Diane Jones - A 'Plum' Job
What do you do in the industry?
I’m the co-owner, along with my husband Jonathan, of Plum Products which is a family owned SME that innovates, designs, manufacturers and supplies a wide selection of kids toys for fun and active play.
Why and how did you get into the Toy and Game industry?
I started out as a litigation lawyer in Johannesburg and then went on to join an in-house legal team in a merchant bank in London. While on maternity leave after having had our son Paul, we decided to start our own business. We started out by representing sustainable suppliers of wood selling garden and barbeque fuel products into the UK. I continued to work part time to pay the mortgage while Jonathan started the trading until we could afford for me to join him. By that time we also had 2 kids to add to our busy lives. Our earliest foray into the toy market was selling a wheeled item based on a township toy from South Africa and soon added a range of swing accessories from Germany. An opportunity to sell wooden climbing frames into the UK followed and we brought in a trial container load of wooden climbing frames from North America. They sold well and the toy side grew and grew as we added product after product. The rest as they say is history!
What are you working on now?
We have some exciting innovations we are working on which I’m not at liberty to disclose save as to say we will have more cool exciting stuff for kids coming up!
What trends do you see in toys or games that excite or worry you?
These days I worry about the time kids spend on screens and the sedentary nature of this. However there is fortunately a growing interest in getting kids back to actively exploring nature to counter balance this, as we have seen from the huge parent and retail interest in our Discovery range. This is an exciting trend.
What advice can you give to inventors who are presenting new toy or game ideas to you?
Do your market research and work on truly being different and above all keep the ideas coming. No one has the franchise on ‘all the good ideas’ so it’s always good to hear more.
What advice would you give a young adult graduating from high school or college today?
Don’t worry if you don’t land your dream job straight away, be open minded, believe in your own self worth and persist until you find what you looking for. There are no time limits in life.
What does your typical day look like?
I start my day with an early morning ocean swim in Manly where we live in Sydney which is fast becoming my best thing. This is followed by a dog walk with our beautiful dog Holly, before I head to my office to sit down to tackle my pile of emails etc. My day ends with another dog walk and dinner or regularly a call to a colleague abroad. When you live in Sydney you get used to calling the rest of the world at odd hours, it’s well and truly living ‘Down Under’!
What is the most rewarding part of your job?
I get great pleasure supporting our team to grow in confidence and flourish individually and in their roles bringing fresh and innovative ideas to the table. When this in turn translates into a marketing idea, new process, new leadership, new range or product it’s very rewarding.
What is the worst job you’ve ever had and what did you learn from it?
I nursed at a public hospital during my school vacation one year as a prelude to seeing if I would like to do medicine. I was put in to assist in the children’s and geriatric wards on the same floor, different wings. I found both wards confronting with emptying bed pans definitely being the absolute worst job! I learnt I would make a lousy nurse and went on to study law.
What and/or who inspires you?
My mother inspires me daily. When she passed away I ran a marathon to work through it all and dedicated my run to her on the finish line. She was an incredibly kind and generous spirited woman with enormous integrity and grit. Her homespun wisdom stays with me always.
What was your favorite toy or game as a child?
I grew up on a banana farm in rural South Africa and my favourite game was a game favoured by farm kids, called ‘Kleilat’ (pronounced ‘Clay laht’). The Afrikaans words ‘Klei’ and ‘Lat’ mean clay and stick.
We had a small river running through our property and on the banks was this wonderful natural clay. My brothers and I would regularly meet the kids from across the valley at the rivers edge – each family on their respective sides. We would find pliable sticks (willow is very good) and fashion small balls of clay on to the top of the stick with a view to flicking the ball of clay at the the kids across the water or your unsuspecting siblings and it would sting like mad if you took a hit. This was no doubt the inspiration for paint balling! It was such fun.
Where were you born?
In rural South Africa
What was your life like growing up?
A pretty simple farm life, with lots of barefoot outdoor play.
Where did you grow up and how did that influence who you are today?
I grew up and was educated in South Africa. My rural roots have ensured I remain grounded and stay real. Growing up in South Africa encouraged a ‘can do’ attitude and that was a huge and everlasting influence on mine and Jonathan’s lives. We left with backpacks in 1985 to travel and work, starting a business 3 years later in the UK, had 3 kids and landed up staying in the UK for 24 years. Plum is now 30 years old and has offices in 3 countries, selling into around 40 different countries. I think our South African roots were hugely influential on our confidence and self belief.
What is one mistake you’ve made, and what did you learn from it?
I wish it was one mistake only but amongst the mistakes I have made one that readily springs to mind, was underselling my skills and ability when I was younger. I have learnt to believe fully in my ability and have a good sense of my own self worth.
What do you read every day, and why?
I read The London Times daily and love it! It has quality journalism, worldwide coverage and a breadth or journalism that is excellent.
What is your favorite gadget, app or piece of software that helps you every day?
The London Times newspaper app is my daily go to happy place.
How do you jumpstart your creativity when you find yourself stalled on a project?
Walk away, make a cup of tea and clear my head.
When is the last time you laughed out loud? What caused it?
Today swimming with my girlfriends, they joke I am a wave maker and as we entered the calm flat waters today a wave appeared from seemingly nowhere. I couldn’t have made it up if I tried.
Are you named after anyone?
Unusually I was named after tomatoes. My parents were selling ‘Diane’ branded tomatoes at the time and a trip to the packing shed inspired my father apparently.
Do you have any kiddos?
I have 3 wonderful kiddos.
Paul, an accountant, joined Plum in the UK two years ago to our great delight. He has since become our Commercial Director. Louise is a veterinary surgeon and after 4 years in practice in Australia is heading to New York to join a practice in June, so exciting times for her and compulsory trips to the Big Apple for her parents! Natalie is our creative youngest and a UX designer who has in the past worked for the family business helping with our website. She currently works in Sydney for a property company as a UX designer. We have carefully placed our kids across the globe J
Do you have any pets?
Holly the dog and Bertie the ginger cat. Both are rescues we love.
Do you have any guilty pleasures?
Champagne, tea and cake, preferably together.
What’s your favorite cereal?
What’s the first thing you usually notice about people?
Their eyes. I like kind eyes.
What is your eye color?
Do you prefer scary movies or happy endings?
I actually just love movies!
Summer of Winter?
Hugs or Kisses?
What is your favorite night out?
Dinner and movie with my husband.
Favorite movie of all time?
The Sound of Music with Julie Andrews as it was my first movie ever, and lately Three Billboards outside Ebbing, Missouri.
What’s the furthest you’ve ever been from home?
Home is a loose concept with the Schaffer family, the longest flight I have taken is from Melbourne to Johannesburg at 16 hours.
What are your hobbies?
I am a garden designer and love gardening, plants, gardens, drawing, sport, hiking, theatre, travel, cooking and reading.
Growing the business internationally so every kid has the joy of Plum toys