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General => News => Topic started by: StJohn on February 20, 2021, 14:51:36

Title: Deep pockets but no plan: the Horst Brandstätter Holding in 2021
Post by: StJohn on February 20, 2021, 14:51:36
manager magazin published an interesting article about Geobra on February 18th: Das irre Regiment bei Playmobil (https://www.manager-magazin.de/unternehmen/handel/playmobil-das-irre-regiment-beim-spielwarenhersteller-a-00000000-0002-0001-0000-000175390512/) [behind paywall]. luipold at Klickywelt (https://klickywelt.de/viewtopic.php?f=26&t=75709/) offers the German text, of which I did a quick translation. It is fascinating stuff.

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At Playmobil, even Santa Claus cracks the whip. At least, that's what the long-suffering employees of the Franconian toy manufacturer might have thought when in December "Queen" Marianne Albert (62) had a figure in red and white with a reindeer sleigh placed above an announcement about the company's situation.

After an already "unsatisfactory year 2019," business in 2020 is "continuing to decline," Albert announced, adding: "This development cannot be ascribed to the Corona pandemic. We are currently less relevant for the consumer with our offers." You can't get much clearer than that, you have to hand it to her, about the plight of the company.

It does not come as a surprise that Playmobil, unlike its competitors, isn't benefiting from the plight of many parents who have to keep their offspring entertained between home office and home schooling. Since 2015, the year of the death of long-time patron and owner Horst Brandstätter, chaos has reigned in Zirndorf near Nuremberg. Absurd power struggles, pressure and a lack of vision are damaging Germany's best-known toy manufacturer. The culprit is probably the most bizarre management team in the Federal Republic of Germany.

At its heart is Marianne Albert, a publicity-shy woman who, as Brandstätter's secretary, was skilled at reading every wish from the lips of the Supreme Klicky. Ever since she was appointed executor of his will and chairwoman of the advisory board – a decision aimed at securing that everything would remain as it was, nothing has remained the same. Quite on the contrary, everything is getting worse.

The company still doesn't know how to respond to the challenges of a digital age, the announced construction of a plant in the USA has not materialized, and instead of investing Brandstätter's assets – with equity capital of around 1.5 billion euros, Horst Brandstätter Holding may well be considered a bank with a subsidiary injection molding factory – the company is relentlessly saving money.

The payoff: according to the latest available balance sheet, profit (EBIT) fell by almost 20 percent to 94 million euros in fiscal year 2018/19, while return on sales (over 22 percent under Brandstätter) plunged to 14.6 percent. It is likely that this trend will since have intensified, especially because projects of great expectations, such as "Playmobil - The Movie" and new toy lines like "EverDreamerz" and "Novelmore", flopped. In 2019, sales fell slightly by 1 percent to 742 million euros; the previous year did not fare any better. A turnaround is not in sight.

Instead, turnover in management is on the increase, lawsuits are regularly filed in court, and Queen Albert is isolating herself and her inner circle.

Yet it wasn't all that long ago that many were dreaming of the great step forward. In 2018, Playmobil recruited Disney manager Lars Wagner (49). He was supposed to use the brand's popularity to earn proper money with licenses and TV series, away from the silly plastic figures – just like competitors like Lego are doing. But the spirit of optimism did not last long.

In the meantime, Wagner has become history, just like his plans. Head of Entertainment Christine Brand (53) has also left. Wagner's job was taken over by Wolfgang Höger (55), a man who above all knows how to cut costs: Höger previous job was toys Procurement Officer at Kaufhof. In place of Robert Benker (62), who has resigned as Chief Technology Officer, Thomas Weberbauer (50) has been given a chance to prove himself. Commenting upon the arrival of this former Technical Director of the plastics company Wirthwein, Albert explicitly emphasized his "experience with site closures".

Hardly surprisingly, Head of Human Resources Cordula Glatthaar (46) was also quickly gone; she lasted a whole two months. "Dismissals, warnings without end, psychological pressure and personnel transfers are the order of the day," complains plant supervisor Bianka Möller of IG Metall. "There is a climate of fear."

Meanwhile, Albert, chairwoman of the advisory board, continues to expand her power. With former Escada boss Iris Epple-Righi (55) and lawyer Rainer Kögel (53), external members have left the supervisory body. Albert does not need to fear any opposition from the former Canteen Supervisor Gerlinde Breitsprecher (71), or the equally veteran financial expert Peter Hille (72). The former executive secretary can keep a tight leash on the board of directors by virtue of the company's articles of association, and has final say in every important decision. Nothing should escape her attention. And if something does, there are allegedly 296 cameras on the company premises that capture every movement.

