Creative product development and true to life representation paired with a high quality demand and fair working conditions ensure that Trigon as the European subsidiary of the cuddly toy brand, Semo, not only makes a popular appearance in children’s bedrooms, but also in souvenir shops and promotion campaigns.
Whereas in the wild the fox chases the hare, the lion kills the gazelle and the owl catches the mouse, at Trigon the animal world is still in order. Small and big wild creatures join ranks in the recently renovated showroom of the company based in Viersen, Germany – but this peace is only possible, because they are cuddly versions of the natural species. Trigon, as the German representative of the brand Semo, provides the European toy, merchandising and promotional products market with over 500 cuddly characters, including numerous exotic animals such as snow leopards, sloths, bush babies, wombats, sugar gliders, gerbils, gibbons, squirrel monkeys or slow loris, a species of primates native to South Asia. What they all have in common is their high quality design, fabrics and workmanship. The customers can not only take for granted the fact that the European toy guidelines are observed and that regular quality control tests are carried out, at Semo corporate safety and human working conditions in the production sites also take top priority. “We have been making the brand Semo tangible and experienceable in Europe for 38 years,” summed up Peter Fuchs, CEO of the location in Viersen that has a headcount of six employees. “We concentrate on two core areas. On the one hand we provide zoos and animal parks throughout Europe with our wide range of cuddly toys. On the other hand we produce custom-made designs. There are overlaps here if zoos would like to offer their own mascot as a cuddly toy or when promoting companies use standard items with easily implementable customising details.”
Fuchs has been working for Trigon for 27 years and he began his career as a student assistant in the EDP department. After completing a degree in Economics, he moved into the sales business. Semo has its roots in Korea, the headquarters of the parent company and former centre of high-quality textile production and cuddly toy manufacturing. When the office and warehouse space of the Düsseldorf subsidiary became too small at the beginning of the 1990s, one decided to relocate to the convenient location in Viersen, where the company is still based today. In 2016 the company was completely renovated and ergonomic workplaces, larger warehouse capacities and a modern-day design samples room were built. In the cuddly toy segment it acts largely independently from the Korean parent company, which concentrates on other business units, i.e. importing organic food “made in Germany, Austria or Switzerland”. The main production sites are no longer located in Korea either, but indeed in Vietnam. For model development purposes, Fuchs travels to the factory in Vietnam that has been producing Semo items for decades already. “It is not easy to find suppliers that satisfy our high demands, which is why this long-standing partnership is extremely valuable to us and we have total trust in the design team and the production,” commented Fuchs. Furthermore the CEO has been working with different Chinese suppliers and travels to the Far East four to five times a year in total.
Whereas several fellow competitors exclusively implement toys made of polyester plush, Fuchs and his team weigh up for every new model with which synthetic fibres the best result can be achieved. They often opt for the rather more costly polyacrylic material. Both artificial fibres excel in terms of their dimensional stability, tear resistance and durability, however polyester plush offers less leeway in terms of the length, opaqueness, form and colours. “For example, short pile polyester plush is ideal for the head of a figure. It lends the cuddly toy version of children’s film characters or association mascots particularly detailed face features,” explained Fuchs. “What’s more, in the promotional products area polyester plush is a favourably-priced alternative for the implementation of company logos or simple characters. However, when it comes down to creating wiry structures such as that of a wild boar, the mottled coloured feathers of an owl for instance or a dense coat such as a lion’s mane as naturally as possible, we fall back on polyacrylic. This artificial fibre is also our first choice when we work with sprays to add a little more life to the finished figures in the form of more colours.”
Last year Trigon launched a new premium edition which combines high-quality polyacrylic plush with particularly true-to-nature designs and complex patterns. Fuchs: “We have quite consciously created a series that is not oriented on the price wars, but which instead offers added value through the implementation of highquality materials and which has fortunately been very well accepted on the market. At the same time, however the development of high-quality polyester materials continues to increase so that we can produce several of our animal series in this material with a good conscious.” Finally, since Trigon offers several of the most common cuddly toys in both a polyacrylic and polyester version, ultimately the customers decide themselves which they prefer.
From the initial idea to the finished product
Trigon presented over 70 novelties in 2017, around 50 new models are planned for the coming year. The designers mostly use pictures of animals as the draft, which are used to study the posture, proportions and colours in order to be able to create figures that are as life-like as possible. The claim of producing items that are as similar to the original as possible is not only true for the items of Trigon’s standard programme of the Semo brand, but also for special designs for the promotional products market. Thanks to many years of experience in the development of models, a photo or drawing is often all the designers need to create individual plush animals. For example, in 2005 the electronic brand, Blaupunkt, launched a cheeky TV spot on the music channel MTV where under the motto “The advantage of your car” the vibrating loudspeakers in the rear of the car aroused a plush hare and a plush bear to make love. Due to the many positive reactions to the advertising clip, Blaupunkt decided to also implement Bunny and Benny for sales promotion purposes at the POS. Trigon received the order because the cuddly toy specialists turned the two animated characters that had only been in view for a few seconds in the TV ad into really popular figures within the shortest space of time. Fuchs: “Even if the Blaupunkt campaign lies a few years back now, it is still always a good example of the accurate work of our designers and of how plush items can be integrated into promotion campaigns in a viable way without children actually belonging to the main target group.” The customers can order own developments for a minimum order quantity of 1,500 pieces. For small figures that are no bigger than 15 cm the minimum order volume is at least 3,000 pieces. Figures that, considering the elaborate production process, appear to be more than justified.
