On the first day of classes last week, there was a “meet and greet” type of outdoor information session, with a welcome lecture and innocuous buffet. Each MBA concentration, like Finance, or Marketing had a representative doing table sitting, answering questions and taking names for their respective mailing lists. All of the MBA students are busy this week, getting up to speed after the long Summer break, but the IBN list has some pretty involved responses to the first topic of the year. One of the people on the e-mail list asked the group to give opinions about the toy recalls that have happened recently.
Of course, the students who answered with the strongest opinions are parents. Some parent/students lamented that they have generally lost confidence in the quality of most available toys. Everyone on the list thought that Mattel totally dropped the ball on quality control in a way that is surprising. Mattel is highly responsible with recalls, so the pitfalls of poor controls should have been mitigated, either overseas or here.
One parent mentioned the same lament that my mother used to make when she was shopping for my little brother: It’s more and more difficult to find toys that aren’t plastic. I’d forgotten how much the sound of banging plastic used to annoy her, like styrofoam being rubbed together. She preferred the “thunk” of wood or metal, and I guess that I inherited her bias. I was a little bummed out when I first saw Tonka trucks made of plastic instead of metal. This week, I did some further research, and saw the recent history of the toy industry, in a nutshell.
Brio has been making great little wooden trains since 1884, and has some of the European rights to Thomas the Tank Engine. They are not the US rights holders. The TTE model of recent recall notoriety is Learning Curve’s problem. Anyway, I was wondering what was up with Brio, and a quick search turned up a 2003 inventor’s report.
The report excused annual losses in a number of ways, but emphasized that “specialty toy stores, [Brio’s] traditional channel, are losing out to hypermarkets”. In response, Brio was going to move “parts of the production to the Far East.” Brio was bought in 2004, probably by a company with existing production centers in China. I looked at the “about” page on the website, and it was a relief to see that consider themselves the “biggest [global corporation] in wooden toys.” These days, it seems like an easy claim.