Yet Albert seems to be troubled by the fact that the Works Council sees this as a violation of data protection and threatened "very high claims for damages" at their last meeting on February 1st. People talk to each other in Franconia after all. Even if, as is usually the case, through their lawyers.

####

Best wishes
StJohn
Title: Re: Deep pockets but no plan: the Horst Brandstätter Holding in 2021
Post by: GrahamB on February 20, 2021, 16:57:38
Oh dear, what a grim picture!
Title: Re: Deep pockets but no plan: the Horst Brandstätter Holding in 2021
Post by: tahra on February 20, 2021, 17:03:57
 :'(
Title: Re: Deep pockets but no plan: the Horst Brandstätter Holding in 2021
Post by: Macruran on February 20, 2021, 19:23:18
Thanks for translating and posting this StJohn, it's very enlightening to get a peek into the "real" side of our little hobby.

Frankly none of what the article says is at all surprising. It's been clear just from the product lines alone that the Gnomes have been floundering ever since HB passed on. They are completely at sea. No vision, no consistency, not even a basic understanding of what Playmobil is - what makes it different and special. Goofball stuff like Everdreamerz given a full court press, while Greek gods, released as Greece only specials at first, become wildly popular without any promotion. Ultracollectible klickies released as Fi?ures, forcing collectors onto the secondhand market for new releases. Many such cases!

I only hope they become so desperate that they return to their roots some day.  :crossed: :2c:  :sorrow:


Title: Re: Deep pockets but no plan: the Horst Brandstätter Holding in 2021
Post by: Tiermann on February 20, 2021, 21:08:09
Yeah not too many surprises there. They didn't mention the weird corporate structure that was a huge mistake in my opinion. Instead of a single CEO it started out right after HOBs death with a three person committee. The first one was the director of operations, the production manager and someone from the marketing side. It quickly went through various iterations since people couldn't agree. It had been a single head company ever since HOB took over and he should have kept that structure even though he made it a charitable for profit corporation instead of leaving it to his son.
Title: Re: Deep pockets but no plan: the Horst Brandstätter Holding in 2021
Post by: Redmao on February 21, 2021, 00:02:19
Very interesting article.
I didn't know that Novelmore was a flop, specially with a new batch of sets coming this year. I think that the designs and characters make a fun knights' theme.
Title: Re: Deep pockets but no plan: the Horst Brandstätter Holding in 2021
Post by: Ismene on February 21, 2021, 08:33:04
Bleak, but not surprising. They've been flinging things at the wall, trying to see what sticks, without any real plan. They're out of touch with children, out of touch with collectors, and apparently out of touch with their own employees. They seem content to give half their profits to Ebay, and they refuse to make the simplest commonsense changes.
Title: Re: Deep pockets but no plan: the Horst Brandstätter Holding in 2021
Post by: StJohn on February 21, 2021, 09:05:50
They didn't mention the weird corporate structure that was a huge mistake in my opinion. Instead of a single CEO it started out right after HOBs death with a three person committee.

I suppose the triumvirate has come to an end, then?

What I find most fascinating are the 1.5 billion € in their savings account – the original German sentence is worth quoting:

Quote
statt Brandstätters Vermögen zu investieren – mit einem Eigenkapital von rund 1,5 Milliarden Euro ist die Horst Brandstätter Holding eine Bank mit angehängter Spritzgussfabrik –, wird eisern gespart.

I recently observed a boy with his grandmother at Kaufhof, carefully inspecting all the shelves, his eyes shining looking at all the sets, hers carefully reading the price tags. They took their time, negotiated happily together and made a pick, went off to the counter to pay and left the shop, the boy thanking his nan profusely. This is going to be a happy memory for both of them, and the scene made me happy, reminding me of my own youth.

