30 years ago, Holger and Ingo Legler founded a company with which they would sell commercial and gift products made of wood: Legler oHG was born. Becoming one of the largest manufacturers and suppliers of wooden toys was neither expected nor planned for back in 1988. But with lots of commitment, love for the natural product of wood and a consistent focus on retail businesses as customers, the company grew step-by-step into the reliable partner that stands at your side today. With more than 3,000 products, a comprehensive quality control and safety culture and high-quality customer service, the company Legler is still one of the most distinguished providers of wooden toys in Germany today.
An interview with the company’s founders, Holger and Ingo Legler, and the Managing Director of Legler OHG, André Eichinger.
LNT: Mr Legler, your company celebrates its 30-year anniversary this year. How does that feel?
Holger Legler: 30 years is a very long time, and we’re very proud of what we’ve achieved so far. Our toys have now accompanies an entire generation. Many children who played with a Legler toy back at that time are now at the age when they have their own children. At that point, we had to ask ourselves what made children love our toys at that time and which requirements toys must fulfil today in order to grab the attention of upcoming generations.
LNT: After such a long time, I’m sure you indulged in a bit of nostalgia. How did it all begin at that time in the toy industry?
Holger Legler: At that time, it was actually a coincidence. Originally we sold wooden promotional products, so we’ve been in the wood industry since the beginning. In the early 90s, we examined the opportunities that wood offers a bit more closely and how one can best use it. When we saw a young girl playing with a wooden toy in a toy store one day, we knew right then and there what the answer was: wooden toys for children.
Ingo Legler: We immediately started experimenting, and we involved our customers in the process. This is because at that time, we were also delivering promotional products to banks, which often became gifts for children and families on the annual International Savings Days. So we thought to ourselves: why can’t a promotional product also be a toy?
LNT: So that was the secret birth of the first toy in the assortment?
Ingo Legler: That’s exactly right. We had the idea to develop small vehicles – small lorries, dump trucks, and trailers. Everything made of natural-finished wood and in a size that children could play with, essentially just like with the young girl who we saw in the toy store. The promotion was a huge success, and all the children played with our products that day. It was very overwhelming to see what would could do at as a toy. At that point, our products were only used as advertisements or decoration. But this experience really started the transformation. At that point, we no longer developed products for advertising – we were developing products for children. Our retail clients were also enthusiastic about the idea and started asking for wooden toys. Eventually we also decided to offer painted wooden toys in addition to the natural-finished toys. Since then, our assortment has been constantly growing, and today, children all across Europe play with our wooden toys.
LNT: You mentioned before that wooden toys today must fulfil different requirements than 30 years ago. What are they?
Holger Legler: In order to meet the high requirements of wooden toys, you have to constantly remind yourself that toys made of wood must offer more than just playtime value. For example, our baby toys are the first toys that babies hold in their hands. In this case, it’s important that the toys are not only fun for the young children, but even more important that the toys are safe and promote the development of the children’s motor skills early on. One way in which we do this is to get the toys from our Lotta, Lex and Ludwig baby series certified by the [German inspection organisation] TÜV-RHEINLAND, and another way is how we apply pedagogical approaches during our product development. This is how we can sensibly support the developmental progress of babies and toddlers. Families know to appreciate this, and it has developed into a kind of industrial standard to have wooden that satisfy more and more pedagogical requirements.
LNT: Wooden toys have always had a certain charm. Is there something that hasn’t changed in the last 30 years and that still sells well?
Holger Legler: Wood is a material that can take on an endless number of forms. Everything related to building and creating things is just as popular today as it was back then. For example, our wooden building blocks are classics that everyone recognises. It’s a relatively simple product that offers children a lot of freedom to creatively build whatever they want. You can also notice this with our marble runs that can be assembled together in all kinds of combinations. Such products are generally very popular.
André Eichinger: According to the demand, one can also see that system-based toys are also as trendy today as they were in the past in that they allow children to create their own play worlds. Everyone knows wooden toy trains and putting their wooden tracks together and expanding them however they want. That’s still very popular today. We’ve acted on that trend last year, and we’ve brought an assortment of buildings onto the market in the form of small foot World which is compatible with the classic wooden toy train sets. Whether it’s the fire brigade, the police station or the farm, the demand was high from the beginning. Many parents passed their old wooden toy train sets down to their children and expanded them with the small foot world sets. It’s just the same as it was before, and will never get old.
LNT: Digitalisation has increased over the last 20 years. People come into contact with all kinds of toys on the internet. What place do wooden toys have in today’s digital world?
André Eichinger: This is true. Digitalisation has greatly stimulated the exchange of information about toys. It’s never been so easy to inform one’s self about the quality and pedagogical uses of products online. But the demand for wooden toys certainly isn’t in danger because of digitalisation or digital toys, thanks to the age groups. Wooden toys are attractive to children in the early stages of learning, from birth to preschool age. Digital products then become more relevant after the preschool age because it’s easier and clear to learn with a tablet. It’s the opposite with business in general, though. Here, digitalisation has changed the entire market and has actually simplified purchasing and sales. Even 14 years ago, it was decided to pursue this development, and we opened the online shop and digitised sales for our national market. Today, we’re active Europe-wide, and almost half of our customers use our website on their smartphones. This really shows the development potential of sales behaviour, but also the development of the means of communication through which people get informed about something.
LNT: So digitalisation will also play a strong role for you in the future?
André Eichinger: Definitely. The technological change is in full swing. We see big potential to direct our brands more strongly towards our end consumers via digital channels in order to boost the turnovers of our business partners. Direct dialogue with families is particularly important to us. We would like to actively ask families what moves them and actively clarify what pedagogic wooden toys can achieve. There’s lots of knowledge that we as wooden toy specialists can share and that is being asked for. The digital shift offers us chances to do this that we could only wish for before.
LNT: I’ve got one question before we part. You have your own house brand, the brand “small foot”. I’ve been told there’s a story behind it.
Ingo Legler: Yes, that’s true. The logo of our house brand small foot is my daughter’s footprint. She was born in 2002, and the footprint was made during her first fingerpainting session. Around that same time, the question kept coming up: do we want to put a symbol on our products to increase our product recognition? Then one day, Holger went to our product designer with a picture of the footprint and asked him what he thought of the idea of using it as a brand logo. He loved it, and since then we’ve had the brand logo on almost all the products of our assortment.
LNT: Thank you very much for the fascinating conversation.