September 24, 2006

Brio's New Target Market [Hint: Starts With Gr-, Ends With -ups]


Indulge me a bit of MBA geekdom, but ever since that high chair turned up, I was kind of intrigued why Brio, which has been known for over 100 years primarily as a wooden toy company--and especially as a wooden train company--has decided to launch modern furniture and stroller businesses. [Though they've been in the market since at least 2000 via joint ventures, they haven't had much success.]

Turns out that it's yet another example of the two-year gestation period that rules the baby gear industry.

In 2004, the Swedish investment group Proventus took a controlling stake in Brio, which had been in decline, thanks to the shifts in distribution [i.e., Wal-Mart, McDonalds] and production [i.e., China] in the toy industry. 2004 was also when Brio took full control of the stodgy baby gear/furniture company European Nursery Group that had been a JV partner.

[Proventus also happens to own Artek, the Alvar Aalto company and UK design company Tom Dixon, as well as some Nordic TV companies. The closest analog I can think of in the US may be Stephen Swid, who owned Knoll, Spin Magazine, and whose wife co-founded a company called Swid Powell that made architect-designed furnishings and stuff.]

Anyway, Brio's new management has developed a new strategy to tap into the brand's "intense loyalty, not least from parents who see the company’s products as a way to reconnect with their own childhoods." It goes a little something like this:

Parents now want to maintain their own way of life rather than find that their world is completely transformed by children, so they attach increasing value on style and mobility in their purchases of children’s products.


BRIO is aiming at parents who see themselves as embracing socially responsible values rather than presenting itself as a luxury toymaker. The company’s products are designed to appeal to the kind of parents who worry that their children may already have too many toys, and that they do not engage with them in a constructive way. Modern children travel abroad, they go to restaurants, while their parents believe that parenthood will not change their lives. BRIO will offer children’s products that reflect that reality and support that lifestyle.

Sound familiar? Do they have Grups in Sweden?

Among the first incarnations of the new Grupstrategy was Brio's new baby furniture. Another piece of the track: BRIO Network, an imaginary world filled with little characters who live in our computers. [And then in our toyboxes, and perhaps in our DVD players.] Maybe the Network will get a look later; the last time I tried to visit it, the little buggers crashed my browser.

Brio strategy description; Active investment entered 2004 []
BRIO Network is now being launched worldwide []
BRIO Network [, I think]
Previously: All Aboard! Brio Baby Furniture's Here.

1 Comment

Dammit, I must be the target market, because those little characters hit the "must buy now!" spot right in the middle of my lizard brain. I have no choice!

But, y'know, I'm sick of seeing Thomas the Tank Engine and his creepy friends ruling the train tracks everywhere we go.

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