What We Want Is Perfectly Made Home Produced Toys

Oliver Fodor

It often happens when I meet some acquaintance or stranger and we get talking about our toystore, that the sentence is spoken: „Oh, that toystore of yours, that’s with those wooden toys“. I must then correct him, pointing out that most of our products are not wooden. I take this association to be some sort of nostalgia, a longing for something that has been lost. I think people do carry within them a yearning to return to fundamental values, to Nature, to wood. In business, however, things have been otherwise for a long time. During the first years wooden toys did not figure in prominent places in the salesroom and it took customers a few years before they progressed from positive words to action. I think that was mainly because of the higher price and possibly also that the colours were less striking than what is usual on plastic products. Today the situation is different. In Slovakia a relatively stable group of customers has taken shape, who are prepared to pay for the significance and quality of the toy.

In the designer toys category this development is slower, and thus far they are still in search of their place in the Slovak market. In the beginning, from personal conviction, we invested in the tip-top designer range – Naef Spiele, the Swiss manufacturer of wooden objects. Right away we found a few enthusiasts for this unique design, but to this day I’ve got most of my first order from four years ago still in stock. It’s different with those designer toys where function and capacity for use play a role. An example of such toys is the Cuboro and Xyloba marble runs, or the home construction sets Gringo and Brico. These have found their public, in spite of the relatively high price, and they enjoy growing interest.

At the moment the reality is that we import the great majority of our stock from abroad, either directly from European manufacturers or from wholesale agents of theirs within easy access. Our original aim was to give preference to European products from original workshops. Production, however, is mainly being done in Asia, or elsewhere overseas. By now there only a few producers who are capable of manufacturing in Slovak workshops under competitive conditions. A number of East European producers, particularly in the Czech Republic and Poland, have responded to this reality and are seeking to compete with local products against a relatively wide global supply. From my point of view, however, they have not managed to emerge from the shadow of already-presented concepts of East European producers which they copy and repeat, and they are producing cheap imitations of already well-known toys, often also at the expense of quality.

In our domestic context we have so far not managed to connect with modern trends to any great extent. The original traditions of craft production have thus far not been revived, or where they have been, they have remained on the level of decorative folk objects. Essentially there is only one Slovak producer that has managed to establish itself with a finished concept on the European market, the Spiš firm Veva. Another link in the chain is an adopted Slovak brand in Germany: the producer of the Janoschik wooden training bikes. Mr. Vanečko, its founder, put together a finished concept based on attractive designs and the use of original materials. Recently we have seen a new phenomenon of the revival of toymaking, and I am tremendously pleased by the shape it is taking. I meet young people who are working on new toy designs of their own and who are also capable of carrying them through to high-quality finished products. Examples are Haraburdart or Villo.in, also Nikart, or Tuli with its products for children. Also encouraging is the fact that these domestic designs are not copying already-existing brands but rather bringing innovation to bear, giving things a new character. In our toystore we are determined to support and promote this local manufacture to the greatest possible extent. We have very much welcomed the emergence of the hravo project, which supports young toymakers in bringing their ideas to fruition in completed form. One essentially positive contribution of the project is its complex view of toymaking and its attempt to achieve a finished product.

New producers have to complete a fearsome journey of seeking their position in the market, conceiving their price formation and distribution strategy, presentation on the world market, and other components of the marketing process, if they are to assert themselves in this tremendously competitive field. But I can sense a great potential in these enthusiasts of ours, something like a combination of sensitive art, ideas, usable design, feeling for quality and durability, along with a humility and modesty, which gives a unique dimension to their new products. I believe that one day we will be able to offer high-quality toys of domestic manufacture in our shops. We have the basic preconditions for that in Slovakia: after all, one top-range manufacturer of ours from Germany has acknowledged that he has the material for his products transported from our forests.

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