Movers & Shakers

On the cutting edge

Interview with Sebastian Kornblum, Specialist group wooden toys, DVSI
Children playing with wooden toys in the living room

Spielwarenmesse:

Mr Kornblum, according to www.gutesholzspielzeug.de, wooden toys are now in fashion. And a trend newsletter says that wooden toys are back. What has happened? Are parents putting particular trust in classic toys during the crisis, now that everything else around them is so uncertain?
 

Portrait of Sebastian Kornblum, Chairman of the Fachgruppe Holzspielzeug, the specialist group for wooden toys
Sebastian Kornblum, Chairman of the Fachgruppe Holzspielzeug, the specialist group for wooden toys

Sebastian Kornblum: (laughs)

You shouldn‘t read too much into certain trends. They reflect society. This is especially true for wooden toys as they can serve as a projection screen for many parents today because they are made of sustainable materials. Fortunately, in Germany, more and more parents are paying attention to this aspect.

Spielwarenmesse:

Even before the pandemic, the German market for wooden toys was growing at higher rates than the market as a whole, according to calculations of your specialist group. Is plastic, which is so important for the industry but which Brussels is so critical of, on the decline?

Sebastian Kornblum: 

No. We’re aware of our role as a wooden toy manufacturer. Market dynamics are clearly pointing upwards, but we still remain a niche with €160 million and a market share of about 5%. Plastic toys won’t just disappear.

Spielwarenmesse:

So if they won‘t disappear, how can you give them a better image?

Sebastian Kornblum:

For a few years now, there’s been a trend among large manufacturers to use plastic more intelligently, for example by using bio-plastics. Not all of them are always sustainable, but we‘re only in the early stages of the trend of using fewer resources or making products more recyclable.

Spielwarenmesse:

How can you do that, for example?

Sebastian Kornblum: 

Think of toys that consist of a mix of materials, such as wood and plastic. The plastic has to be used in such a way that, on the one hand, the play value is maintained. But, on the other, the plastic has to be integrated in such a way that the manufacturer can ensure that the product can be recycled sensibly and all the components can easily be separated. Naturally, this is easier for a manufacturer of clamping bricks than, for example, for a range of baby goods, which always have a good mix of materials.

Spielwarenmesse:

Or like a Brio railway, which has always been made of various materials!

Sebastian Kornblum: 

That’s right. We always take a very close look at this area to ensure the best possible separation of the materials used. In the case of the railway, some products have a greater proportion of plastic than in the past, but the materials can be separated relatively well. In this context, product development plays an important role as a gatekeeper: How do I design a product so that I can later recycle it sensibly and return it to the materials cycle? What materials do I need for this? If I can‘t do without plastic, how can I use it so it’s in line with the principles of sustainability? For wooden toy manufacturers, such questions are nothing new. On the contrary, they’ve been experimenting with new materials for a long time. We‘re sometimes faster than some of the big players in the industry and I would even go so far as to say that we act as pioneers in this respect.

Spielwarenmesse:

The toy industry is rethinking things, says market researcher Axel Dammler at the Toy Business Forum at Spielwarenmesse Digital. Sustainability is now a highly relevant factor for the mass market. Are you in danger of losing a unique selling proposition?

Sebastian Kornblum:

I can‘t subscribe to that, but I do share Mr Dammler‘s view that the more companies jump on the bandwagon, the less relevant sustainability will be as a unique selling point in the future. However, I‘d like to point out that the topic has only recently gained momentum in the toy industry – or so it seems to me. Topics that have always been on our members’ agenda, such as manufacturing transparency or fair working conditions at suppliers, are gaining relevance. Just thinking about the international supply chains, I believe that the issue will occupy the industry for years before the logistics and supply chains have been transformed from a sustainability perspective.

Spielwarenmesse:

And what does that mean for your members?

Sebastian Kornblum:

What it means is that the companies of the Fachgruppe Holzspielzeug, the specialist group for wooden toys, have time to continue working on their profile and to hone it. Note that I am deliberately not saying that they have to change their profile, because many of the companies involved have been working on a sustainable basis for many years already. They look at the supply chain, at the origin of their materials, at production. This is their great strength and, at the same time, it is a challenge for us to get this across to the general public. This is what the specialist group is trying to do through its new website, new ideas, and the topics selected. When it comes to sustainability, we‘re not followers, but the pioneers in the industry.

