COMMENT: Oldest Horsham toy store changes game plan as web rears its head

Pauline and Roy Ringer
Pauline and Roy Ringer

By Ollie McAteer

Lego is my porn.

Occasionally, when the time is right, I’ll slip off to my room, lock the door and slide that hulking box out from under my bed.

With music blurring to disguise the bustle of my guilty pleasure, I get to work constructing mini worlds of an awesome magnitude.

The satisfying click of blocks forces my head to nod uncontrollably as I think; ‘I am Ollie: King of Lego land’.

In the past I’ve hinted at handing over my mammoth collection to family or friends with children who would greatly benefit from the haul. But I have no intentions of doing so. I just wanted to get that down in writing.

It’s because my collection represents Lego’s heyday, before the shelves became swamped with branded sets based on popular films and franchises.

“It does push up the price, but the Star Wars brand I understand, because it’s not just for children, we get a lot of adults who collect them,” said Pauline Ringer, owner of Goodacres Toymaster in Horsham’s Carfax.

She’s been playing the toy shop business for nearly 40 of her 56 years. But for Pauline and husband/business partner Roy, the game is dramatically changing in the wake of what seems to be claiming lives of Horsham retailers - the internet.

With no online ordering system, you may assume it’s only a matter of time for this Carfax store, but far from it, as the team mates have changed tack with successful results.

“The internet is knocking the retailing and there’s no doubt about it. I understand why people order big items online and have them delivered to the door. But you can’t beat the looking, touching and feeling.”

Perhaps the store’s biggest seller in its 72 year history, is the Teletubby. Pauline tells me how hordes of the colourful toys were taken to the shop in brown bags to hide them from the queues of kids.

“We thought people would be fighting over Teletubbies!”

They never did it for me though, but I do remember wading my way through crowds there to get my hands on the X-Brain yoyo. And who could forget those glorious Pokemon cards - banned from my primary school when vicious gangs of playground outlaws picked off collectors and forced them to hand over their precious ‘shinies’.

The trading cards are still popular with the store today, but in recent years Goodacres have increased the amount of jigsaws, puzzles and craft products. Because these items hold more detail than your average toy pram, the idea is to get customers away from the monitor and through the door to physically inspect their game.

Stocks of smaller goods - or ‘pocket money toys’ - have also risen to cater for the customers who want to ‘spend their money there and then’, says Pauline.

“I think the first significant change was when Argos and Tesco came and started selling toys, and it all became very commercialised rather than specialist.”

Around 15 years ago Goodacres would deliver goods to homes across the district. It’s a service they still offer, but one that’s overlooked thanks to the web.

The shop, brought over to Horsham from Bognor during WWII after children were evacuated from the seaside, has endured tough economic times. But the future is bright.

“The loyalty of Horsham people is what’s surprised me the most,” she added. “We’re in the third generation now and they still keep coming in.”

Most importantly, Pauline understands my obsession with Lego, but for her, it’s something different. “It has to be the Sylvanian families. There’s something sweet and nice about them, their beautifully made and traditional. But I’m a lady - obviously you blokes wouldn’t understand.”