Now remember that HOB was pretty much broke when he started with Playmobil in 1974 (https://www.capital.de/wirtschaft-politik/neue-spielregeln-bei-playmobil?article_onepage=true/), and consider how this, and many millions more of such transactions, have built his Money Bin over the years. There is more to that cash than just assets, it is a monument of the collusion of commerce and love. It makes my head spin. 8}
Title: Re: Deep pockets but no plan: the Horst Brandstätter Holding in 2021
Post by: Birdie on February 21, 2021, 10:30:52
Thank you so much for bringing this article to our attention and for translating!  :heart:

Like the rest of you, I don't think it's surprising to hear numbers are going down, but it is very interesting to read this analysis on why.
I sure hope the company gets its act together and can turn things around with the right group of people. I still see how the toy and the brand remain popular with kids here, for instance the Netflix series Spirit and Heidi with their accompanying sets are a favourite come Saint Nicholas/Christmas/birthdays. The princess and mermaid sets are doing well too with my daughter, her friends, and my friends' and sisters' kids.

Title: Re: Deep pockets but no plan: the Horst Brandstätter Holding in 2021
Post by: Oliver on February 21, 2021, 12:56:59
Very interesting article.
I didn't know that Novelmore was a flop, specially with a new batch of sets coming this year. I think that the designs and characters make a fun knights' theme.

To be honest, success or failure I think they would have had to (or might as well, lets put it that way) press on with the second batch of Novelmore. I think they need to have some sort of 'knights' theme (especially in the absence of another 'historical' theme), and to design and produce a replacement probably takes years.

I think it would be fascinating to see a break down of what sells well, and I know you can take educated guesses from what comes-and-goes (and what sits constantly for sale on the website long after it's been axed....) but still.

Title: Re: Deep pockets but no plan: the Horst Brandstätter Holding in 2021
Post by: Redmao on February 21, 2021, 15:20:23
They still make home runs, like the recent Space Station that got the toy of the year award. Not surprising as it looks like a modern version of the classic Playmospace station.
I think that it shows that "classic" themes adapted to today will still prove to be popular. Maybe they should look at their long history of successes instead of trying to jump on any potential fad?

I know that the toy business is changing dramatically. Today's children abandon their toys in favor of other type of entertainment way faster than we did. Well, WE still haven't abandon our toys, but I meant our generation.
Most of people our age played with toys until their teenage years, while now, kids will favor video games and cell phones from an early age. Today's video games are very immersive and offer a complete visual and interactive experience.
The environment, the characters, everything is pre-generated and stimulating so much in fact that some children have troubles returning to the real world. It's hard to compete against that with a few plastic plastic figures.

I think that children are losing the imagination to pretend that the couch can be a mountain to explore or that a shoe box could be a house since they're so used to things being "real" on the screen.

Maybe it's why we're getting more named characters in Playmobil sets even in original themes.
Before, you created a character out of a klicky. You gave it accessories to make it whatever/whoever you wanted. From there, a new story and even a new world was beginning.
With named figures, the story is already told, just follow the description on the website. He does this and she likes that. It's like that with licensed theme, we know the characters and how they are supposed to be.
Sure you can change it, but the strong guidelines are still there.
Title: Re: Deep pockets but no plan: the Horst Brandstätter Holding in 2021
Post by: Indianna on February 21, 2021, 18:04:13
Thank you for sharing this article, StJohn! 

This is very unsettling and disturbing news, indeed.  I wondered what would happen after HOB's death and this article explains a lot, including some of the strange (IMO) product decisions that Playmobil has made over the past few years.

If anyone wants to dig a little deeper, I found that an online search of the words Marianne Albert Playmobil will yield many news reports describing problems with the company.  :'(
Title: Re: Deep pockets but no plan: the Horst Brandstätter Holding in 2021
Post by: StJohn on February 22, 2021, 01:27:21
Thanks for all the responses, especially Redmao's thoughts:

I know that the toy business is changing dramatically.

I enjoyed reading them. I think that you nailed it, I can see it in my own household: the next generation is fundamentally different from mine when it comes to where they feel comfortable and how they want to play – I admit that I struggle with screen time control. Perhaps I shouldn't bother, their world is different from the one I knew long ago, and the pandemic isn't helping either. But for a manufacturer geared towards serving the needs of the 20th century, the era that is now upon us must be massively threatening.
Title: Re: Deep pockets but no plan: the Horst Brandstätter Holding in 2021
Post by: Oliver on February 22, 2021, 02:22:16
They still make home runs, like the recent Space Station that got the toy of the year award. Not surprising as it looks like a modern version of the classic Playmospace station.
I think that it shows that "classic" themes adapted to today will still prove to be popular. Maybe they should look at their long history of successes instead of trying to jump on any potential fad?


