A tour of Playmobils factory & HQ!

full circle- plastic beads get made into…
plastic Playmobil men

In my role as a Playmobil Playologist (and more importantly a current passport holder!), I was lucky enough to be invited to Germany recently to have a tour of the Playmobil Funpark and factory. Even though I’m short on holiday I jumped at the chance to get a night of uninterrupted sleep a tour of the facilities over there.

Although I love playing with, ahem, watching the boy play with Playmobil, I must admit to being ignorant of which country the little fellas came from. Yes, I thought with THAT hair and THAT fashion sense that they were French. Whoops. Playmobil is of course German, and a half billion Euros a year business to boot. The Funpark has a neat little museum that details the history of the company. Even in the pre Playmobil days, when metal toys were all the vogue, it was plain to see the care and attention that went into making the toys, and this is something that obviously made it over into the world of Playmobil.

a lot of thought…

One of the things our hosts constantly stressed to us, and something that was evident through the set up of the Funpark and the factory, was that the childs experience is of tantamount importance. This started at day one, when the designer Hans Beck dropped the decision to have fully articulate legs on the figures because it became too frustrating for little hands to get the figures to stand up properly. That’s the reason why Playmobil figures are either sitting or standing, it’s to make it easier for kids to get on with having fun.

Obviously Playmobil are a commercial company and are out to make money but the way they seem to have set out to do this seems packed with integrity. Rather than spending a lot of money on brand licencing, film ties in and the sort, Playmobil seem hell-bent on making toys that kids want out of premium quality raw materials that will last. And if you somehow break a piece, anything made in the last 5 years has a ready supply of spares online.

We spoke to the chief designer Mr Reuter, who took us through the development of the latest Princess Castle. Early design ideas included dozens of pictures sent in by little girls from across the world, single handedly keeping the manufacturers of pink felt tipped pens in business through tricky economic times.

attention to detail is at the fore. that and pink felt tipped pens

The whole design process was quite interesting really, not least in that it doesn’t seem to be lead by the finance department. Whilst Mr Reuter and his colleagues obviously have an idea of the approximate cost of what they’re designing (and whether they can use some of the thousands of existing moulds to make some of the pieces or not), the sets like the castle are designed with the kids in mind and if they’re a bit more expensive to make than the sales dept would like, the margin takes a hit to sell it at an acceptable price. There really is no compromise in the end experience for the kids. Of course they’re all experts at what they do and nothing is ever way out or developed in such a way as to lose money but again that word integrity nudges it’s way into the front of your mind. I was particularly impressed with the turrets on the castle; the points and flags are made out of soft squishy plastic to minimise the risk of injury.

You also might not know that there are two ranges of Playmobil, there’s the 123 range for little hands which sits before the standard range. The figures are a bit simpler on 123, and the vehicles chunkier. Interestingly, whilst the factory recycles the waste plastic from the normal Playmobil production process back into the system, they don’t on the 123 range. Even though it would be safe to do so, Playmobil go one step further and ensure that they know the exact original of every bead of plastic that goes into the little figures that get shoved into a mouth and enthusiastically chewed. It’s little things like this I love about Playmobil. It’s the sort of thing you would expect from a small artisan operation, not a multi million pound global company.

There is a lot more that I want to say, particularly about the fascinating way the figures and sets are made but I’m going to save that for another post. I’ll leave you with this:

Playmobil is so iconic, sites like the ‘tech news site The Register even use it for re-enactments.