Spielwarenmesse:

In January, you launched the website gutesholzspielzeug.de for wooden toys. Who is the site aimed at? The Internet is teeming with guides and content on toys and education, so much so that you wonder how parents managed to raise their children before the Internet.

The advertising image shows the website gutesholzspielzeug of the Fachgruppe Holzspielzeug, the specialist group for wooden toys, which will become the central platform for everything to do with wooden toys.
The website gutesholzspielzeug of the Fachgruppe Holzspielzeug, the specialist group for wooden toys, is to become the central platform for everything to do with wooden toys.

Sebastian Kornblum: (laughs) 

The primary goal of our specialist group is to make wooden toys and their manufacturers better known. We want to be the first port of call for journalists who want to find out more about the topic. In addition, we also want build up our content so we become the people to contact for end customers in the medium term.

Spielwarenmesse:

But in order to do that, the site first has to become well known, doesn‘t it?

Sebastian Kornblum:

Absolutely. First of all, we’re working on achieving a certain organic reach so we can then successively expand it with regard to end customers. If someone is looking for wooden toys, they should end up at our website. That‘s our goal, but it also means that we need to rank relatively high on Google.

Spielwarenmesse:

There are three projects that catch our eye, including the exhibition “The Colourful World of Wooden Toys” on Mainau Island. Are wooden toys now ripe for the museum or what is behind that?

Sebastian Kornblum: 

Quite the contrary! For years now, various toy makers have taken part in the winter exhibition, e.g. Brio, Haba, or Siku. In 2021, it happened for the first time as a concerted action of our specialist group for wooden toys. In any event, the aim was not to present the history of the companies, but to present the whole range of the latest wooden toys and to prove that this industry can react to social trends.

Spielwarenmesse:

Your specialist group wants to make a contribution by supporting an organisation to help children in difficult situations. How much have you achieved so far?

The excerpt from the website gutesholzspielzeug shows Max and Valentin from the “Living and Working Community Lautenbach”, who bring great joy to children with the work they do in their carpenter’s workshop.
Open Gallery
Max and Valentin from the “Living and Working Community Lautenbach” bring great joy to children with the work they do in their carpenter‘s workshop

Sebastian Kornblum: 

At present, we‘re collecting toys for the “Playing at Home” project, launched by the children’s charity SOS Children's Villages. This is a low-threshold approach to supporting parents, and it focuses primarily on promoting play skills and developing positive parent-child interaction in early childhood. The concept has been set up at eight locations in Germany so far, with more to follow. The specialist group supports the project with toys that are suitable for the target group of children aged between 1 and 6. The handover is to take place at the end of February. It is important to us that this is not a one-off donation: we’ve designed the charity campaign so that it runs for the long term.

Spielwarenmesse:

The specialist group also invites external speakers to give talks that aren’t necessarily related to wooden toys. Is “thinking outside the box” part of your agenda?

Sebastian Kornblum: 

It should go without saying that our members are experts in wooden toys. That’s why we want to deliberately pursue other avenues. We did this in 2021 with webinars or keynote talks on topics such as commercial legal protection, digital retailer support, C02 certifications, and parents’ buying behaviour. The current programme of events is still in the planning stage.

Spielwarenmesse:

Your members range from manufacturers to global players. Is there no jealousy in your specialist group?

Sebastian Kornblum: (laughs) 

It might sound strange, but I believe that it is precisely this diversity that is the group’s greatest strength. SMEs benefit from this dialogue platform just as much as the big players do. The transfer of experience takes place on a very friendly and cooperative basis. The members know that there are contact persons in the group who can help with certain issues. In our eyes, the biggest challenge is successfully positioning ourselves as a wooden toy brand with tradition in a market that is, by the way, also growing globally. As a specialist group, we hope to be able to make at least a small contribution to this with the work we do.

Spielwarenmesse:

Sebastian Kornblum, thank you for talking to us.
 

 

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Keen for more news about wooden toys?

Then visit the website of the specialist group for wooden toys.

Until the end of August, you’ll find more details on the manufacturers taking part in the Wooden Toys, Toys Made of Natural Materials product group at Spielwarenmesse Digital.

Go to Spielwarenmesse Digital