Caitlin Sykes ' Opinion

Your Business editor of the NZ Herald

Small Business: Parent entrepreneurs - Philip Thompson, Sport in Art

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Philip Thompson is a father of two boys and a founder, with his wife Emma, of Sport in Art. The company produces sports-themed educational gifts for boys such as alphabet flashcards, jigsaw puzzles and greeting cards.

Philip and Emma Thompson of Sport in Art, with their children George and Freddie.
Philip and Emma Thompson of Sport in Art, with their children George and Freddie.

Tell us about Sport In Art.

As a person who has learnt so much from being involved in sport, I believed there was an opportunity to engage with that to help young children, especially boys, to learn. But when it came to products, everything seemed to be aligned to specific clubs and was therefore out of date quickly, wasn't attractive and didn't have a learning focus.

So the idea for Sport in Art was born. We initially intended starting with football products, but suddenly Rugby World Cup 2011 was upon us, so we launched with rugby. No one had yet tackled an 'A to Z of rugby' flashcard product, so that was our first.

Coming up with what best represents rugby for each letter was fun. We then researched and wrote a brief history of each term, so kids could also learn the rules and history of the game. We then commissioned artist Austin Whincup to paint an illustration of each letter. A local graphic designer then turned them into the flashcards, and we chose two artworks to also make into jigsaws.

Three years on, we are in the planning stages for the next phase of our own product range, which will have ballet and football products. My wife and I both have full-time jobs, are very involved in the Nelson community and, of course, have George and Freddie to raise, so Sport in Art is a slow burner. But that's okay - our business plan is based on long-term goals, as we were realistic about what we could do with the business on a part-time basis.

How does the business fit in with family life and routines?

Working with my wife Emma has been fascinating. We've needed to understand each other's skills and strengths in business because we've worked so closely together on design, quality control, branding and product positioning. We do disagree about things, but manage to work together closely as a team to achieve our objectives.

The boys love it. They love the cards and helping us when we're at markets and fairs; at ages eight and four they are our best salespeople! As professionals, we've also enjoyed the process of developing a startup company, as it gives us an acute understanding of business when we are advising our own clients.

What have been the highs and lows of being a dadpreneur?

Balancing growing a business with the other demands, particularly of family life, is hard and often frustrating when you don't feel you have enough time. Making sure that our enterprise does not affect our family time is a constant struggle. But our personal reward is already evident in our own boys' learning - not just of the alphabet and rugby, but also business.

Then there's the unexpected stuff - like seeing how boys with learning difficulties and young men with brain injuries - often caused by rugby - have really taken to the cards, or how some mums have bought them for their older boys purely as works of art. Overall, though, seeing dads spend time with their boys because they love rugby themselves is one of the best rewards.

What are your hopes for the business from here?

We are at a point where we really need a distributor - both in New Zealand and the UK. Selling the products ourselves has been invaluable in the beginning as you hear firsthand what the customer thinks and can finetune what you are doing. We are selling online in the UK, but getting in front of the millions of rugby fans in Britain through retail outlets is one of our main objectives in the next six months.

What tips would you have for other dadpreneurs?

Plan, plan and plan again. And be realistic about the plan if the project can only be part time. Embrace the family in the decision-making process and ensure, above all, that as a dadpreneur your first role is as a father.

- NZ Herald

Caitlin Sykes

Your Business editor of the NZ Herald

Caitlin Sykes has been a business journalist for more than a decade, including eight years at the award-winning Unlimited business magazine, where she was writer, deputy editor and, most recently, editor. She currently is the Your Business editor of nzherald.co.nz, specialising in issues relevant to small and medium enterprises in the New Zealand economy.

Read more by Caitlin Sykes

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