Surprise! Today is our birthday and something is happening.....
Time to say goodbye....
Thank you to everyone for your kind messages that we have received since announcing our plans to close Petalina. We will really miss chatting with you all.
Petalina has come a very long way in the last 12 years, and it has been the most amazing journey, during which I have learned so much about running a business. It started out as an idea called Bambolina back in 2006. At the time my daughters were very small and I was a stay at home mum with a background in retail management. As a child I had a family of Sasha dolls and played with them for hours, so as a mum I tried to find equally beautiful dolls for my daughters to play with, but failed. The high street only seemed to have rather ugly crying and weeing baby dolls, and online wasn’t much better. In fact, there were very few online stores at the time, ecommerce being quite a new thing! So I set out to create an online shop selling lots of choice of good quality play dolls.
Me and my lovely girls 7 or 8 years ago, posing for our new family portrait for the website.
Our first five brands were Gotz, Corolle, My Doll, Sigikid and White Balloon. It seemed to take an age to get the first website up and working and it cost far too much money! But I was so excited. I think we had nearly 100 products and it felt like so many. Little did I know what was to come!
Early Gotz Precious Day dolls
The dolls were stored in my house and I would pack them up and take them to the post office in blue IKEA bags, on Monday, Wednesday and Friday every week, and every day at Christmas. Can you imagine how popular I was at Christmas, with such long queues behind me in the post office? Eventually we sent enough parcels that we could open an account with Royal Mail. This allowed us to stick our own stamps on and take the parcels in mail sacks straight to the post office, which was a revelation. I had to buy a car with a big boot so that we could do this, and then had fun vinyl wrapping it to advertise the business! We then had no secrets, everyone knew where we were………
My Rav 4 before I removed the wrapping as by this stage we had changed our name to Petalina.
The plans showing waving dolls! We still miss our pink car.
Stock control was a little tricky because the website wasn’t very sophisticated, so I ran a complex excel spreadsheet and had to update stock numbers as we received deliveries and as we sold items. All our invoices were also done on excel too, so a complete nightmare at Christmas! I used to sit for hours at a time at my kitchen table producing orders so that my dolly mums could send them out. Once we were VAT registered it became very clear that we needed something that would do the job more efficiently so I found some mail order software to help us. That was a big exciting day! We still use the same company for our mail order software now, although it can do so much more than it could back in the old days.
Libby with her Sarah doll by Gotz
It was about this time that we started to look for a good courier and tried several awful ones before settling on DPD, who have done a sterling job for us ever since. We have subsidised every single parcel that we have ever sent with them because we wanted to offer the best service to our customers and DPD are the leaders of the pack. Smaller parcels have continued to be delivered by First Class Post. We once tried second class post but one of the first parcels to be delivered was squashed so we couldn’t take that risk.
Rosie with Miaculti Viviana
Other brands were gradually discovered and added. I would either find brands in shops, or customers would give me information. We would visit the Nuremberg Toy Fair and often we would be contacted directly by manufacturers. I’ll never forget the day I discovered Kathe Kruse at Top Drawer. They were so beautifully made and became an instant success. Without doubt, Kathe Kruse dolls are still the most beautifully made dolls available, and all but the Kruselings, are still made in Lativa. The Kruselings are made in China but have proven to be incredibly popular and very nicely made. Love them!
Kathe Kruse Bambina Lara. Rosie adopted her!
We love Moulin Roty but it took ages to persuade them to let us have their products, because they didn’t support on line only businesses. We still love their quirky French design. We spotted Kidz ‘n’ Cats in Doll Magazine in 2009, and we all fell in love when they arrived shortly after. Everything about them was beautiful and we couldn’t get enough of them. It is such a shame that this poor brand has been plagued by quality problems on and off since their launch because Sonja Hartmann has such skill and vision, but the factories have continually let her down. I am still hoping that one day these beautiful dolls will be available again and perfect.
The launch collection of Kidz 'n' Cats dolls 2009
Meeting Frances from A Girl for All Time is so lovely. She came to my house and showed me Matilda and all her clothes, and they were so beautiful and her brand has gone from strength to strength. I remember the day I received an email about the Miaculti babies, and we just had to have them in our range! Sofia is an absolute favourite of mine and I might just be keeping one back for me to keep as a momento. Whenever we had a visitor to Petalina, they were always given a baby to hold.
