When Jan Gustavsen was introduced as the Managing Director of Simba Dickie
Nordic, he handed out self-made business cards. Instead of CEO or COO, his job definition was CBF. When asked about this unusual title, the manager enlightened his new colleagues: CBF stands for ‘Customers’ Best Friend’.
His most important piece of equipment is his mobile phone: Jan Gustavsen in front of the Royal Palace in Stockholm.
An amusing anecdote that encapsulates
how the 62-year-old sees himself and his job description. He considers communication with customers and salespeople his core task. ‘Personal contact is much more important in business life than most people think’ says Jan Gustavsen, ‘the sales figures are my market research’.
Whoever accompanies the Norwegian, a
grandfather of six children aged between
one and 18 years old, on a business trip
can feel his passion for the products. And for the children who all these products are ultimately intended for. Jan, as everyone calls him in the typically Scandinavian laid-back manner, personally knows the owners of most of the shops in Norway, Sweden and Denmark that sell Simba Dickie Group products. He conjures up a smile on everyone’s faces during his frequent visits with his cheerful and direct nature. And he often spontaneously mingles with a playschool group out on a trip and chats to the little ones completely at ease.
A young fan of the popular dress-up doll ‘Steffi’: four-year-old customer Aurora in the ‘Ringo’ store of the ‘Magasinet’ shopping centre in Drammen.
Jan has not forgotten how to experience
delight like a child. For instance, about
the fact that ‘Steffi Love’ is the top-selling
dress-up doll in many shops in his Nordic network this season for the first time. A development he really can be proud of.
This is because, when the former
Ikea manager became the head of the
recently founded tri-country sales company in May 2005, his job was anything but child’s play. Strong competitors dominated the market, which, although steady, is small in terms of population: 9.3 million in Sweden,
5.5 in Denmark, 4.8 in Norway – less than 20 million inhabitants in the three countries put together.
The Scandinavian trio of countries features another specific challenge: alongside
the chain stores, there are numerous independent retailers. ‘This posed huge
logistical tasks for us and pushes up the transport costs’ says Jan. The dimensions in Norway are especially vast: ‘If you take a map and turn Norway upside down from its most southerly point, you reach the edge of Sicily’, Jan explains.
On top of this, the price level in Scandinavia is traditionally inhomogeneous.
Norway is much more expensive these days than, for instance, Germany. Jan
illustrates the consequences of this: ‘At the moment, the Norwegians are shopping
in Sweden, the Swedish in Denmark and the Danish in Germany. We must achieve a more harmonised price level to be able to achieve growth in each country.’
Because Denmark, Sweden and Norway have kept their individual krona currencies, there is also a high currency risk. ‘As well as the euro, we are extremely reliant to the dollar rate’ says Jan Gustavsen, ‘because we do not have any production in Scandinavia; all our products are imported. And we pay for most of our imports in foreign currencies.’
Advertising also follows different guidelines to the rest of Europe. In Norway, there are no commercial children’s stations. Reaching children by TV advertising is difficult to impossible. This is the effect desired by politicians. And there are even plans to wipe out the line separating the genders in the toy sector, in keeping with Scandinavia’s well-advanced emancipation: plans are currently being made to introduce binding regulations against too distinctive, gender-specific representation of girls’ and boys’ toys.
Emancipation in Scandinavia is already
exemplary: the team at the Våle headquarters.
Jan therefore has a large quota of exciting tasks to overcome every day with his
15 employees from the Nordic headquarters in Våle near Oslo. But the passionate fly fisherman, who seems at least ten years younger, does not have any worry lines. After all, the sales figures have been rising constantly since 2005.
And there are some bright Northern Lights in the sky of the Scandinavian toy
market. For instance, the birth rate has increased constantly in recent years and
is now almost two children per woman in Norway. So there are plenty of future
toy fans on the way. This is partly a consequence of the exemplary support
provided to families by the state, which improved even further on 1st July this
year. A parent can have up to 47 weeks off work after the birth with a full salary
entitlement. Anyone who accepts a 20 percent reduction in their salary can even
draw a parental allowance for 57 weeks. Ten weeks of paternity leave, which cannot be transferred to the mother, have been lengthened to twelve weeks. Already today, more than 90 percent of all fathers take advantage of this entitlement.
The number of fathers who look after their children beyond this period is growing
and is currently 18 percent. Fathers therefore form strong bonds with their children
from birth onwards. This strengthening of the family and relieving the burden
on women is reflected in the ‘State of the World’s Mothers Report’ regularly
published by ‘Save the Children’. In the current rating, Norway comes in first
place of a total of 164 countries.
Always in contact with his target group: Jan Gustavsen in Stockholm old town.
