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Return of the legendary Igráček

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Igráček plastic action figures are likely to come back in the spring of next year. Toy manufacturer Efko wants to launch production of the once ubiquitous toy in cooperation with the trading company All Toys, which bought the bankrupt producer of Igráček figures, the Prague-based cooperative Igra, last year.

The company will present the reborn Igráček at the February toy fair in Nuremberg and start distributing the toy to stores immediately thereafter.

“We developed new accessories and produced mock-ups and samples. Now we are ordering moulds which we will use to produce the toys,” Efko executive Miroslav Kotík told HN.

The toy figure itself will remain unchanged but will be equipped with new tools. The new sets should come with various pieces of furniture and environments that will allow for broader use of the toy. Efko, which plans to invest more than CZK 10 million in resuscitating the Igráček, wants to come up with new professions for the famous little worker.

Before the plastic figures appear on the market, Efko will have to resolve a problem concerning the Igráček trademark, which has been registered by another party. “It irritates me. It means complications for us, but we simply want to produce,” said Jaroslav Novozámský, owner of All Toys.

Igráček was introduced in 1976 by designers Jiří Kalina and Marie Krejchová. Unflattering rumour says they found their inspiration in then-West Germany, where the Geobra company had been selling a similar figure as part of its Playmobil system for three years already.

The first Igráček was a bricklayer. In the beginning, all models were manual labourers – soon came a builder, a cook, and a street cleaner. Until the late 1980s, roughly five new professions were introduced every year. The toy figure gradually also started to care for patients, look after the order of society, and pursue motorcycle and auto racing.

Toys under ideological supervision
The figures were always 8 centimetres long and came in a variety of colours, with diverse headgear and tools. A cosmetic change came in the 1990s, when noses were added the faces.

“Igráčeks meant a reliable business. We knew that when we came up with a new set, we would sell hundreds of thousands of pieces. But since the figures only made up a part of Igra’s portfolio, we did not have sufficient capacity for new moulds. And each new mould (for each new profession) required an investment of CZK 150,000,” said Oldřich Mašek, former head of the Igra cooperative.

The manufacturer of the relatively apolitical toy even had to explain its plans to an ideological commission in the 1980s. The commission did not like logos of western petrochemical concerns, just as Shell, which appeared on an Igráček car. “We produced a series with no printing, but the following one included printing again. And we did not hear from the commission any longer,” said Mašek.

At the peak of Igráček mania, Igra, which also manufactured dolls and toy cars and trains, employed roughly 900 people. The cooperative, which emerged in the 1950s in a merger of roughly 15 small toy producers, made profits all the time, said Mašek. It only subsidised its musical instruments repair unit.

The moulding unit for the plastic figures was in Mnichovice, central Bohemia. The production involved a great deal of manual work because the assembly of the components was mostly done by homeworkers. “The plastic mouldings were delivered to them and after a week a lorry arrived to pick up finished Igráčeks. This method was much more efficient for us than using assembly line production,” Mašek said.

The company exported the toys to socialist countries. France expressed interest in Igráček as well, but Igra met resistance from toymaker Playmobil. “Playmobil had an assembly model registered that was very similar to ours. Igra designers only had a protected design for the toy issued by our authorities. So French children could forget about Igráčeks,” said Mašek.

Twilight of the Igráček
After the Velvet Revolution, the invasion of cheap toys from China, which were largely unavailable until that time, caused Igra sales to fall steeply. The cooperative also paid for the end of state-run socialist retail networks and of the traditional Prior department stores, where management had little concern for distribution. “We had to establish new contacts. Many stores became independent and decided to import Chinese goods instead,” Mašek said.

Another blow came with the government-ordered transformation of cooperatives, within which every member of a cooperative had to receive a stake as part of settlement. It turned out that it was impossible for Igra to pay off all members to comply with the law.

“We made mistakes when quantifying the assets based on which individual stakes were calculated. For example, the cooperative had inventories worth CZK 20 million, which however were a write-off. It involved packaging for toys that we no longer produced. Dissatisfied members started filing lawsuits against the cooperative, which ended up in bankruptcy,” said Mašek.

Last year, Mašek founded the company Igra Toys, which continues to produce toy cars. At the same time, he assembles Igráčeks from inventory he acquired from the cooperative and sells the toy figures in a former Igra outlet.

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