A Kathe Kruse Waldorf doll
Miaculti are made by Schildkrot, so we added a few of their traditional dolls too. Following a visit to the Toy Fair we introduced Llorens to the UK, followed by Antonio Juan, and how the UK market has loved the Spanish baby dolls. Paola Reina was the next Spanish brand to join us and their quality is really good. The pretty pastel colours of La Nina prams and accessories have also been really popular. Bonnie & Pearl arrived and have been such a hit, and their quality is amazing. It’s been lovely to support this UK brand. The tiny Lottie dolls are the smallest dolls we sell, and we love the philosophy behind them, and so do our customers. Other recent additions include Our Generation, which are such good value, and the beautiful Ciao Bimba, which have to be seen to be believed because they are so beautifully made. I had no idea when we started out with 5 brands, that in just a few years we would have more than 20!!
Bonnie & Pearl Beatrice
A dream I had for Petalina was to introduce our own range of dolls and clothes, and we started with clothing. Our Petalina Girl range was made for us to a very high standard in Europe and customers have loved it, especially the winter school outfit.
School photo day!
Every year we grew both our range and our sales, and of course we added to the team. I had various mum friends come and help, and work days were always such fun. So a huge thank you to Lisa, Jo, Nancy, Suzy, Pippa and Susy for helping Petalina become the business it is today. I could not have done it without you all! I can feel a post Petalina party coming on…..
White Balloon doll wearing a Kathe Kruse dress
From the very early days my mummy team would work until school pick up time, and at that point we had to drop everything and go and collect our children. Libby was 5 and Rosie was 2 when I started the business, and the other mums had children of the same age. We very much operated the business around their needs. Stopping work every day at 2.30pm meant leaving all the parcels for DPD in my porch for them to be collected later on in the day. We are so relieved that nothing ever went missing! And this is how we worked until Christmas 2014. Our sales numbers were increasing every year and the deliveries were getting more enormous to allow this to happen, and in 2014 it completely took over my house. The cellar was full, the dining room was full, the corridor was full, some more stock went upstairs and when deliveries arrived, they went in the living room. It was madness, and so difficult to get the stock inside and onto shelves with so little room and there were so many parcels to get out of what was really a difficult space. Plus, the porch was no longer big enough to leave all the DPD parcels in, so the time had come to put the business into fulfilment.
A beautiful Gotz Mermaid, much sought after now!
In August 2015 we moved lock, stock and barrel into the RBLI in Leatherhead, which is really close by so we have popped in often to see the team and pick up new dolls to write about. Immediately, the pressure was on to grow the business so that I could pay the bills. After a lot of effort with marketing we made ends meet and did a little song and dance because the next step in growing the business had been achieved. We were in fulfilment!! Since that day every single parcel has been packed and dispatched by the team at RBLI and all deliveries have arrived there. What a difference it made having pallets delivered into a warehouse rather than into my living room! My house became a home again, which was very much needed. So again, a huge thank you goes to Colin, Becky and Keri, and to Mark, for making it all happen. Petalina has grown so much with your help which is very much appreciated.
A White Balloon boy
With the move into the warehouse, our sales continued to grow, particularly around the world. We now have daily collections of international parcels heading to all corners of the globe, such as the USA, Australia, Israel, Russia, Korea, South Africa, Canada, New Zealand and Europe. In fact, I cannot get over just how many people love to shop at Petalina, thanks to finding our most recent international shippers which has made international shipping much more affordable whilst still being quick and reliable. Can you believe it is cheaper to send a doll to the USA than it is to send one to Scotland with Royal Mail. How daft is that?!
My Doll Ballerina
However, with the growth in trade, particularly at Christmas, comes a great deal of stress, and although we are a small team of Mums helped hugely by the warehouse, it is little old me who does the bulk of the work. It is me who takes the calls from people trying to defraud us out of stock, calling daily to tell us that DPD is lying and they haven’t received their goods. It is me who reads the foul emails from the occasional ‘customer’ accusing us of lying to them and to Paypal. It is me who gets shouted out for suggesting someone goes to the post office to see if their parcel is waiting for them there. It is me who constantly takes the calls and emails asking for discounts on already competitively priced products. It is me who once again has to take calls about yet more faulty stock that has been sent in good faith, and unfortunately many suppliers provide a very average after care service for their retailers, and some are just plain awful!
Celebrating our 10th Birthday!
