Early Learning Centre
|Public limited company|
Number of locations
The Early Learning Centre is a British chain of shops selling toys for very young children.
Originally set up as a mail order company in 1974 and based near Swindon, by 1980 it had ten shops, and it has grown to include 215 shops in the United Kingdom, and over 80 in 19 other countries including Qatar, the United Arab Emirates, Canada and Australia. In addition, their toys are available in some Debenhams, Boots & Sainsbury's stores.
Since 2001, the company also sells their products via their website. In the 1980s, ELC opened a number of "nursery stores" which sold equipment such as pushchairs and cots. Until 1991, the chain also had stores in the United States. Over 80% of products sold are own brand, being designed at a research centre in Hong Kong.
In May 1985, John Menzies rescued Early Learning Centre. Sales struggled in the late 1990s. After some years, the company's board of directors led by Mike France, bought the company back in October 2001 for £30M, being backed by 3i, before selling it to Tim Waterstone (who founded Waterstones bookstores) under the name Eagle Retail Investments, for £62M in April 2004, and he joined it with his Daisy & Tom chain of shops within the "Chelsea Stores Group".
In June 2007, Early Learning Centre was purchased by Mothercare for £85M, from Chelsea Stores Holdings. Mothercare has continued to expand the high street presence of ELC by opening additional stores; mainly as concessions within over 100 Mothercare stores.
They are known for selling products which use wood such as plywood and Chinese maple. Toys are designed to be primarily about play, with a focus on educational and developmental aspects. Early Learning Centre playtest their toys to check they can withstand the expected knocks and bumps and employ various techniques into their manufacturing process such as ultrasonic welding and use of plastics.