The Schäfer Group offers a wide spectrum of services and products for promoting companies: Everything is possible and individualisable – from the reconstruction of company premises with mini building blocks, through to brand-name earphones – in some cases even for order quantities of one single item.
Big Ben is stood next to the Eiffel Tower, the Brandenburg Gate next to the Colosseum, kangaroos are prancing around a beach chair and the whole scene is overtowered majestically by Cologne Cathedral. What initially seems like an abstruse daydream, is in fact reality in the showroom at the Schäfer Group’s headquarters, albeit in slightly smaller dimensions. Here, with a little bit of imagination, the visitors can pretend they are in the jungle, on a volcano and on a building site, all at the same time. Big Ben, the Eiffel Tower and all the other above-mentioned buildings are reconstructed here out of Brixies, a mini building block system, in miniature format. “I became acquainted with such mini building block systems while travelling through Asia and thought: These could be excellently implemented as promotional products, I would like to offer our customers something similar too,” commented Joachim Schäfer, founder of the Schäfer Group, which the Schäfer Toy Company that is responsible for the Brixies belongs to: “We hunted for a factory, developed our own tools and introduced the Brixies onto the market in 2015.”
The building block range comprises of over 300 standard construction kits, from Santas and vehicles, to all possible animals, through to the not extensively above-cited famous sights. The packaging of these standard construction kits can be customised in various ways, ranging from an own logo sticker, through to a totally individual design. As colourful and diversified as the building blocks may be, they only make up part of the wide-ranging portfolio of the group. The Schäfer Toy Company in particular was founded in 2007. Design and product development with the associated logistics make up the core business of the company, the corporate focus lies on the development and sales of own brands, such as for example the Brixies. Other companies belonging to the group are active in the airport retail business, develop store solutions for trading partners and transact inflight deals for renowned manufacturers, above all in the electronics and watches segment.
Engine room graphic department
In addition to the headquarters in Germany, Schäfer also maintains offices in Manchester, Hong Kong, Singapore, Peking, Hainan, Tokyo, Dubai and most recently in Miami. However, the heart of the group that is spread out over several continents beats at the company’s head office in Daufenbach, where over 40 employees, who together speak more than ten languages, are responsible for customer service, product development, warehousing and sales. 2,000 m² of warehouse space is available there. The product development and design department are more or less the left and right heart chambers of the group: “The graphic department is our engine room,” said Schäfer. Here, at the moment six graphic designers – it will soon be seven – work on among others the Brixies special designs, it is more or less manual labour: Based on photos, the graphic designers build the desired models out of the Brixies. To this end they use the building blocks that come in eleven different shapes and sizes that are made out of ABS plastic in 23 colours, including two transparent shades. The number of building blocks and where necessary the colours to be used is agreed upon with the customer, everything else is down to the eye, fine motor skills and designing abilities of the responsible graphic designer. This is also how the reconstruction of the own company premises, which is exhibited in the foyer, came about – which is incidentally totally true-to-detail right down to the green plants in the outdoor area and the small Japanese-style courtyard. In the case of famous sights or buildings one sees every day, it is already pretty tough in terms of dexterity, but the designers are really taxed when it comes down to creating custom-made designs.
“We actually only need photos as a basis, then our graphic designers can reconstruct items that are initially unusual for non-professionals like printing machines or special construction machines,” explained Schäfer. Since wheels and joints also belong to the Brixies universe, there is virtually nothing that can’t be realised. Once the model has been built and approved by the customer, the graphic department also takes care of the detailed step-for-step instructions for the DIY assembly, which are included in the construction kits. For minimum order quantities of 1,000 pieces, the Schäfer Toy Company offers complete custom-made designs, the packaging can also be completely individually designed on request too. In the case of these 3D puzzles, the levels of difficulty and the costs depend on the number of building blocks implemented. The fields of application are just as diversified as the building blocks themselves. For instance, the graphic department is currently working on figures comprising of between 30 and 50 blocks that are to serve as the filling for an Advent calendar. However, the company is particularly proud of its patented postcards:
“Mailings are still frequently simply thrown away after a few seconds so they don’t have much of an impact,” is how Schäfer explained the basic problem of how promoting companies can make their own mailings more interesting: “We offer small figures from the Brixies collection comprising of up to around 150 blocks as a construction kit as standard postcards that are suitable for dispatch.” Special designs are also possible here for minimum order quantities of 1,000 pieces, the standard collection can be individualised with logo stickers on the outside and text labels on the inside for order volumes of 100 pieces. “In this way, the recipients occupy themselves with a mailing for much longer, because it is unusual; they take it home with them and assemble it together with their children and ideally then place the finished model on their desks – where the logo of the promoting company is always in view,” is how Schäfer explained the promotional effect of the patented product: “Here we achieve a response rate of 67% among our customers.”
For en route
The portfolio of the sister company, Schäfer Promotion, also includes the Move concept with media, which address music lovers rather than DIY enthusiasts as well as very mobile target groups. Schäfer Promotion was established in 2002 and offers both consulting as well as the development, procurement, customising and production of promotional products for advertising media distributors. The company sells electronic products, including inter alia loudspeakers, earphones and power banks of brand manufacturers like Bang & Olufsen, JBL, Sennheiser and Sony under the brand Move. Move sells to private customers in airport stores, promotional products distributors can use online shops for their full-service customers. Integrating the offer into an existing premium shop is uncomplicated and is supported by the Schäfer Promotion’s team. Electronic products, which are suitable for instance as upper-class give-aways, high-quality premium items or as a special customer gifts, are good image carriers from promoting companies. In particular headphones and loudspeakers by JBL are interesting promotional products because they are on the one hand attractive in terms of price and on the other hand because they are brand products, with which promoting companies signalise their customers a high degree of appreciation, while at the same time serving as a discrete, but effective advertising measure, explained Schäfer: “One tends to be suspicious in the case of no-name products, whereas a brand product conveys a feeling of trust to the end user.” This is not only due to the fact that brand products simply imply higher quality, it is also got something to do with the product safety expectations: “Product safety is a sensitive issue especially in the promotional products segment – and as a rule one expects a high level of safety from brand products.”
It correspondingly has an impact on the perception of a promoting company whether the branded electronic device is a brand product of high-class appearance or a no-name device. “Cobranding, the placing of one’s own company logo next to the brand logo of the manufacturer, is a theme of growing significance within the promotional products and merchandising market, observed Schäfer. The headphones, loudspeakers and power banks sold under the Move concept in collaboration with the promotional products trade are all individualisable from one piece upwards and available from stock, since Schäfer Promotion has purchased a digital printing machine especially for the purpose. The in-house graphic department can also develop and coordinate the logos and other imprints together with the customers for this line of business, designs in Pantone shades are also realisable. Anyone, who thinks the creativity of the company must be gradually reaching its limits, should note: New ideas are already in the pipeline – they will be ready for examination at next year’s promotional products shows.
// Klara Walk
photos: Schäfer Unternehmensgruppe