Scandinavian parents are also setting
an example when it comes to their main
consumer habits: children’s toys are at the very top in investments. And, contrary
to the cliché, outdoor articles. The summer in Scandinavia is short, but intensive. From May to August everyone spends as much time outdoors as possible. A remarkably large number of convertibles are then taken out of garages and the sun and long nights are savoured. ‘We are very happy that we have had Smoby on board since 2008,’ says Jan, ‘this has stimulated sales in spring and summer considerably.’ A hit all year round is a famous convertible for kids: the BIG Bobby Car. Some 30,000 of these are sold in Sweden per year. 2011 even saw a special edition enter the running in Sweden in the national colours yellow and blue. With overwhelming success.
Licenced business is also becoming more and more important – especially Disney branded products. ‘America has had a particularly high influence on Norwegian society since the Marshall Plan aid after World War II,’ Jan explains. ‘And the English language is also extremely present. American films are always shown in original language with subtitles in Norway.’ This emotional proximity to the USA is why the Nordic manager has high hopes for the Cars’ 2 licensed products for this year’s Christmas business, which accounts for 60 percent of total annual sales.
The easygoing way in which people treat
each other in Norway is striking: like here
in the ‘Gulskogen Senter’ in Drammen.
Lena Hedö is considered one of the most profound experts on the Scandinavian toy market. The publisher of Swedish toy journal ‘Svensk Leksaks Revy’ and employee of the Swedish Toy Association ‘Leksaksbranschen’ reports another trend: ‘Shopping centres are currently on the up in Scandinavia. 30 percent of sales are already made in the large stores on the outskirts of cities.’ And this percentage is growing. Why? ‘Scandinavians are family people,’ says Lena Hedö, ‘they love the experience of shopping together. And in shopping centres you can do this even in the cold, bad weather and darkness – in other words all year round.’ The toy shops in these shopping malls are often more than 1000 square metres in size and offer product assortments in the range of 5000 articles and more.
The insider lists some further trends that will change the market in the medium
term: ‘The Internet is playing an increasing role when it comes to buying toys.
And the age of users of traditional toys is dropping worldwide.’ She has found
that children in Scandinavia too are increasingly moving on to other categories
like consumer electronics and fashion as early as seven years old.
Toys have been her world for five years: manager Monique Huisman in ‘Lekplaneten’ of the ‘Bromma’ shopping centre in Stockholm.
‘Innovations are therefore important,
but so are quality, sustainability and
good service,’ says Chief Procurement
Manager Anja Holm from the Nordic team. ‘With this recipe for success, Simba Dickie Nordic is hoping to achieve
growth in Norway, even more growth in Sweden and revolutionary growth in Denmark in sales figures in the next few years,’ in Anja’s words. The current ratio of 50 percent of sales in Norway, 40 percent in Sweden and ten percent in Denmark could therefore shift around. ‘We see a great deal of growth potential in Denmark especially’, says Anja Holm.
There is a popular saying in Scandinavia: it’s invented in Norway, produced in
Sweden, sold in Denmark. Which is supposed to mean that ideas and trends
are mostly born in Norway. If this is the case, the toy industry should prepare
for a green boom. ‘Sustainability and ecological awareness are influencing
purchase decisions more and more. And the topic is going to become even more
relevant in the future,’ Anja reveals. Jan Gustavsen is also thinking a lot about the
future. For example, when he’s waiting once again at a gate in Oslo, Stockholm
or Copenhagen Airport. His job requires him to commute between the three countries; he knows Scandinavia’s airports as well as he knows the toy business. ‘We don’t sell products, we sell concepts.’ This is his mantra, which you hear several times a day if you travel around with the agile manager. What he means is that it is not individual articles, but entire fantasy worlds that have to appeal to and fascinate both children and parents. These worlds of themes surrounding children’s heroes contain products from a wide range of categories and at various price levels. This philosophy has to be shared by retailers, so that it can be implemented properly. ‘The future is therefore in the shops,’ says Jan. He considers welltrained and imaginative sellers to be the most important investment in the future.
But if a fairy godmother were to appear and grant him one wish, what would it
be? Jan thinks about this for a moment. But it’s not a high-tech fly fishing rod or
even a company jet that is at the top of his wish list. ‘I still wish for attractive
concepts with an overarching philosophy,’ he says. And then he waves to a small
boy sitting across from him in the airport waiting room. ‘We love to make toys’
is the Simba Dickie Group slogan. Jan adds to this: ‘We love to sell toys.’ And
it would be hard to do this more passionately or any better than he and his Nordic team do.
The nicest way to explore Stockholm is from the water:
a view of Kastellholmen.