Playmobil: a timeless plastics success story

With an unflappable worldwide success over the last 38 years, Playmobil is one of the many business stories our industry can be proud of. In 2011, the company sold 55 million toys, a record we wanted to celebrate with an interview of the company’s CEO Andrea Schauer. From the use of plastics to sustainability and the recipe to the brand’s success, she opened us the doors to what most children would consider as a dream place.

In the midst of a ground shaking financial crisis which deeply affects the Eurozone, member states are increasingly looking for sectors with the potential to put Europe back on the growth track. The Plastics Industry is definitely an excellent candidate, and European examples of plastics success stories are numerous.

Watch our special edition of televised Newslink on Playmobil.
Playmobil is one of those. In 2011, it sold 55 million toys, an all-time record for the German company created in 1974. Over 2.5 billion Playmobil characters have invaded children’s playing ground in the last 38 years, making it one of the few brands that can boast about being a true trans-generational phenomenon.

According to Andrea Schauer, Playmobil’s

CEO since 2000, the brand’s success can easily be explained: "As long as the kids still have to understand the world, they will want to touch and feel it and Playmobil’s success story will continue. Our only task is to make sure our brand remains attractive for the kids, and our history proves that we are a very creative company which can easily rise to such challenge”.

The first Playmobil character landed on shelves in 1974, after creator Hans Beck was approached by Geobra Brandtätter to create figures for children. "Horst Brandtätter, the owner of our company, was an expert in plastics injection moulding. At the time, plastics were not that widely spread within the toy business but he was really thrilled about the possibilities they offered to the toy industry: the colors, the quality of the material and, mostly, its potential for mass production. Also, while other materials like wood and metal require a lot of hands during the production process, plastics only require a mould, a machine, electricity and someone to supervise.”, says Andrea Schauer.

There resides another ingredient in Playmobil’s success. Although the company also owns production sites in Malta and the Czech Republic, most toys are still built in Germany, at the company’s facility in Dietenhofen. With globalisation and related pressure to always produce at the least possible cost, Playmobil is one in few companies which manages to keep producing in Europe while increasing its profit and avoiding competition countries such as China. "Luckily we hardly ever faced any counterfeiting”, Schauer explains. "We produce realistic toys and creating this miniaturised version of the world requires so many moulds that it creates a barrier to such practices”. The moulds only represent an investment of 250 million euros, a figure that would discourage anyone from trying to apply cheaper prices on similar products.

Then, there is Playmobil’s commitment to safety and sustainability. The brand always tries to be one step ahead of legislation, notably because part of its success is based on the possibility for each toy to be transmitted from one generation to the next. "If we want to make sure that our products can go from the parents to their children, we have to live up and even exceed standards, rules and regulations”, Schauer insists. And the plastics industry has a key role to play: "We need to know the specifics of each material and receive the best quality of plastics”.

When asked if any of this could have been achieved without plastics, Andrea Schauer’s answer is instantaneous: "No, I really don’t think so”. Each year, the company uses 25,500 tonnes of plastic pellets from various providers. But would it consider itself as an ambassador of plastics? "Yes, of course we talk about high quality plastics material. We consider ourselves as a promoter and advocate for plastics, as soon as it is high quality material”.

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