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Walkerloo was founded in 2008 by 37-year-old artist Christopher Walker. Its product is wonderfully unique: armies of toy soldiers, historically accurate down to the last detail, all made from cardboard.

As a boy Chris loved drawing soldiers, and more recently he turned his hand to it again to amuse his nephew. Having decided to turn his passion into a business, he went to the Pépinière d’Entreprise at Cherbourg, where an English-speaking advisor helped with the business plan and guided him through the process of applying for a loan. As part of this process Chris had to attend an interview with a panel, which he found rather daunting – especially since his French is, he admits, not wonderful. “But I showed the panel some Walkerloo soldiers, and talked about them, and it must have gone OK because I got the loan.”

The product is manufactured by a company in Burgundy. Beyond that, Chris runs the business single-handed, with his wife helping with the accounts. He built the website himself ( Having identified his main competition as the plastic action figures made in the Far East Chris now needs to underline the important differentiating factors that set Walkerloo apart. One is his commitment to using ecologically-friendly, non-toxic materials, manufactured ethically without low-paid labour. Another is Walkerloo’s educational aspect: “Kids get fascinated by detail. From studying the detail on my soldiers they can absorb real historical facts – different regimental uniforms, the soldiers’ weapons, the historical context. Surely that has more educational value than studying a plastic action figure?”

Although Walkerloo does sell online, most business to date has come through selling direct to the public at fairs and markets, mostly in the UK but also in France and beyond. Chris is actively exploring new marketing channels to see where they lead. He is frustrated that high street toy shops persist in viewing Walkerloo as a niche product not for them, but he’s had more success with museums. On top of this, he is constantly developing new offerings based on both the historical theme and the educational/fun aspect – downloadable factsheets, videos for U-Tube, community venture for kids ...

With a unique product, Chris had no competitors’ prices to guide him on his pricing structure. “I had to work out selling prices based on production costs and margins,” he says. “Pricing was difficult. I’m still wondering whether sales would increase if I reduced prices.” But Chris didn’t expect instant profits; he sees Walkerloo as a long-term business proposition, and accepts that until it takes off he may have to go back to decorating work to bring in money.

Arguably, Walkerloo is an international business that happens to be based in France. Chris feels being here has made it harder in some ways; for instance, in the UK he would have investigated the lucrative schools circuit. Crucially, though, he doubts whether he would ever have started Walkerloo in the UK. “Living in London I had to keep working just to stand still,” he says. “In France, I have more time. That’s one of the reasons we moved here. It’s a different lifestyle, and the business is part of that.”