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Core Strength: How Orchard Toys maintains its grasp on the traditional

While Orchard Toys may currently be watching the dust settle around the successful launch of its first app-enabled pre-school game, Sound Detectives, this UK educational game specialist insists “it’s never felt any pressure to align itself with that digital space” the game sits within.

It’s despite the surge in growth of STEM areas such as coding, or digital play, among pre-schoolers and young children, the Norfolk-based games and jigsaws manufacturer tells ToyNews that its future ‘is very much in the traditional.’

Traditional games and puzzles for youngsters, after all, is what Orchard Toys has been doing since the late ‘60s. Its 1975 hit title Insey Winsey, for example, sells just as well today as it did some 40 years ago. Upsetting this particular apple cart and switching lanes to a wholly more digital- focused one, is certainly not something Orchard Toys is looking to do.

As business strategies go, this one won’t be stealing the front cover of Time magazine anytime soon, but it will certainly continue the business down a path that – in the main – appears to be paying off for the team.

This is an outfit that, by the end of the last financial year, had once again, seen double-digit revenue growth year-on- year. Not only that, but The NPD Group reported Orchard Toys as the number one manufacturer of pre-school games and jigsaws only recently. It indicates one thing: that if anyone can attest to the strength of the traditional toy market, it’s Orchard Toys.

But how has it managed this, when the world around us – and the next generation of children coming through – are so much in the digital?

“When you look at the wider toy space, educational play has evolved much more with technology, use of tablets, coding etc. However, we have chosen to remain true to our values of very much traditional game play,” explains Simon Newbury, managing director of Orchard Toys.

“So from our perspective, there hasn’t been a revolution. Our products are based on simple and engaging gameplay covering basic educational skill sets such as numbers and counting, matching and memory, and literacy and language.

“We continue to stay true to our values in terms of premium quality of manufacture,” continues the managing director, offering over just one of this 50 year old company’s many secrets to half a century of success.

But despite all of his talk of roots in the traditional, Newbury and the Orchard Toys team maintains the importance of staying fresh, through artwork, themes, and trends.

“You can see this from a number of our lines that have been revamped over the years, Insey Winsey being one,” continues Newbury. “For example, dinosaurs are really popular at the moment, and we develop different styles of products with this theme that appeal to children from 18 months through to nine years old. We ensure that we stay current with changes to the National Curriculum through engaging with teachers and educational specialists.”

There’s a sense that things are ticking over all rather nicely at Orchard Toys, and that they have been for the past almost 15 years, since the firm’s relocation in 2006 to its current Norfolk headquarters; a move that “marked a significant turning point for the company.”

“From that point,” says Newbury, “the company has seen significant year on year growth and a much more diverse retail customer base. Not only are we selling to the toy trade, but it is great to be working in the gift and garden centre sectors, as well.”

It’s perhaps for this reason that by and large, the pressure is off. Orchard has avoided the sweeping call to digitise or gear its offering towards the YouTube generation of today.

“We have recently launched our first game with an app that supports the gameplay, but that doesn’t exclusively rely on the app to enable people to play the game,” states Newbury. “During development, it was imperative that the game could be played on its own, as well as with the app.”

So if it’s not digital that is making the most impact on the UK’s educational play sector at the moment – not enough for Orchard Toys to shift gear in this sector, in any case -what is? Put the question to Newbury and you’ll likely get the same answer: visible results.

“Parents are wanting products they can visibly see help their child’s educational development,” he says. “It’s an indicator that parents are becoming more focussed on their child’s education from an earlier age.Lines that have been successful over the past few years have been targeted at a key learning skill.”

Orchard Toys keeps its recipes simple. It’s all about engaging play, with key educational themes and current trends.

“We’ve worked hard building the brand in recent years, with the visual appeal that consumers trust,” says Newbury.

“Staying true to our values of quality and learning made fun means that customers will repeat purchase throughout any season, giving the independent customer a bread and butter brand all year round.”

That’s most likely music to the ears of the independent toy retailer. Orchard Toys has always had quite the affinity with the indie toy shop; remaining a perennial favourite among this population of stockists for the best part of its 50 years.

And since its inception in 1968, when founder Keith Harvey and his wife decided to start making building blocks and tracing sets for the local nursery school, this relationship between Orchard and the independent toy seller has been maintained harmoniously.

“We appreciate how difficult retail is for indies at the moment, and appreciate the support they provide to Orchard Toys, which is why we do all that we can to support them,” explains Newbury.

“We believe that there is a great symbiosis between us and independents, and they will always play an important part in our landscape.”

Looking to the future for the Orchard Toys business, Newbury adds: “We are very proud of the way that the Orchard Toys brand is perceived in the UK, and we have exciting plans to replicate this internationally.”

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