Upon visiting local games and puzzles company, Thos Holdsworth & Sons, it is encouraging to find that Managing Director, Simon Holdsworth still holds such huge enthusiasm for his product range. One can't help making a cheeky analogy of Santa and his elves and like Santa, the company is firmly established in the psyche of the toy world. Beginning in the 1930s, Thos Holdsworth & Sons Ltd is the longest established company in the New Zealand toy industry.
"My grandfather, Thomas, began the company in the 1930s," Simon explains, "though the idea is accredited to my Uncle Alf. He was selling advertising to Whitcoulls at the time (then Whitcombe and Tombs). The advertising buyer, who doubled as the toy buyer, for Whitcoulls suggested my uncle turn his hand to making jigsaw puzzles because at that time they were all imported and the high duty made the cost of them prohibitive. So, an opportunity existed and that's how our company got going. The brothers bought some plywood and some print stock overruns from a calendar company; they laminated one to the other, cut it into jigsaws using a converted Singer Sewing Machine and delivered them to Whitcoulls."
From wooden jigsaws, the company moved into the manufacture of simple board games and while the emphasis on wooden puzzles changed to cardboard puzzles in the 1950's, the main focus of the Company has always been games and puzzles.
A family based business, upon Thomas' death in the early ‘50s, Simon's father and uncle took over the company. They passed it to current Directors, Simon and his brother Lewis in the 1980s and now, Simon's son, Tim, is the fourth generation of the family to join the team.
The company is firmly established as a leading toy manufacturer and distributor. An early participant in the export business, it distributes around 40 containers of product each year to Australia, throughout the Pacific and as far away as Singapore and Hong Kong. While manufacture still makes up the bulk of its income, there is a significant imported range that was enabled with the relinquishing of import licensing in the 1980s.
The Company represents most of the worlds leading children's licensed Characters, such as Barbie, Thomas, Ben 10, Dora, Disney, and Bob the Builder, particularly in its puzzle range. Interestingly, the main volume item is Adult Jigsaw Puzzles. The company offers the largest selection of adult puzzles in the New Zealand market.
The Wasgij series of puzzles have been hugely popular with the NZ public since the release of the first title in 1998. Since then there have been a total of 34 releases in the adult 1000 piece category plus a further 10 releases for children. We enjoy the highest per capita sales for Wasgij of any country. The concept is also a major export earner for the company.
Other major lines include the Thomas Wooden Railway Collectable Range for boys, and for girls, Sylvanian Families - a series of charming characters which offer a unique blend of traditional family life play incorporating houses, furniture and accessories, all with incredible detail. Airfix kitsets and modelling paints are still imported from the UK for enthusiasts; and children's crafts come in a variety of options.
There are also timeless classics like Snakes and Ladders, Ludo, Draughts, and Scrabble. "Some of these games are so implanted into our culture that they are considered timeless by consumers and there is a reliance on them always being around," says Simon.
"Most of our imported lines come out of Asia but we wouldn't dream of putting our own manufactured lines off shore," says Simon. "There may be a cost advantage, but it would probably compromise the quality sense and control we have over the manufacture. Whatever product we put on the market, it has to meet a minimum quality standard before we are interested in it."
"We get a lot of advanced warning of new characters and product lines through the trade press, by word of mouth or our licensing agents. We can't rely on children as a gauge, of course, because they normally find out about a product after its release. Everyone in the office will contribute their thoughts on a new character, so the key ingredient in working at Thos Holdsworth & Sons is to remain a child at heart."
(Sourced from the Official Newsletter of the Rosebank Business Association - Issue 43)