AChristmas holiday in Australia gave Brighouse businessman Chris Sykes an idea for a unique way to entertain youngsters and promote tourist attractions.
Chris and his business partner Nick Saltmer are producing bespoke children’s story and activity books, tailor-made to be sold at children’s zoos, theme parks, safari parks and other visitor destinations.
Their books have already been on sale at Dudley Zoological Gardens, Llechwedd Slate Caverns in north Wales and Colchester Zoo, to mark the attraction’s 50th anniversary.
The books feature illustrator Nick’s stunning watercolour pictures, a simple story, stickers and games - as well as logos and promotion material for the businesses involved.
Chris’s ‘lightbulb’ moment came on a family holiday in Perth and he came back to Brighouse determined to make the idea work over here.
“We took the children to see Father Christmas and they were selling books to commemorate the visit. But when I came to read them I thought they had been very poorly produced and cheaply illustrated.
“I thought the idea was a good one but knew I could do much better. As soon I got back I got in touch with Nick and we took it from there.”
Chris and illustrator Nick set up Daydream Publications to produce the books that add value to family trips and help promote the businesses.
“I think it helps that I have three children and Nick is a grandfather. We know what appeals to children - and we have plenty of youngsters around if we need to road-test our ideas,” said Chris.
He lives with his wife Louise and children Mia, aged six, Yvie, four, and 21-month-old son Wil at Deep Lane, Clifton, and works in York where he is sales director for printing company NorthWolds, a business set up by his father.
“Our first venture was a book called Super Sam’s Christmas Adventure which was on sale to children visiting the grotto at Llechwedd Salt Caverns. We were very pleased when it sold nearly 4,000 copies and we were asked to do another one which be Super Sam’s Santa Express,” said 43-year-old Chris.
“I believe part of the appeal is in the quality of Nick’s illustrations. They are all individual watercolours but they have a real charm. We have put a lot of thought into coming up with characters and stories that children will be able to enjoy and relate to.
“It’s all been a learning curve for us and we have made some mistakes - for instance we produced a story around Halloween based on the character Tilly the Little Witch - but we didn’t start work early enough in the season. We think it has potential though and we’ll try it again this year.”
Nick and Chris were particularly pleased to be asked by Colchester Zoo to produce a book for attraction’s 50th anniversary campaign Stand Tall.
“The campaign is based around the zoo’s giraffes and a giraffe is being used in all the publicity material. The zoo allowed us to take the character of Stan the giraffe and build a story around him.
“We created a young boy called Safari Jabari who has all sorts of adventures with Stan in the zoo. Nick had a lot of fun creating the pictures of Stan and Safari Jabari.”
Chris envisages the business has plenty of potential for expansion into other areas than books - gift bags, place mats, colouring sheets and so on. He is an ambassador for Martin’s House Children’s Hospice and is surrently working on a book based around the character of Marty Bear, the hospice mascot.
In his spare time Chris enjoys skiing and golf but is finding plenty to occupy him with getting Daydream Publications established.
“We’re really enjoying it, it’s different from our usual jobs and is giving us a new challenge,” he said.