Master plans

Throughout the last few economically challenging years, Marbel has managed to maintain an impressive rate of growth with existing brands, Plan Toys, I?m Toy, Educo and more, along with newly acquired lines. Katie Roberts chatted to marketing manager Phil Nelson about how he has done it?
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To date, 2011 has seen Marbel increase sales by 30 per cent. A sizeable growth in good conditions, but something of a feat in the current economic climate. The firm has a number of factors to thank for its continued growth, including distribution deals, increased emphasis on customer service, a foray into new categories and innovative marketing.

Marbel took on distribution of Brio for the UK and Ireland in February, proving a real boost for the company. Phil Nelson, marketing manager, tells ToyNews: “It’s a huge brand, with a huge customer base and a huge heritage and it’s really helped to raise our profile in the industry and get our name out there and also to broaden our customer base.”

Many retailers which already stocked the Brio lines have since taken on Marbel’s other brands. Meanwhile, the Brio products have been well received by the Cornwall-based company’s existing retailers. Nelson says: “The response has been great and orders have been increasing regularly for the brand.”

Brio, a Swedish supplier, has also been doing its bit. Nelson explains: “Brio had idled a bit for a couple of years, but recently they have really upped their game and invested in product development, so it was a great time for us to come on board. The company is bringing electronic elements into the range, with sounds and lights and even videos in some of the new lines. So while they are retaining the traditional wooden element, they are merging them with more innovative elements.”

Alongside Brio, Marbel offers a comprehensive portfolio to its customers. Nelson comments: “We stock over 1,000 products now, so we’re offering a one-stop shop. For the independent retailers, who perhaps can’t carry as much stock or can’t take as many deliveries, it means that they can get a broad spectrum of lines with just one order.”

Marbel has also been focusing on increasing its service to retailers. “We’ve been working hard to further improve our customer services and have developed a spare part and servicing department. We’ve always tried to provide exceptional customer service as we work to be the best wooden toy supplier. We also offer next day delivery when items are in stock and if they aren’t, we are in constant contact with customers so that they know what to expect and when to expect deliveries.”

Nelson continues: “We are also working on new retail support, POS, display stands, that kind of thing.”

Being a wooden toy supplier in itself also seems to have helped Marbel weather the financial storm. Nelson explains: “Wooden toys have continued to sell well throughout. They have a particular appeal with parents and grandparents due to their quality and the type of consumers who buy wooden toys probably haven’t been affected as much by the downturn, so are still spending.

“We have also bought in a few lower priced items in response to the changing economy, so that we have a broader spectrum of prices on offer.”

However, Nelson is also starting to move out of wooden toys. Marbel offers the World Wildlife Fund plush range and more recently took on Makedo – a reusable clip and hinge toy, which allows children to make objects out of cardboard boxes, plastic bottles and the like. The range is stocked in The Tate Modern gift shop, opening up new retail customers.

Nelson offers: “There are only so many wooden lines you can take on before you start to compete with yourself. We are careful about what ranges we take on and they have to have an educational and eco-friendly angle. We won’t just take on the next toy that comes along if it doesn’t fit.”

Marbel’s team of three sales staff mean the range is being spread far and wide. Although Marbel doesn’t TV advertise, as wooden toys ‘don’t tend to work on TV’, Nelson works closely with consumer and trade press and is expanding online activity.

A new website is due to launch later this year, linking to social media accounts and also offering video links to highlight products. Alongside this, Marbel works closely with mummy bloggers and demand for product samples is increasing, especially into more specialised sectors.
With all this in place, the growth can only be set to continue.

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