in the UK, and he has given the designs for the Little Cardboard Co. products to a factory in Leicester who are now producing them. Claire also has interest in the concept from the US.

A rewarding challenge

Pivoting in the way they have hasn’t been without its challenges, primarily due to the fact that it has meant Claire and the team having to adapt their business to selling to the end consumer, rather than to brands or retailers.

“Advertising to the mums and dads on Facebook and Instagram has definitely been a learning curve and transition but we are all enjoying it so much,” Claire says.

The team have found the pivot to temporary products rather than permanent displays a relatively easy transition as they already frequently work with cardboard.

“Designing children’s products has also been fun for the design team as we have a troop of young kids between us, so we are definitely qualified to know what they like!” Claire enthuses.

While the homeschooling desks were all the rage at the outset, the team are now seeing seeing a higher percentage of orders for the playspaces.

“That makes sense now kids are going back to school,” Claire says.

The Little Cardboard Co. may have evolved as a “side gig” to keep the team busy during the COVID downturn, but it is set to be a permanent fixture into the future.

“It is a fab little arm of iDesign Group and we are all very proud of the products we have produced and the feedback received,” Claire says. “Keeping the business local and our employees employed, collaborating successfully with all stakeholders involved (design and sales in Newcastle, social media in Brisbane, project management in Blue Mountains and Production in Sydney) has been the driving force of what has been an unexpected upside in this challenging period.”

This story first appeared in issue 29 of the Inside Small Business quarterly magazine