Lego – 2016 “the best year ever!”

lego

In its 85 year history the iconic toy company, Lego, has never before reported such astronomical revenues. Lego has just announced that in 2016 sales were up 6% on 2015’s totals to hit a new high of £4.4bn. Profits for 2016 rose 1.7pc to £1.1bn!

With a management team dead set on straddling the physical – building blocks into imaginable shapes – and the integration of their digital platform this is an amazing result for the Danish business. The game changing “Nexo Knights” have really done great business.  It’s an excellent example of a trophy business moving with the times aiming to avoid what has been called the “Kodak Syndrome” – a dramatic shift in competing technologies that chocke the future of a pre-eminent brand.

Diversity is, probably, a significant part of it.

One of the facets of the new London Design Museum is its continuing commitment – for the last nine years – to the Beazley Designs of the Year. Interestingly, this year’s roll call includes Lego’s “City Fun in the Park – City People Pack”.

Why would Lego be nominated for a design prize this year given its already iconic status as one of the most successful and well designed products of all time? Well, a recent series of LEGO mini-figures features a wheel-chair user and a guide dog. A legacy of the #ToyLikeMe campaign, the mini-figures create a more diverse – perhaps more realistic – and inclusive range for all children. The results will be available early next year.

Our kids moved on from Lego a number of years ago but we have a handful of nephews and nieces (who are sub-10 year olds) for whom the No 1 nomination for their toy of the year is, again, Lego.

Having spent time at Legoland with our kids over fifteen years ago and being a keen Lego kid myself – when there were only four colours and about as many formatted blocks – I decided to delve into the world of Lego to find out more about this Danish success story.

A bit like explaining how a push bike works, I imagine there are few who haven’t seen Lego’s colourful and interconnectable plastic bricks that are either pre-formed to make – when assembled – a specific toy, building or vehicle or alternatively, which may be built and re-built in a huge number of combinations fuelled only by the limits of the builder’s – often a child – imagination.

The Lego Group, is a privately held company based in Billund (Denmark) that has been producing interlocking toy bricks since 1949. Enhanced in recent years by the success of Lego movies – computer animation often featuring the re-telling of classic films using Lego mini-figures – clothes, books and amusement parks, Lego has evolved to form a sub-culture and is one of the world’s most recognised brands.

Ole Kirk Christiansen (1891–1958) was a carpenter from Billund who began making wooden toys in 1932. Taking the Danish phrase “leg got” (to play well) in 1934, he named his company “Lego”. More than a dozen years later Lego was producing the first plastic toys and in 1949 there appeared a predecessor of the interlocking brick. By 1951 more than fifty percent of Lego’s output was plastic toys.

By 1954, Christiansen’s son, Godtfred, had joined the business, he saw the immense potential in Lego bricks to become a system for creative play. By 1958, the modern brick design had been developed conquering the connectivity problems of the previous design. On 28th January 1958 the modern Lego brick design was patented.

It’s interesting to note that Lego bricks dating from 1958 still interlock perfectly with those made more recently and those designed for younger children are still entirely compatible with those made for their bigger brother or sister.

Since 1963, Lego pieces have been injection moulded from a resilient plastic known as acrylonitrile butadiene styrene (ABS). Lego bricks are manufactured in various locations around the world but design happens in Billund. Annually Lego produces around 36 bn bricks.

Since the 1950s, Lego has released thousands of sets with a various themes. Recurring classic themes have included Lego City (introduced in 1973) and Lego Technic (introduced in 1977). In addition, Lego has has success from entering into licenses with film and game franchise holders including Batman, StarWars and Minecraft. Lego is also noted for its commitment to special editions such as those for the 2012 London Olympics and 2016 Summer and Paralympics. A whole new world of possibilities is opening up with Lego’s programmable “Mindstorms” products.

Another nod from popular culture is “Lego House” a hit song by English singer-songwriter Ed Sheehan that was released in November 2011.

Interestingly, in a world where on-line sales are threatening to outstrip traditional shop purchases, in November 2016, Lego opened the world’s largest Lego store on London’a Leicester Square. Bucking a trend, I am not sure, but certainly more than holding the line!

Image from Lego

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