“We keep it fresh by updating the artwork and colors and packaging.” — Pamela Drake, Pamela Drake Inc.
It’s understood that when people look for a wooden toy, they have nostalgic tastes and seek classic designs. Yet, wooden toy makers know they can’t just reproduce the same products year in and year out and still keep customers coming back for more. So how do they keep the look fresh but the feel timeless?
Pamela Drake, president of Pamela Drake Inc., said, “We make it ‘classic’ by its intrinsic nature of being wood (no bells, whistles), quality (so it will last, and hopefully be an heirloom toy) and simple (which my experience has shown is a winner). We keep it fresh by updating the artwork and colors and packaging.”
For HABA USA (ToyShow), quite a process is involved. “In Europe, we have a team of 12 to 15 designers who look at how they want to grow a particular category — infant rattles, for example,” explained Lea Culliton, vice president of sales and marketing. Then, to keep the look modern but the feel classic, “they look at trends in colors, clothing, fashion in the home and then use new fabrics with the wood to keep it from being boring,” she said.
Along those lines, “Ostheimer toys are constantly, but subtlety, redesigned to keep them fresh while retaining the classic grace and beauty that they are known for,” said James Mathews of Meadow View Imports (ToyDirectory). “Soft finishes allow the texture of the natural wood to be enjoyed, while subtle colors and details promote imaginative play.”
Marilyn Chalais, representative for Holztiger(ToyDirectory) of Germany, said that the company "decided to add something new and a bit of a departure for them, a line of heirloom quality wooden vehicles, including trucks and tractors, forklifts and cranes. In this category of high-end vehicles, the products have been predominantly natural wood color only, but this new line gives several color choices which are stained and show the beautiful wood grain. Of course, they also continue with their well known regular line of wooden toys."
Bruce Hawke, president of The Toycrafter, said usually his company comes up with new designs “under great duress” just prior to a trade show. However, this time around, an old employee is interning as part of an industrial design program at the Rochester University of Technology. Hawke asked him to “put a new spin” on the string-launched spinning top or to provide another variation on Skittles, a game wherein a top knocks over wooden pegs in an enclosed space. Hawke would like the Skittles enclosure to “not always be a rectangle” and for it to be collapsible into a smaller unit.
Michael Rainville, president of Maple Landmark Woodcraft Co. (ToyDirectory), said his company listens to what its customers want when creating new designs. “Often it’s not something dramatically new or different; it’s usually something they can’t get anymore.” He noted that in today’s fast-changing world, old products get pulled off store shelves to make room for newer models with increasing rapidity. “Maybe there’s not mass demand (for a product), but there’s still some demand,” he said.
Made-by-Me Gift Set by MAPLE LANDMARK WOODCRAFT CO.
Best known for the NameTrains and Montgomery Schoolhouse products, Maple Landmark branched out into construction kits for kids. Using “My Little Scoots!”-sized bodies, they’ve created “Made by Me” kits in four different vehicle styles — truck, train, tractor and tugboat. The vehicle bodies are 4” long, crafted from pine, and sanded smooth to the touch. The boxed kit includes the vehicle bodies, plus a smokestack for the train, 16 axles, 16 wheels and instructions. Single kits are also available.
This classic wooden throw top is good for beginners and experienced top spinners alike. Packaged with a string, button and instructions, these tops are available in Red, Blue and Natural finish. There are 12 pieces per unit.
Tile by tile, through oriental patterns and shapes, children immerse themselves in the world of Aladdin and his friends with this wooden block set. It's a magnetic arranging game with 80 wooden pieces, magnetic foil and frame.
This colorful, imaginative building game made of beech wood includes 27 pieces plus the frame and is designed to enhance children's motor response skills as they play. Older children may use the block in combination with their own bricks. “This item is wholly manufactured in Germany at our own factories which are overseen by an independent testing lab, LGAJ,” Lea Culliton, vice president of sales and marketing for HABA, told TDmonthly. This product is a 2007 iParenting Media Award and 2007 Dr. Toy 100 Best Products Award winner. Launch date: February 1, 2007.
The charming shapes, patterns and motifs will guide children into Fantasy Land. Mouse, bear, lion and the other blocks can be arranged into a jigsaw picture or piled like constructing blocks. With a kaleidoscope block, mirror and little bell, these constructing blocks of beech wood have a foil coating. It is ideal for ages 18 months and up. “This creative block set offers the unique feature that it is a 3-D puzzle also — it may be constructed vertically or horizontally on a table. The multi-faceted colors, textures and optical effects create a one-of-a-kind set for specialty stores,” Lea Culliton of HABA USA told TDmonthly. It was named one of the 100 Best Children’s Products of 2006 by Dr. Toy.
This rocking chair bears the image of Freddy — a dinosaur, a dragon or a strange alien creature. Whatever the interpretation, kids love Freddy. Since Freddy is sturdy but lightweight, kids will find it easy to move him about. But Freddy is careful with wooden floors and other surfaces; his feet (on chairs) and tail (on rockers) are finished with smooth plastic to protect against the possibility of scratches on the floor or on Freddy's edges.