Thursday, January 14, 2010
Who Killed the Wooden Train? (Part 1)
Toys have their cycles. Pirates are popular, no-one wants pirates. We're in our 8th or 9th Dinosaur Age in 30 years. When you talk with someone about yo-yo sales, you find yourself fighting a mental battle not to say "they have their ups and downs". But throughout our 30 years, a constant has been wooden trains. Kids and wooden train sets seemed to arrive together in every American home. But not anymore.
In its first years, our little Golden Apple in San Ramon, made a bold decision to install a train table for the kids. Back then we were a Teacher's Store, with black reflective glass windows, in a warehouse behind another warehouse. Every now and then a brave parent would open our door and timidly ask if "anyone" could shop in our store. The magnetic allure of a wooden train table was so well known, we counted on it to send a welcoming message to parents.
We started with TC Timber, an American-made alternative to BRIO, the big name in wooden trains. We fought an uphill battle - every parent was familiar with the Swedish company BRIO, their quality was such a given that a BRIO set was considered a generational investment. The sets might cost twice what a comparable toy did, but educated customers knew the value, and the kids wanted a train! They didn't have faces, or even much detail, but the Scandinavian simplicity was part of the appeal. TC TImber's claim to having actually invented the product didn't help us break BRIO dominance of the market, but our train table was an instant hit, and put our store on the map, at least in the minds of boys (and a few girls). To be continued...