Ms Orth, ScandicToys stands for Scandinavian toys. How did the PlanToys brand manage to make its way to Frankenthal in south-west Germany?
Ah, well, the company founder Vitool Viraponsavan didn’t even need to come to Frankenthal. We met at the Spielwarenmesse, quite simply. Alain de Rauw, the Europe manager, came to my stand, we talked for a bit and he asked me if I knew PlanToys.
And did you know PlanToys?
Of course. The very same day, Alain showed me the products at the stand and introduced me to Vitool. That’s when I sensed that this brand has soul. It might sound somewhat romantic for a business relationship but I really took the products and the people at PlanToys into my heart. Alain and Vitool obviously felt this way too. It was just a perfect match. The company had been looking for a partner in Germany that was excited about the brand and was building up its business sustainably. I was delighted to get the go-ahead to be the exclusive distributor for PlanToys in Germany.
The brand enjoys an excellent reputation and the list of accolades is long, but all this does not necessarily correspond with its economic impact in the wooden toys market. Or does PlanToys want to stay small but perfectly formed?
Vitool has a vision of a fair and sustainable world. Growth is not a goal in itself for him but, rather, a means to get closer to the vision of “Better Kids, Better World”. Children take small steps and PlanToys is also growing steadily in small steps. Our business partners in brick-and-mortar, hybrid and online retail love, treasure and protect the brand as much as we do. We place a lot of value on long-term partnerships and personal contact because the best and most credible ambassadors are our retailers and our customers. PlanToys has a story that is genuine and verifiable. The brand was also a forerunner in printing the carbon footprint on its packaging.
Design has played an important role in Scandinavia since the year dot. Design also occupies a prominent position at PlanToys. Where do we see other intersections between Scandinavian toys and Thai toys? Is it the shared love of nature? The desire to keep it simple?
Yes, we Scandinavians like products made from wood and we like straightforward, minimalist design. The attention to detail and quality in the PlanToys products enthused me straight away. I quickly realised during the initial conversations and in visiting Thailand that there are even more things that bind us. I feel very connected to the vision and the people there, and that I am in very good hands with the PlanToys family. There is a particular mindfulness towards nature and creatures that children in Sweden also learn from a young age. You always take away what you brought with you, you don’t throw anything away and you leave wild animals in peace – including our elks.
Scandinavians love reserved, pastel tones. When you cast an eye over the PlanToys product catalogue, you might think that you have already had a big influence on the colour schemes after only three years. Is PlanToys becoming a little more European or is it a global trend?
That is well-observed. It probably comes down to both. PlanToys is a global brand with a global design. That is a particular challenge, which is why Vitool and his design team place a lot of value on the experience of the local retail partners. At the pre-shows, they genuinely want to hear our opinions and we can even have an influence on product development.
In the “Natural” range of toys, some of the classics like the “Dancing Alligator” and the “Pull-Along Snail” can now be seen in “naked” form. Likewise, many new products are pure nature. Do customers nowadays want to go back to their roots?
Yes, that is the trend – and we are helping to shape it. The Natural range makes the quality of the wood which is used, and above all the processing of it, visible and tangible. However, an increasing number of parents, grandparents and gift-givers want to know where the wood comes from, how it has been treated and, above all, how it has been processed. At PlanToys, that is absolutely transparent and traceable; we don’t need any labels or certificates.
PlanToys has always, from the very beginning, had a “green story” to tell. Are you now noticing a “Greta effect” amongst your customers?
Greta Thunberg gave the Fridays for Future movementa name and a face, got it onto social media and brought it to our children. Vitool Viraponsavan has been living and working sustainably since 1981 and was ahead of the times. Yes, our customers, the toy sellers, can provide answers and tell a story that is true and has not just been written down that way.
PlanToys has been setting the benchmark in environmental and social standards for many years. Is the industry, and is the consumer, ready for a “zero waste” programme, like what Vitool Viraponsavan has in mind? Or does Greta still need to exert a bit more pressure?
Greta has certainly made it clear to us that we no longer have as much time to change our behaviour. Some events and changes, the negative impact of which we are currently experiencing ourselves, are surely speeding up the process. It’s about the future of all our children. That is why I stand completely behind the PlanToys slogan: “Better Kids, Better World”.
Ms Orth, thank you for talking to us.