Dusseldorf It was the moment that changed everything – when Patric Faßbender placed the little dog from the comic “Tintin” on a small box. “Eureka,” thought the family man – that should be it.
His solution to the problem of all the scratched CDs that were spread out in the nursery was a square box with an edge length of twelve centimeters plus a toy figure. The very first Toniebox that Faßbender designed on that day in April 2013 was only missing one key aspect: it was silent.
Today’s tonie boxes hardly differ in design from their prototypes. But they can play radio plays or music – simply by placing the heroes of the stories on the stage of the box.
“Struppi” got company: the Düsseldorf company “Boxine” has the Sandmann, Benjamin Blümchen and many other figures in its range. The box knows which title it should play via a chip in the figure. To do this, it only needs to be connected to the WLAN the first time it is switched on and when a new figure is started up.
Patric Faßbender was so enthusiastic about his idea himself that he gave up his work in an advertising agency to devote himself entirely to the tonie boxes. He found the right partner for his project in Marcus Stahl, whom he knew from a joint kindergarten project. Stahl was an engineer Nokia Expert on the technical and financial side. He was so fascinated by the idea that he quit his job to become a children’s toy manufacturer.
The team managed to convince investors quite quickly. But the most important thing for success was the opinion of the little ones. “When I showed my son the box for the first time, he thought Lars the polar bear would tell him the story himself,” recalls Marcus Stahl. It was clear that the concept could exist before the children’s critical eyes and ears.
The duo has now grown into a medium-sized company with 157 employees. Boxine was Germany’s fastest growing toy supplier in 2019. 1.5 million of the colorful boxes and 15 million play figures have been sold so far.
The small radio play boxes are not only found in German children’s rooms, the company is now also active in Austria, Switzerland, Great Britain and Ireland. The big step across the Atlantic should follow in the fall: “We want to be in stores in September in the USA so that we can take the Christmas business with us,” says Marcus Stahl. For this it was important to adapt the content and marketing to the local ideas of children and parents.
Disney as a cooperation partner
Nobody knows Benjamin Blümchen or the robber Hotzenplotz in the USA. In order to reach the children’s hearts there, a large cooperation partner had to be brought on board: Disney. To be able to use characters and stories of others, Boxine has to negotiate with authors, buy licenses and agree on revenue sharing every time. Now there is also Aladdin or the heroes of the “Toy Story” as sound carriers – and further characters are planned.
Parents in the UK and the US can be convinced by one argument: the missing screen. In contrast to the flickering pictures, which have a negative impact on children’s attention spans, the tonie boxes are said to be beneficial for development: “Listening stimulates the imagination,” says Patric Faßbender.
The founders are also thinking about a Toniebox for adults, but this is a complex project for the far future. “Many seniors and Parkinson’s patients are already using the tonie boxes,” says Patric Fassbender. They are so easy to use that even people with limited motor skills can handle it. But they don’t have to be limited to the little prince and the jungle book. “Our creative tones can also be played with your own content,” explains Faßbender.
After 103 million euros last year, Stahl and Faßbender want to generate between 140 and 150 million euros in sales in 2020. Since the Heureka moment in Fassbender’s studio, the Tonies have become an audible success story in the literal sense. The fathers Faßbender and Stahl think it is important: “We do not want to replace the good old reading aloud – because in the end nothing comes of it.” Not even their own invention.
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