Does winning Toy of the Year translate to sales though? Years ago I remember reading an article that - playfully - suggested that Playmobil was successful because it made the kind of toys that middle-class parents wanted their children to play with, rather than appealing to children's actual tastes. I don't think that's completely true, but I certainly think the historical themes provided a 'halo' affect and added to the 'educational' element around Playmobil - and probably the reason the Noah's Arc set was such a big seller (which I wouldn't have expected).

It does feel like there's been of the 'let's throw things at the wall and see what sticks' - I can't remember what year it was, but I remember once looking through the catalogue and thinking 'This feels like they have no idea what they want to be doing'
Title: Re: Deep pockets but no plan: the Horst Brandstätter Holding in 2021
Post by: tahra on February 22, 2021, 07:23:09
Years ago I remember reading an article that - playfully - suggested that Playmobil was successful because it made the kind of toys that middle-class parents wanted their children to play with, rather than appealing to children's actual tastes.

That's very well put. And it may be true.. It is (well, these days, there are exceptions) a.. wholesome toy. Positive. But then you have the idiots that complain that it took too long to assemble, and they DO have better things to do than spend time with their own kids.

I don't think that's completely true, but I certainly think the historical themes provided a 'halo' affect and added to the 'educational' element around Playmobil - and probably the reason the Noah's Arc set was such a big seller (which I wouldn't have expected).

Considering the animal barge educational is all kinds of scary, imo. At least they stopped with that horrid scary leaflet, right?

The educational part was dropped for silly shooting/blinky thingamagigs, and the full "pink idiots"/"fighting brutes", especially in non modern themes. We no longer have a medieval city, and almost all the only peasants we get are the annual peasant set for xmas :(

Ok, I am not sure actually suggesting "breaking into" the ATM machine in the instructions is a great idea, but..  >:D
(a shame this little devil only appears on the "more" smileys again)

Then there's the quality drop. Several sets bought recently. Of 3 of those thieves pack, all the women have their faces printed in the neck. 2 of the tan guy are useless (the heads, I mean),  because the mustache is printed wrong. One horse doesn't hold his head up. This DID NOT use to happen.

Missing parts, mismolded parts.... weird decisisons (make a van for a licence, but BRILLIANTLY use speedos with skirts, so they can't seat in the freaking van!? GENIUS!)

Problem is... it's still the best. So I whine and complain, but...  playmobil = :love: 

Or maybe I am biased. Could be.  :P
 

Title: Re: Deep pockets but no plan: the Horst Brandstätter Holding in 2021
Post by: Oliver on February 22, 2021, 09:46:27
 :lol: :lol: I wasn't actually thinking about Noah's Ark as being a particularly educational toy - but it's very traditional, and something that lots of people grew up with. From personal experience, a Noah's Ark actually has pretty limited play potential, at least in it's devised form. I can't imagine a child particularly wanting it either as a boat or as an animal set (when much better alternatives for both exist) - but it was a huge seller in Germany when it was launched.
Title: Re: Deep pockets but no plan: the Horst Brandstätter Holding in 2021
Post by: Ismene on February 22, 2021, 09:53:11
That's very well put. And it may be true.. It is (well, these days, there are exceptions) a.. wholesome toy. Positive. But then you have the idiots that complain that it took too long to assemble, and they DO have better things to do than spend time with their own kids.


Right?
Lego still sells. You'd think Playmobil could find a way to market assembly as a good thing (keeps the kids busy longer). They might have to rethink how certain parts go together, so assembly doesn't require too much dexterity or strength. Ideally, they'd have a modular customizable building system (the horror, I know), so kids could spend even more time reconfiguring the buildings.

The popularity of the ark, in my opinion, shows a market for animal-centric sets (although largely, it's parents and relatives buying a traditional set - they may have had an ark as a child). All the good ones were sold out when I was shopping for Christmas. I've thought for a long time that PM should have a "collect-them-all" series of allowance-friendly animal sets (sans klickies or buildings). I bet pink llamas in a baggies would sell out rapidly.

Title: Re: Deep pockets but no plan: the Horst Brandstätter Holding in 2021
Post by: playmofire on February 22, 2021, 11:56:16
A lot of well-thought out and well-expressed interesting comments here.  Thank you to everyone for sharing them.

Sophia, our great-niece, now 10.5 years old, will, I am sure during lockdown have had the Playmobil out, and her mother has probably said, "Leave it out until you go back to school", as she involves herself with it too.  (Her dad also does, but he's maybe more Scaletrix so that may have been out as well. Despite being a civil engineer, his attempts to build with Playmobil are, to quote his daughter "Rubbish", so that put him in his place!)  So there is hope for the  generation.

