Still smil­ing at 40

The universe of Play­mo­bil’s cheer­ful lit­tle toy peo­ple is con­stantly ex­pand­ing as it hits the four-decade mark.

The Star Malaysia - Star2 - - LIVING - By ESTELLE PEARD

DEEP in the Bavar­ian coun­try­side lies the home of Ger­man toy­maker Play­mo­bil, the cen­tre of a universe of lit­tle plas­tic peo­ple who turn 40 next year but haven’t aged a bit.

The non­de­script build­ing in Zirn­dorf is the birth­place of Play­mo­bil’s 7.5cm (3in) fig­urines with their sig­na­ture round heads and smil­ing faces as sim­ple as a child’s draw­ing.

Since the first trio of them – a Na­tive Amer­i­can war­rior, a Me­dieval knight and a hard-hat con­struc­tion worker – hit store shelves in 1974, they have en­thralled chil­dren with scores of themes, from po­lice to pi­rates.

“To cre­ate a new Play­mo­bil universe takes about two years,” said Bern­hard Hane, the com­pany’s head of de­vel­op­ment, as he led AFP back­stage into the birth­place of the lit­tle fel­lows.

In­side, cor­ri­dors are lined with rows of draw­ers that con­tain 35,000 tiny ac­ces­sories – from swords and ar­mour to mag­ni­fy­ing glasses to mini-tooth­brushes – all de­signed to clip into the hands of the colour­ful char­ac­ters.

In a workshop, em­ploy­ees use ma­chine tools to cre­ate moulds for new toy sets, the trea­sures of the com­pany, which can cost up to 180,000 eu­ros (RM806,000) and are a bul­wark against coun­ter­feit­ing.

It all fits

The fo­cus is on ac­cu­racy. All Play­mo­bil fig­ures, of which 2.6 bil­lion units have been made so far, must be com­pat­i­ble with all ac­ces­sories and scenery sets, from Wild West towns and cas­tles to zoos and space sta­tions.

Un­like most toy brands, Play­mo­bil pro­duces not in Asia but in Europe.

The fig­ures are man­u­fac­tured in Malta, while an­i­mals and larger pieces, such as the ever-pop­u­lar pi­rate ship, are made in a fac­tory in Di­eten­hofen, Bavaria.

The prod­ucts are as­sem­bled in the Czech Repub­lic, then shipped back to Di­eten­hofen where they are pack­aged and stored in a ware­house as high as a 12-storey build­ing.

Nearby, in the south­west­ern city of Speyer, a lo­cal mu­seum has de­voted an ex­hi­bi­tion to Play­mo­bil, which af­ter four decades is go­ing strong.

Sales in 2012 hit a new record of 531 mil­lion eu­ros (RM2.37bil) and are ex­pected to rise 5% this year.

Two-thirds of the sales are in Ger­many and France and, while the fig­ures’ suc­cess in Asia has been lim­ited so far, the com­pany sees fur­ther growth prospects in Europe and the United States.

For kids of all ages

The toys tar­get chil­dren aged four to 12, while some lines have been made for tod­dlers.

There have been spin-off video games and an­i­ma­tion DVDs, and a TV minis­eries star­ring the lit­tle char­ac­ters is to launch next year.

For the fam­ily com­pany Geo­bra Brand­staet­ter, which makes the Play­mo­bil line and now em­ploys about 3,700 staff, the lit­tle plas­tic peo­ple brought sal­va­tion in the 1970s, when the oil cri­sis drove up the cost of man­u­fac­tur­ing plas­tic prod­ucts.

The fig­urines were the brain­child of mould de­signer Hans Beck, who used min­i­mal amounts of plas­tic for a big idea.

“Play­mo­bil found the key to a child’s imag­i­na­tion in 1974 and it still holds it to­day,” said chief ex­ec­u­tive An­drea Schauer, ex­plain­ing its en­dur­ing suc­cess in a fad­dish and com­pet­i­tive sec­tor.

In a world filled with high-tech sounds and screens, the brand con­tin­ues to build on the sim­plic­ity of its char­ac­ters to leave room for the imag­i­na­tion.

“The heart of Play­mo­bil is role-play­ing,” she said. “Chil­dren bring to life the sto­ries they have in their minds.” – AFP

Time­less toys: ev­ery ac­ces­sory in the Play­mo­bil line is com­pat­i­ble with ev­ery fig­ure, from swords and ar­mour to mini-tooth­brushes. — aFP Pho­tos

(clock­wise from above) In a world filled with high-tech sounds and screens, Play­mo­bil con­tin­ues to build on the sim­plic­ity of its char­ac­ters; ‘Play­mo­bil found the key to a child’s imag­i­na­tion in 1974 and it still holds it to­day,’ says chief ex­ec­u­tive an­drea Schauer, seen here with a gi­ant plas­tic rico toy fig­ure; Work­ers walk­ing by au­to­matic plas­tic toy as­sem­bly lines at the Play­mo­bil pro­duc­tion hall.

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