There is one company that stands out here and that is Corolle. When there is a problem, my heart doesn’t sink into the floor, because I know that it will be dealt with very quickly, often with Corolle speaking to the customer directly and sending replacement goods if needed directly, and they act quickly. This means that customers have their problem sorted out very quickly so are happy, and I don’t have to spend hours of my time chasing up. So Corolle deserve a mention because they are brilliant!! And the quality of the products is very high too, so problems are very unusual. Thank you Corolle, especially to Anne and Aurelie. You are stars!
In 12 years so much has changed. When we started out, online shopping was new and people were so excited to find us. We spent our time buzzing with excitement as we helped customers, discovered new makes, gave lots of advice, updated the website and gave more and more children access to beautiful dolls. It was a wonderful business to be part of. Over the years we have built up a highly respected name with so many amazing reviews. Our website is second to none, and although I am biased, I do think it is the best dolly website in the world! No other website has the amount of buying information, the wide range of products for children, or the website functionality, which is completely bespoke and designed to make shopping easy. We have set the standard for the other dolly websites in the UK who love to watch our every move and copy us when they can, and that was quite often! But regardless of this, we have still maintained our lead and I am very proud of what we have achieved.
Your Modern Girl dolls by A Girl for All Time
Today it is an incredibly competitive marketplace, with Amazon Prime killing the high street and small businesses. Why go shopping when you can just order one on your phone and get it tomorrow? I think for a small business we have done a very good job at keeping up, and we offer far more than Amazon ever can in terms of information and service, but it’s no fun anymore. I didn’t start this business to be a machine that sends out as many dolls as possible, as cheaply as possible and as fast as possible. But you have to do that now, as it is expected. So I imagine that we have many visitors who read our descriptions and buying guides, then buy on Amazon. And now that my two best suppliers are selling on Amazon in the UK, what is the point of them having retailers at all, especially online.
Kathe Kruse Baby Mein
So on New Year’s Day 2018 I vowed that I would never have another Christmas like it and after a record year I decided to close our doors at the end of our financial year. It just so happens that our hosting contract runs out on March 29, so that will be our last day.
The day WeGirls arrived
All I have to do now is to sell off everything that we have in stock, so there are bargains galore on the website but they are disappearing fast. Please help me by taking a look and snapping up some lovely birthday presents and even Christmas presents, and tell your friends. Just make sure you are happy with whatever you order straight away because returns won’t be possible once we have closed or doors.
The Natterer girls chattering
Lots of you have been asking what I plan to do next. Well, I would love to have a break. With a small business you never get to have a holiday because the laptop has to come too. Every day of the year there are emails to answer and orders to check and dispatch. So my dream is to wake up and ask myself, ‘What shall I do today?’ I think it will be difficult at first, but I am really looking forward to rediscovering things I used to love, and new things to try. My daighters are now 17 and 14 and I want to make the most of my time with them before they fly the nest. I still haven’t taught my 17 year old to sew properly! My first job this year is to finish planting the garden, and after this awful weather I’m sure there will be more spaces than there were a couple of weeks ago.
As for dolls, well, I will always love them, because as many of you know, dolls are in my blood, I’ll still be in the many facebook groups that collectors are so active in so I will see many of you there. But I did have a dream when I started Petalina, and that was to create my own range of dolls, which may still happen. In fact, I have a plan already, but will wait until bloomin’ Brexit is sorted out before making any financial commitments. And once I have more time, I’m sure my creativity will start to flourish again.
Corolle Charming Pastel, one of your favourite dolls
So that just leaves one very important thing to say, and that is to thank each and every one of Petalina’s customers for their loyalty and support of our lovely dolly business. It really has been a wonderful way to spend 12 years, getting to know so many of you, and seeing your children grow up with our dolls. It’s been amazing, so thank you very much.
Before I go, here are a couple of administrative updates:
- There are no more 5% discount codes for subscribing to the newsletter, and any unused codes have been disabled. If you shop now you are going to get a far bigger discount that 5%!!
- As of 1 March 2018 no more loyalty points will be accumulated with orders placed but you are welcome to use up any that you have. If you don’t use them before we close then that is unfortunate, but I’m afraid they have no financial value and you will not be compensated in any way.
- After closure if you need to contact us you can still use our email address and telephone. These will be enabled for three months after closure. After that, you can contact us via facebook as we will keep our page live until further notice.