But going back to Playmobil's present situation, the problem really results from the weird structure Brandstatter bequeathed the company, or maybe more to his selection of people to run it.

EDIT to make first sentence of last paragraph clear.
Title: Re: Deep pockets but no plan: the Horst Brandstätter Holding in 2021
Post by: JLMatterer on February 22, 2021, 16:12:57
(https://i.imgur.com/NWSyVPN.png) (https://www.businessinsider.de/wirtschaft/kuendigungen-abmahnwellen-psychodruck-wie-der-deutsche-spielzeughersteller-playmobil-in-die-krise-geraet/?fbclid=IwAR1CNsV9SwYBGzZ-d0nvdrBOKDbvDMCuR3F10SR1e06bIkcCzZ45eNvS95Y)
Title: Re: Deep pockets but no plan: the Horst Brandstätter Holding in 2021
Post by: GrahamB on February 22, 2021, 21:34:10
Report: Playmobil is in a crisis, the new management isolates itself and puts employees under pressure.
Title: Re: Deep pockets but no plan: the Horst Brandstätter Holding in 2021
Post by: StJohn on February 22, 2021, 23:09:27
businessinsider.de offers just a rewrite of the earlier article published in manager magazin. No new input, just generating contents. Still, thanks for the link, JLMatterer. :wave:
Title: Update Re: Deep pockets but no plan: the Horst Brandstätter Holding in 2021
Post by: JLMatterer on February 23, 2021, 19:45:23
(https://i.imgur.com/7UnaXMZ.png) (https://www.nordbayern.de/wirtschaft/bericht-sorgt-fur-unruhe-schlechte-laune-bei-playmobil-1.10866045?fbclid=IwAR3HlGeyJ1gCxOa1BWmvY5D4TL-Rpsj_mt6segDzloanrB-XIQqLKmTBFY0)
Title: Re: Deep pockets but no plan: the Horst Brandstätter Holding in 2021
Post by: playmofire on February 23, 2021, 19:48:15
Report causes unrest: Bad mood at Playmobil
Title: Re: Deep pockets but no plan: the Horst Brandstätter Holding in 2021
Post by: GrahamB on February 24, 2021, 00:01:25
It's the same stuff, but now the Brandstätter group are threatening Manager Magazine with legal action for publishing the story...
Title: Re: Deep pockets but no plan: the Horst Brandstätter Holding in 2021
Post by: StJohn on February 24, 2021, 00:34:25
Thanks for posting, JLMatterer, and reading, GrahamB!

It's the same stuff, but now the Brandstätter group are threatening Manager Magazine with legal action for publishing the story...

Apparently so: the Nürnberger Presse says to have seen the firm's legal letter to that effect. Mind-boggling: do they really want to challenge a news story based on company records and interviews? Persevere and ultimately contest it in a public court of law? Of course not. This claim can only be withdrawn. The insanity just shows that Manager Magazin was drawing a realistic portrait.

One new bit of information that I found was that "Playmobil - The Movie" has cost the firm several tens of millions of $...
Title: Re: Deep pockets but no plan: the Horst Brandstätter Holding in 2021
Post by: Macruran on February 28, 2021, 01:56:37
They still make home runs, like the recent Space Station that got the toy of the year award. Not surprising as it looks like a modern version of the classic Playmospace station.

That's a theme they could really own: Science/Space. The Mars sets were great and classic. Compare the recent Polar sets though: giant laser cannons  >:( Why not do a proper Exploration theme? Laboratories for different sciences? There's endless possibility. Could tie into historical themes as well - famous explorers from history.

SO MUCH POSSIBILITY
Title: Re: Deep pockets but no plan: the Horst Brandstätter Holding in 2021
Post by: GrahamB on February 28, 2021, 10:09:00
Sadly, the Gnomes of Zirndorf don't seem to be listening, Macky!
Title: Re: Deep pockets but no plan: the Horst Brandstätter Holding in 2021
Post by: Redmao on February 28, 2021, 14:42:34
I just found some Rex Dasher with parachute sets (70070) for only 4.90$ cdn which is about 3€.
The upside of the movie not being the expected success is nice pieces for cheap.

The Polar Expedition set had great potential. They could be linked with the recent Explorers or Treasure Hunters themes, but yeah, more scientific equipment instead of laser canons would have been nice.