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The French connection: How Le Toy Van is getting it right in pre-school

Le Toy Van enjoys that it’s a small company based in the British county of Surrey, but competing on a
global scale with some of the biggest names in the toy industry today. Almost 25 years into its gig, it very much plans on keeping things that way.

There’s no immediate urgency to deliver the grand global growth plan for this family-run outfit, and while the corporate powerhouses of the toy world are feeling the pressure amid the current climate, things are decisively slower-paced at the wooden toy specialists.

That’s not to say Le Toy Van hasn’t got more than enough to be keeping itself busy with; when the final pieces of the plan come together for its big anniversary year in 2020, its Hampton Court Palace garden party is certainly going to be a monumental occasion for this small but close-knit team of toy experts.

And all the while its pack of designers and developers will continue to work diligently on the releases it has planned for the year ahead.

Yet, talking with Le Toy Van’s marketing assistant, Alice King about the busy 12 months the company now has ahead of it, especially as it prepares for its most crucial time of year in the Q4 Christmas gifting season, and readies itself for yet another Toy Fair season to roll around, you get the feeling this little British toymaker is all rather relaxed. Perhaps it’s the continental European influence from its French heritage at work? Or perhaps it’s that Le Toy Van simply knows where to focus its energy – quite firmly into product roll out.

“We’re actually celebrating a string of award wins for our product portfolio, which has been great for boosting our recognition and profile in the industry,” King tells ToyNews. “We’ve actually won awards in the Loved By Parents Awards, the European Product Design Awards, and the Right Start Awards and it’s all proved to have been a real boost for us.”

In fact, King is being a bit modest of Le Toy Van’s achievements. The wooden toy specialist has also secured a runner up place in the Absolutely Mamma Awards, a Recommended in the Loved By Parents Tried and Tested, and a top spot in the Independent Toy Awards. That’s just in 2019 alone.

Over its 25 year history, Le Toy Van has now won over 200. If there were any immediate growth plans going on at the toymaker right now, it would be about in which room do they extend the trophy cabinet.

But this isn’t a company to dwell on the achievements of the past for too long. It’s got its product line up for the coming years to think about. And, given the lengthy procedure of diligence and care that goes into the 18 month product development process for anything Le Toy Van launches, there’s very little time for basking in glory.

“You see that in the quality of the end product, that time spent on designing and redesigning every concept we come up with,” explains King. “These are toys, yes, but they’re more than that, too. We want these to be toys that last, that get handed down from sibling to sibling and from generation to generation, like an heirloom.

“We are meticulous in what we do. Just when you think something looks pretty much perfect, someone will spot something and it will be back to the drawing board; but that’s what you get with a small, family-run business. Everything that comes out comes from a place of passion and pride, so there is always a lot of thought into everything that we do.”

Of those products launched this year, King is keen to highlight the success and popularity of the Stacking Veggies, its Activity Walkers, and it’s big box – OK, giant box – item, the Le Toy Van Palace Dolls House.

“All of our dolls houses tend to start selling well around this time of year, and as we move into the Christmas shopping period, sales really start to pick up,” says King. “But this is a snapshot of the diversity of our product portfolio; Le Toy Van can sit just as comfortably in a Harrods pop-up shop – and our recent Harrods pop-up shop did really well for us, as it can in a smaller, independent toy shop – a gift shop or a little boutique retailer.

“After some initial positive response, we have high hopes that our dolls houses will be big performers for us this Christmas. But equally, so will our smaller items like the Stacking Veggies, this is a line that symbolises the whole green message we have been trying to convey over the past year.”

Le Toy Van kicked off the year with a big statement to the industry that it was intent on leading the charge for sustainability within toys and toy production, working on a campaign to remove plastic from its products and its packaging. Almost ten months on, it’s still very much mission statement number one for the firm.

“With anything in this field of sustainability, it’s about taking those little steps, or doing whatever you can, to build up to the bigger picture. We will continue to grow our efforts, review each process and keep on changing things as we can in the name of sustainability, right down to the rubber wheels on a toy car,” explains King.

It was a mix of mind-sets that brought Le Toy Van to this point formulated of a conscious move on the toymaker’s part to be leading the sustainable toy movement in the industry, met at the same time, by a rising awareness, conscience and demand from the consumer for more sustainable toys and products.

“It’s our belief that we have a responsibility to set an example to ourselves and to the industry,” says King. “More than anything we want to be sending out a strong message to the generations that grow up with our toys. The toy industry is a direct influencer upon how children grow up, and the beliefs they hold in regards to the products they engage with.

“We want to influence a positive change in this space, bring them away from throw- away toys and to cherish a toy that can be kept for a lifetime.”

It’s in this regard that Le Toy Van likes to distinguish itself from the major names in the toy industry, freed by an ability to pursue a mind set and an ideal without being necessarily hamstrung by spread- sheets. Yet still, the company likes to think it can roll with the big players just as effectively.

“Social media has really opened this opportunity up for us to compete with the major toy companies,” says King. “It’s given us an almost immediate world stage, and we are fielding business enquiries from across the world now. It’s thanks to things like Instagram that you can have an instant connection with an audience, and online presence is so important in building an international brand.”

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