If the priority is on the true-to-detail implementations and there is no time pressure, the cuddly toy developers additionally work with clay models. The sculptures help them to depict the traits and characteristics of a figure more accurately in the pattern. Once the pattern is ready, a paper template is created for each element. Based on this blueprint the material department orders the plush fabric, filling – mostly polyester fibre or plastic granules – as well as the small parts such as eyes, noses and whiskers. “For models with many different coloured small areas this proves to be a great challenge because all of the suppliers work with specific minimum order quantities. Here we have to calculate exactly so that we can ensure that we obtain the best priceperformance ratio for our customers,” stated Fuchs. As soon as all of the materials have arrived the individual plush elements are punched out or cut out per laser and subsequently sewn together. Special sewing teams are responsible for sensitive areas such as the head, who work out the face and traits of the figures exactly and apply the last touch using coloured sprays. Finally the employees sew the head and the bodies together, provide the toy with a cuddly interior using the corresponding filling material and add the final polish using fine brush strokes.
Quality and safety controls are firmly anchored into the production process. For instance among others it is checked several times using metal detectors that no broken needles have landed inside the plush animals. Traction machines check the strength of the seams as well as that of the attached small parts and labels. Furthermore, random checks are carried out both on-site as well as in Germany at recognised testing institutions. Fuchs: “The European toy guidelines are extremely strict and complex. We have been a member of the German Toy Association for many years and regularly visit training sessions on quality safety and management that the association offers to make sure we always remain up-to-date. Our partners in Asia also occupy themselves intensively with the European guidelines and integrate them into their production processes. When selecting our producers and suppliers one of the priorities is that they show understanding for the complex regulations and the seamless observance thereof. Because nothing can be more detrimental to our business and for our customers than a product that is not fit for the market. There is nothing more expensive than a cuddly toy that is too cheap.” Certifications on social working conditions are a further prerequisite. Trigon exclusively works together with factories and production sites that abide by the guidelines of the ICTI (International Council of Toy Industries) and BSCI (Business Social Compliance Initiative) and considers it an obligation to its customers and the society to make sure these social principles are complied with.
Popular beastly figures
Thanks to its high degree of safety and quality awareness as well as the large assortment of species among Semo’s collection, Trigon supplies zoos and animal parks with the fitting haptic messengers for own merchandising concepts. Thanks to platypuses, chipmunks, iguanas, poison dart frogs, manta rays, cockatoos and bald eagles, the souvenir shops of the zoos become a point of contact for the visitors beyond the customary cuddly classics such as bears, lions and tigers. The standard items are customised with individually imprintable labels, sewn-on patches or customisable accessories like T-shirts, caps, scarves and bibs. Up until now the items were customised in the Far East and picked and packed at the location in Viersen. However, in future an own machine park is to be built which will not only allow the company to react faster to individualising requests, but will also have a positive influence on the current minimum order quantities of 500 pieces. In Spain, Portugal, Greece, Poland and the Benelux countries, supplying zoo shops is taken care of by Semo general agencies. Further countries as well as the promotional products trade are served by the office in Viersen. For instance when Leipzig Zoo learnt that it is going to be the only animal park in Europe that keeps a rare long-nosed omnivore called the macrotis in the future, Trigon received the order of creating a plush animal version. Next year the cuddly, exotic “Bilby” – as the animal is called in Australia, its native country – is to promote Leipzig Zoo and arouse awareness for this endangered species.
But not only companies from animal environments rely on promotional products with a cuddly factor to gain popularity among their target group: Gizeh, a German company for smoker’s supplies implements a different Semo plush animal every year as a high-quality give-away. The promotional products that are customised with a discrete sewn-in label are among others distributed to visitors at the exhibition stands of shows. A mineral water manufacturer, which regularly organises bonus campaigns with shy forest inhabitants like wolves and lynxes, also falls back on the existing line-up. Trigon normally takes two weeks for an initial draft of a model. Depending on the amount and extent of the desired changes, the development of a prototype can however take much longer. Customers should calculate four months until the delivery for special designs. Whether cuddly promotional products from the standard collection, custom-made mascots or company logos made of plush – Trigon has long since not just been conquering children’s’ hearts with their friendly promotional products, but has also been providing adults with plenty of material for long-lasting customer loyalty.
// Jasmin Oberdorfer
photos: Jasmin Oberdorfer, © WA Media (1); Trigon Deutschland GmbH (3)