'Father of Playmobil' dies, aged 81

8th June 2015, Comments 0 comments

Horst Brandstaetter, owner of the German toy company that produces Playmobil, the small plastic figures loved by children the world over, has died aged 81 the company announced on Monday.

"With Horst Brandstaetter the Playmobil family loses not just its chief, company owner and patriarch but the toy sector in Germany also one of its most distinguished personalities," the Geobra Brandstaetter company said in a statement.

Brandstaetter, who also invented the hula hoop, died last Wednesday, just three weeks before his 82nd birthday, it added, without specifying the cause.

Known as "Herr Playmobil", or to colleagues simply as "HOB", Brandstaetter joined the family firm as a trainee mould-maker at the age of 19 in 1952 when it was run by his two uncles.

He became a joint shareholder two years later and, recognising the huge potential for plastic, rather than metal, toys, he completely restructured the company to accommodate the trend.

In 1958, the company launched the hula hoop which went on to become a worldwide hit.

When the oil crisis drove up the cost of manufacturing plastic products in the 1970s, Brandstaetter asked the company's master mould-maker Hans Beck to develop a completely new toy system that could be continually expanded.

Beck came up with the 7.5 centimetre (3-inch) play figures. The initial three models -- a knight, a construction worker and a Native American -- were first introduced to the general public in 1974.

"Their success at that time saved us from bankruptcy," the jovial, moustachioed Brandstaetter later admitted, saying he was himself surprised at the fascination the figurines exerted on children.

"People seeing the Playmobil figure for the first time are usually unimpressed; it looks so simple. Adults don't immediately see the value of Playmobil. Its appeal is in the stories which it triggers in children's heads," he said.

- Sell-out success -

Today, the figures range from police and pirates, to fairies and clowns. The most recent addition was a Martin Luther figurine, showing the Protestant Reformation leader with a Bible and quill, which was launched in February and sold out within 72 hours.

The company's main production facility is in Dietenhofen in the southern state of Bavaria and it also has plants in the Czech Republic, Spain and Malta.

Brandstaetter was awarded Germany's Federal Cross of Merit in 1993, and he became a member of the US Toy Industry Association's Hall of Fame in 2014.

The Brandstaetter group employs more than 4,000 people worldwide and its global sales amounted to 595 million euros ($664 million) in 2014, making it Germany's biggest toymaker ahead of Ravensburger.

From 2000, Brandstaetter established a second pillar of his company developing and producing plastic plant pots with soil watering systems and garden furniture under the Lechuza brand.

While loyal to his roots in the Franconia region in Germany, Brandstaetter was a keen golfer and spent every winter in his house on Jupiter Island in Florida.

Brandstaetter said this also gave his managers and employees an opportunity to manage the company on their own, without him being present.

"When the captain is the only one who knows where the compass is, and he falls overboard, then the ship is doomed. If I am not there, my employees will have to reach their own decisions," he argued.

Brandstaetter set up a foundation in the mid-1990s to manage the company "in accordance with his wishes" after his death.

© 2015 AFP

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