The beginnings of Cartamundi date back to the 18th Century. Today, the group is one of the largest manufacturers of playing cards and games in the world and reaps success not only with pioneering technology, but also with innovations that stretch far beyond the realm of playing cards.
The Americans play Poker passionately with hearts, diamonds, clubs and spades, the same suits are used for the British game Bridge, the French game Rommé or the German card game Doppelkopf – even if the characters all have different names. In the Spanish game Chinchón, the cards bear swords, chalices, coins and staffs, whereas the Swiss have a hand of bells, roses, acorns and shields when playing Jass. Whatever card game is popular wherever in the world – the deck of cards were probably made by Cartamundi. The Latin name means “cards for the world” which is also exactly what the company does. After all, the firm from Turnhout in Belgium close to the Dutch border is one of the largest producers of playing cards and games worldwide. Cartamundi was founded in its present form in 1970 – as a joint venture between the three printing shops Brepols (founded in 1796), Van Genechten (founded in 1834) and Biermans (founded in 1875). All three companies looked back on a long tradition in the printing business, especially in the production of playing cards, an area Turnhout already played a key role in during the 19th Century. “In addition to searching for innovations, a further important part of our corporate culture is the awareness for traditions,” explained Marco van Haaften, International Marketing Director at Cartamundi. “Until this very day, the group is owned by founder families, who are additionally also all represented on the executive board.“ Within a short space of time, Cartamundi not only advanced into becoming one of the market leaders, but also into a global player. In the meantime, the group sells around 400 mil. cards and 50 mil. boxes of games a year, it earns a turnover of 340 mil. Euros and employees over 2,050 employees worldwide. Above all the acquisitions of the past years have contributed towards this rapid growth: For example, today the group has eleven production sites on four Continents. Cartamundi has purchased significant players in many of the respective markets – such as ASS Altenburger in Germany, AGM in Switzerland or Copag in Brazil – which have been operating under their own names ever since under the umbrella of the Cartamundi Group.
The latest acquisition was the purchase of the Hasbro production locations in the USA and Ireland at the end of 2015. Cartamundi has not only been making use of the production sites of the games giant since then, but also manufactures well-known Hasbro products such as Monopoly, Trivial Pursuit and Uno. As the holder of numerous licenses – including Disney, Pokémon, Minions or the Belgian “Red Devils“ – Cartamundi additional produces card and board games as well as collecting cards with the motifs of the licensers, which are sold in all three divisions of the group: The business area Games Manufacturing Services includes the production for Hasbro and further significant brands, including Mattel, Jumbo, Lego or Ravensburger. The Consumer Products unit is made up of the group’s own retail brands, finally the Promotional Services division is dedicated to the B2B business. Cartamundi has its own sales subsidiaries in 15 countries. “Not only the card motifs, but also the tastes differ from market to market. In addition to country-specific framework conditions,” explained Elfie Knapen, Vice President Promotional Services. “That is why we want to speak the respective native language in the respective country and understand the culture. The strategies and new services may be coordinated centrally, but the individual subsidiaries operate on their respective market autonomously.”
Printing competence and innovation
he international business not only comes together at the headquarters in Turnhout, where over 400 employees work, this is also where millions of decks of cards are printed annually. As at all of the Cartamundi factories, exclusively FSC-certified paper is used. Several offset printing machines and an ultra-modern digital production line are implemented. Not only innovative printing methods such as aroma or face-paint cards, metal or rainbow effects, relief printing, glitter or fluorescent customisations are possible, but also fast delivery for the smallest of order quantities. Highly-specialised machines sort and pack the finished decks and collecting cards. Thanks to this infrastructure, Cartamundi offers services and innovations that go far beyond the classics – playing cards with a branded design and individualised reverse side. Knapen cites an example: “MyCards allow advertising companies to integrate personalised cards into campaigns – i.e. for customer bonding purposes – and at the same time collect data and carry out market research. For instance, with the help of a code the customers can upload photos via an online platform and can have their individual card game delivered to their homes.”
It is also possible to invent one’s own game together with Cartamundi’s team of developers: “Depending on the budget and requirements, our offer ranges from quartets comprising of the customers’ products, through to completely new games with their own storyline and dynamics, whereby both card and board games can be designed. An own games mechanism is especially interesting for companies for whom a licensed product is too expensive,” explained van Haaften. Here, the creativity is not limited to the “analogue” world – keyword: Augmented Reality. The department called Cartamundi Digital that was founded in 2013 links up cards and board games with digital components in a fascinating way. For example, apps allow the cards to be read and added to digital collecting albums, integrated into video games or enable access to digital contents. “Today’s target group is more and more digitally oriented, which is why being present on the corresponding channels is obligatory for many brands in the meantime – a requirement that we satisfy with our hybrid products in manifold ways,” explained Knapen. “The great thing about it is, however, that the haptic product is still the centre of attention – because it is its playful aspect that makes our products such effective promotional products.” “Our motto is: ‘Sharing the magic of playing together‘,” added van Haaften. “We believe that playing is important. It keeps people young at heart and in contact with others.“ Incidentally, the latter is something that hasn’t changed since the beginning of the 18th Century.
// Till Barth
photos: Till Barth, ©WA Media (1); Cartamundi (2)
A detailed report about the Belgian promotional products market can be found here: Part 1.