The Toy Book chats with Michael Keaton, president, Schleich North America, about how the company thrives in a tech-focused world.
Tell me about Schleich’s history and how the company was founded.
Schleich was founded in Germany by Friedrich Schleich in 1935. One of the first important milestones was when Schleich brought its first toy (Jopo, a series-produced flexible doll with long legs, a pointed nose, and a hat) to market, which became extremely popular. When the world-famous Schleich figurines first came on the market in the 1950s, few people realized that the toys’ realistic design and exquisite hand-painting process would make them a favorite of both children and collectors in more than 50 countries around the world.
How has the company changed in recent years?
Schleich’s core mission—creating the best figurines—remains at the center of the company’s value proposition. Furthermore, investing to create new playworlds that give our natural and realistic figures an environment, creates a unique and inspiring play experience for children of all age groups. It sparks their imagination and makes our figurines really come to life. The most impactful change however, was the decision to place Dirk Engehausen as CEO in January 2015. With more than 20 years of experience as a senior executive in the toy industry, Dirk brought to Schleich a new energy and vision for how to improve our product offerings, optimize our business, and grow the brand.
In a world of tech-savvy kids, how do you explain Schleich’s success?
Today’s children have more play options, and this includes a vast array of tech offerings. And while it’s important that kids grow up tech-savvy, there is still a great demand from parents and children for traditional toys and the rich, imaginative play patterns that can evolve from simple materials. Furthermore, kids need and call for haptic experiences for their development. This is a tangible sensation that no digital device can provide. Schleich’s realistic figurines provide the basis for this kind of play—no instructions necessary. As I’ve heard it said, “play is a trick of nature for learning” and it is integral for children across cultures and geographic boundaries. Parents appreciate when traditional toy manufacturers find ways to provide a “balanced diet of play” for their kids, and Schleich’s simple but rich offering hits the spot.
What is Horse Club?
Horse Club is Schleich’s new theme that expands upon the success of our realistic horse figurines, and adds new environments to expand children’s imaginations. Whether practicing for a horse show at the riding center, transporting horses to a show in the horse trailer, or just showing care by washing and feeding, children can imagine caring for their horses and at the same time learn about the different horse breeds and what makes them unique. Horse Club by Schleich is our fastest-growing franchise and is a great example of creating a play world for children.
What are Schleich’s plans for growth and expansion in the future?
Our research has shown that parents and kids love figurines, both for collecting and for imaginative play. We plan to continue our core business of creating the highest quality and most realistic figurines in this space, and also expanding our franchise offerings with relevant story starters. To add relevance, we are planning more story content for the franchises, both to educate and to inspire children around the world. In North America, we also intend to significantly increase our share of voice through traditional and digital media to ensure our value proposition is more well-known. This includes, simply enough, teaching people how to pronounce our brand name. Remember, “I like Schleich!” »