Schleich USA is coming off of a strong year — reporting double-digit growth in the U.S. and a 5% increase globally. The company also celebrated its 85th anniversary last year and got creative during the pandemic, incorporating its fan base into its marketing initiatives. The Toy Book caught up with Schleich USA’s Managing Director Annie Laurie Zomermaand about how the company’s plans were shifted upside-down during a challenging time, its direct-to-consumer strategy, and what the company has in store for 2021.
Toy Book: To what do you attribute to Schleich’s strong performance — with double-digit growth in the U.S. and a 5% increase globally — in 2020?
Annie Laurie Zomermaand: Both in the U.S. and globally, Schleich has been focused on our partnerships with retailers, strengthening our relationships with consumers, and building our brand awareness. These areas of focus have not changed during the pandemic, however, the way we executed the initiatives certainly has been adjusting, especially in 2020.
The primary change in 2020 was to recognize that consumers were accessing and consuming media differently while also, out of necessity, making adjustments to where and how they purchased. Our team increased our engagement messaging to consumers which significantly increased our brand awareness and delivered strong consumer sales within all channels — both brick and mortar and e-commerce.
TB: A record-breaking number of consumers turned to online retail and e-commerce due to stay-at-home orders. Has your direct-to-consumer distribution strategy changed as a result, and if so, how?
ALZ: We also saw a shift with the consumer to more e-commerce, however, our shift may not have been as pronounced as other toy companies as several of our retail customers were deemed essential businesses and remained open to serve consumers throughout the lockdowns. We also worked with other brick-and-mortar accounts to provide digital content for their customers during this time and to support their shifts to initiatives like buying online and curbside pick-up models.
Our direct-to-consumer strategy did not change substantially, but we certainly honed our content production skills and upgraded many of our digital assets. This has not only benefited direct-to-consumer but has also helped us to better support all retail customers who feature our brand online or within social media. We made many enhancements that will serve us in the short and long term.
TB: Many of Schleich’s marketing campaigns, such as Power of Imagination, include consumer involvement. How does this approach fit in with your company’s growth?
ALZ: We can’t grow without our fans and we’re incredibly lucky to have a dedicated and passionate fanbase both in the U.S. and Canada, as well as across the world. The Power of Imagination campaign just reinforced for us how strong this base is. We had more than 15,000 photos and stories submitted in the U.S. and Canada alone for our Power of Imagination Campaign.
In 2021, we will be engaging with our consumers even more and can’t wait to see the creativity and imagination that they bring to our products.
TB: The challenges of COVID-19 did not stop Schleich from celebrating big for its 85th anniversary. What went behind the execution of the Time Square billboard spot for the Your Imagination in Lights contest?
ALZ: It doesn’t get much better than to celebrate your 85th anniversary with a Times Square billboard featuring some of your biggest fans and the power of their imaginations. We were not going to let COVID-19 get in the way of having our celebration, but we had to find a safe way to do this. We were able to pivot to an online model, hosting contests throughout the year, culminating with the “Your Imagination in Lights” billboard program. We invited fans to share their Schleich stories — and they showed up! The stories we received from kids — and adults — showcasing their imaginations far exceeded our expectations and we couldn’t have ended the year in a better fashion. The overarching theme of the Power of Imagination campaign was to create media and moments in time to remind parents “just how magical a child’s imagination can be.” With each iteration of the program, we wanted to top what we had done previously, so naturally, we ended up at the crossroads of the world!
TB: What other ways has Schleich been creative during the pandemic?
ALZ: Everything we did in 2020 encouraged us to use our imaginations, just as our products do for the kids who play with them. We took our marketing plan and turned it upside down. Things that were supposed to be in-store went online. Things that were supposed to be online were made bigger. And things we hadn’t even considered doing were put on the table. We were able to push ourselves and see just how strong our brand truly is. One of my favorite examples is how quickly we leveraged our creative partner and Power of Imagination campaign spokesperson, Mitchel Wu, to create an instructional video showing kids how to take their own toy photographs at home.
TB: What new products can consumers get excited for across Schleich’s six core franchises?
ALZ: We have over 100 new characters and playsets coming out in 2021. Just launched were our new bayala collectibles and our fan-requested llama. You’ll also be seeing exciting new playsets from Farm World, Horse Club and Wildlife, new Eldrador Creatures, and, of course, Dinosaurs.
TB: What are Schleich’s plans and goals in 2021?
ALZ: We’re excited to continue the momentum into 2021. We’ve had a strong first few weeks of the year and we’re just getting started. We have plans with our retail partners, both online and in-store, our e-commerce platform will continue to build the brand and we’re taking our marketing efforts to the next level. We’ve learned that while imagination is paramount for our brand, what Schleich really facilitates is storytelling. We are raising the microscope for how we see and talk about our brand. The industry and consumers can look forward to a creative new approach to our brand in the months ahead.
TB: Is there anything else you’d like to add?
ALZ: In 2021 we will continue to forge new partnerships in the U.S. and Canada, both with retailers and with more youth-centric organizations that share the same brand values.