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Interview: Past and Present Směr Toys Directors

Published on December 10th, 2015 in Interviews

  • Vintage SMĚR Catalogue Cover

  • Vintage SMĚR Catalogue Cover

  • Page from vintage SMĚR pamphlet

  • Page from vintage SMĚR pamphlet

  • SMĚR deep sea diver - product insert

  • Page from vintage SMĚR Catalogue

  • Page from vintage SMĚR Catalogue

  • Page from vintage SMĚR Catalogue

  • Hat, Whoops! (Kloboučku, hop!), Vintage game (photo courtesy of www.fler.cz)

 

Founded in 1952, Směr is a Czech manufacturer of toys and plastic products that still produces durable designworthy toys many Czechs remember with great nostalgia. From now through January 31, 2016, ARTĚL is hosting a Směr Toy Retrospective at our Concept Store on Platnéřská 7
 

At the opening of our exhibit I had the opportunity to meet the current director of Směr, Ing. Čestmír Suchý, who has worked at the company for 35 years. I thought it would be fun to conduct an interview with him, as well as his colleagues former director Pavel Malý, now retired, and manager of toys Michal Štrobl.

 

 

  

ARTĚL's Směr Toy Retrospective 

 

 
Thanks to all of them for sharing a wealth of knowledge and insider information about Směr with me in this interview:

 

 

KF: I have been a fan of Směr ever since I came to the Czech Republic in 1994 and first spotted your toys in Bílá Labuť. Were you a fan of Směr toys when you started working there?

ČS: To be honest, I did not know anything about Směr back then. I was 25, I did not have any children and I had completely different interests. The only thing I liked about it then was that the items had very funny names like the “eye of a toadstool” (oko mochomůrka) toy or the game called “Fleas” (blechy) which is the Czech Tiddly Winks.

 

 

KF: You have worked for Směr for 35 years and you are now director. What was your first job when you started working there? How has the company changed and evolved over the years?

ČS: The first job I had was a buyer. I got angry at the interview, because I was asked about my parents who were both journalists excluded from the communist party with working-class jobs. I found out later that it was the reason I was hired! 
 

Up until the end of the ’80s, the company was not only involved in making toys but milk packaging (yes, milk was sold in plastic bags, a dreadful memory) and many other things. In the early 90’s we began to focus exclusively on toys and plastic materials. We had more success with our aircraft models than toys and started to expand our production of plastic components for this industry. That allowed us to stabilize and continue making toys and models. 

 

  

  

L-R:  The Bakelite scale (Automatická váha)Bakelite plane (proudový letoun s balonkem) and deep sea diver (Potápěč) - on display at ARTĚL's Směr Toy Retrospective

 

 

KF: You noted at the opening that when you grew up you had several of the Směr toys featured in our retrospective. The Bakelite scale (Automatická váha), the Bakelite plane (proudový letoun s balonkem) with balloon engine, as well as the deep sea diver (Potápěč). Which was your favorite?

ČS: Well, it’s been many years now, but I think my sister, cousins, and I used to play with the scale the most. 

 

 

KF: At the opening you noted that the hospital bed, one of my personal favorite pieces, was not a successful product for Směr. What were and are the most successful products?

ČS: I think the football (fotbal) game, which has been produced since the ’60s has the longest history. In the last 16 years the second most popular has been the game Hat, Whoops! (Kloboučku, hop!) The Roloped baby bike is a very successful product, so are the bath toys, pyramids and, our boats.

 

 

  

Left: Směr's hospital bed - on display at  ARTĚL's Směr Toy Retrospective  |  Right: Směr's fotbal game

 

 

KF: Which Czech toy company was, or currently is, your biggest competitor?

PM: There was really no competition during the communist era. There was a shortage of anything, especially the consumer goods, and that led to a situation where all the companies that produced plastic toys divided “spheres of interests” among themselves, and no one made toys that would belong to somebody else’s sphere. Rivalries were mainly caused by who got the best materials, artists, mechanics, etc. In those categories, our biggest rival was Igra, as they were from the same region. After the Velvet Revolution, all of these companies, apart from Směr, stopped producing toys. 

 

 

KF: Every company has a golden era, when they create their most iconic products. What would you say were the golden years for Směr and why?

PM: The golden era of Směr, in my opinion, were the ’60s. The company decided to invest in its first plastic processing machine and started to cooperate with many talented artists like Kubašta, Konečný (a.k.a. Bimbo), and Kardaus. We also had a few very good designers. Směr’s most successful product of all time, Hříbek the piggybank, came out of this era. 

 

 

KF: Have any famous Czechs ever mentioned you, nostalgically, how they had a certain piece when they were a kid? 

ČS: I once saw a travelogue about South America and was pleasantly surprised that each of the parts were introduced by our fishing boat!

 

 

Vintage Směr pamphlet - Toys were not the only things on offer!  

 

 

KF: Do a lot of people buy your toys due to their price point or rather the nostalgia factor?

: I think that the people buying our toys presently are those who used to play with them when they were young, and now have their own children. Also grandparents buy them for their grandchildren. I suppose it’s equally nostalgia and the price point. And also the fact that people know the products to be good quality items with long history and tradition.  

 

 

KF: Is there anything new and exciting in development? How do you keep your classic toys appealing to the modern market?

: We would like to create a new version of the baby bounce bike that the customers could put together themselves using a building kit. Unfortunately, we have not yet found the right material that would pass the safety test. We are also introducing new old-school airplane models from the original Czech company Kovozávody Prostějov.  

 

 

KF: Has your design sensibility changed throughout the years? 

ČS: Stricter health and safety regulations have meant that we discard many long-selling toys that had small, easily detachable parts that children could swallow. Our toys in the shapes of animals have new saftey covers for their eyes made out of polycarbonate. 

 

 

Vintage Směr pamphlet

  

 

KF: Czech design has become very popular of late. Do you export and has there been any interest in your toys internationally?

: We export segments for models all over the world. Out of the toys, the most exported product is the Roloped, which is very popular in Belgium, The Netherlands, and France. 

 

 

KF: Have you ever been contacted to provide set pieces for photos shoots or films? 

PM: Many of our toys were in movies. The ones for small children would be spread around the playgrounds. Some of our car models would turn up in collector display cases, and the kazoo has been even played in a movie.

 

 

KF: Who are your most centrally located stockists in Prague with the greatest selection?

: Hugo chodí bos who have, thanks to their owner, Mrs. Kantůrková, all of our products, and also the big toy stores Pompo and Bambule

 

 

KF: Have sales increased due to the huge surge in nostalgia for products from this era?

: Sales have definitely increased, but not only because of the popularity of retro but also thanks to the fact that people overall have started getting back to the good old things they know and trust. In a way, the market has become overstocked with new items and customers do not know what to buy anymore. 

 

 

 

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