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Child’s play: Homegrown toy company expanding again

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Tara Jeffrey

Business is booming for Joyce Keelan and she thanks – in part – Canada’s recent ketchup controversy.

“That whole thing that happened with Heinz and French’s has helped make it a really big deal to buy local,” said the Point Edward-based entrepreneur. She refers to the consumer outcry that made French’s ketchup a household name last month after the company promised to use Leamington tomatoes in its product.

“The buy local thing is really starting to gain momentum, and that serves us well. We’re getting interest from some of the larger retailers in Canada.”

The CEO and founder of Great Pretenders — a children’s dress-up and costume company with international headquarters at the DMI building — is racing to keep up with growing demand. Her products are designed and assembled at the local manufacturing centre and enjoyed by children across the globe.

The company has long focused on costumes and accessories for boys and girls, and recently broke into the infant market with the Meiya and Alvin collection, an all-natural toy — similar to the popular Sophie the Giraffe — but made from rubber and textiles.

That, along with a new line of Colour Costumes that kids can actually colour themselves, has forced Great Pretenders to expand its home base.

“We’ve had quite a bit of success with both. So much so, that we’ve had to build a new warehouse,” said Keelan.

A building at 714 Lite St. was purchased and is being torn down to make way for an 18,000-square-foot warehouse.

“With both products taking off, there was just no way we could function out of the existing warehouse.”

Not to mention a new warehouse the company just opened in Germany.

“Europe loves that our products are made in Canada, so they’re willing to pay a little more,” said Keelan.”It’s a very good market for our Made in Canada business.”

She also credits the low dollar for making international trade more favourable right now.

“We get to control everything — we see the material, and we’ve got a really strong team,” she said.

“We want the consumer experience to be good, so we really just care more about it.”


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