For years Beirut Lebanon has been blighted with internal strifes that have made war and conflict a part of everyday life. Yet amidst the conflict and violence, Billy Karam has managed to find a piece of serenity in his own world. For decades, Karam has collected almost 300,000 model cars and about 400 dioramas – a Guinness World Record in both categories. Two things have influenced him to build the collection he has today: his love for cars, as well as the theft of his first car collection during the Lebanese Civil War. At a very early age, his older brother instilled in him a love for cars. Growing up he and his older brother both collected cars, creating their first collection. Unfortunately for them, their collection would be maliciously stolen during the Lebanese Civil War, stirring in him an even greater need to recover his collection. Not knowing it at the time, this event was probably one of the most influential reasons he has broken two Guinness World Records today.
What makes Billy Karam’s car collection so much more special is what he creates with it. His dioramas not only showcase his toy car collection in fun and creative ways, they also document very important historic and personal events in his life. As a racer, he and his brother raced in countless events which Karam documents in his dioramas. Many of his pieces show moments of triumph and excitement that he immortalizes.
Even more impactful are his dioramas documenting the Lebanese Civil War, a long and bloody conflict that lasted fifteen difficult years. “ We are showing what happened in Lebanon, without taking sides, to show the new generation what happened, but without commenting… We are not proud of these wars, but is there a Lebanese who was not affected?”
Now much older, he and his brother still both share a love for racing cars, as well as collecting them. He races frequently abroad, while overseeing his Museum during his free time. “I don’t want to get old, I want to stay young, and this is a way of staying young. It’s a part of me that I don’t want to lose, so I can get the best of the whole world and put it in one place.” Don’t we all.
This year’s Black Friday fell a little short of optimal results for the toy industry. Retailers of various industries have been experiencing light traffic, and black friday was not an exception. So what is the fate of the toy industry in these final weeks of 2015?
NPD reported earlier this year that sales in the toy industry grew 6.5% in the first half of 2015, and thus will put 2015 in an overall sales growth of 6.2% after the holidays. Unfortunately, these figures don’t seem to be ringing true. According to bloomberg business, consumers are becoming more and more likely to spend money on experience and services rather than material things.
A possible foreshadowing of the toy industry’s success, was this year’s closing of FAO Schwarz and now the Times Square Toys R Us. After almost 15 years, Toys R Us of Times Square will not be renewing their lease come January 2016. CEO, David Brandon, says after seeing over a decade of challenges against big box stores such as Target and Walmart, the company had to re strategize. Thus, the cut back on their almost $2million a month location in Times Square.
Although numbers thus far aren’t promising there is still hope for this quarter. So what can retailers expect to see going forward this holiday season? Motion pictures, inevitably, will always increase toy sales, assuming there’s a product. The new Star Wars movie, set to be released December 18th comes at the perfect time. With Star Wars being the most anticipated movie of the year, retailers are positioning themselves for the fans that span across generations. Toy experts expect the Star Wars franchise to bring in between $1billion and $1.5billion to the toy industry this year.
Seeing as the first Star Wars movie was released in 1977 the spectrum of age within the Star Wars fanbase is like none other. While this holiday season there will likely be an overwhelming amount of new Star Wars fans there are still those fans of the 70s, and they too will be looking to collect the new Star Wars toys. Retailers across the industry are packing their shelves with merchandise and are already seeing great sales within the franchise. With over 100 licensees, including Hasbro, Legos and Spinmaster there is an abundance of choices in product for Star Wars fans.
While Black Friday has come and went there’s hope for the coming holiday weeks. Expectations for the success of the Star Wars franchise are immeasurable, but fortunately for the toy industry, likely attainable.
Very soon, a Target store near you will begin phasing out gender labeling for children’s toys. This roll-out will include Target’s home and entertainment sections as well. These days, concerns over appropriate gender identification has come to the forefront of discussion and critical analysis. For Target to set such a precedent at this crucial moment in history has rubbed some customers the wrong way. Customer support runs the gamut from apathetic to supportive and indignant.
In a statement released by Target, they claim,
We never want guests or their families to feel frustrated or limited by the way things are presented. Over the past year, guests have raised important questions about a handful of signs in our stores that offer product suggestions based on gender… we know that shopping preferences and needs change and, as guests have pointed out, in some departments like Toys, Home or Entertainment, suggesting products by gender is unnecessary.
While some customers don’t necessarily see the need in arguing against such a stance, others claim that removing gender labeling will make it difficult for them to navigate the store. The push to remove gender related labeling came to a head when an Ohio mother posted a photo on social media showing two different aisles dedicated to “Building Set” and “Girls’ Building Sets.” Like this mother, many failed to see any logical reasoning for such a distinction.
Comments relating to the matter range from the indifferent: “I don’t think it’s that big a deal. As a parent/grandparent I’ve never had to be told whether certain toys are for boys or girls. Parents buy what they want without being told what they should or shouldn’t buy.”
The pro: “Fifty years ago toys were more gender neutral than they are today. Back then toys were just toys and kids played with what they liked. By labeling toys as specifically for one gender or the other, we’re causing kids to feel shame and confusion when they like a toy designated for the opposite sex.”
And the con: “Yet another store in which I will never spend another dime.”
Today, any adult over the age of 18 is sure to remember their favorite childhood toys. A mental highlight reel would expose a few big names: Barbies, Toy Soldiers, Barrel of Monkeys, G.I. Joe figures, Polly Pockets – the list goes on and ranges from the stuffed and fluffed, to the complicated and creative. Among these gems, LEGOs easily present a case as one of the most memorable. These small, multi-colored, angular plastic pieces were used to make any child’s imagination come true.
LEGOs allowed kids to build the highest towers, most majestic castles, simple suburban homes, or even replica buildings from their favorite flicks. Much in the same vein were Lincoln Logs and K’NEX. Never gaining quite the same popularity as the LEGO, K’NEX and Lincoln Logs allows children to be just as creative. What was it that set these three mediums apart, what made the LEGO in particular so popular, and how, after all these years, have these toys maintained a position in childhood play?
Lincoln Logs: The National Toy Hall of Fame-r
Lincoln Logs, the oldest of the three, are notched, miniature logs that emulate the design of a log cabin. Connecting to one another, the logs are typically used to build symmetrical structures in rectangular formations. The logs are three quarters of an inch long and approximately two centimeters in diameter. Additional toy parts can be purchased to construct roof tops, chimneys, windows, and doors. John Lloyd Wright designed the toy in 1916 with the help of his father, modeling it after the Imperial Hotel in Japan. Today, the toy sets and brand are currently sold under the K’NEX distribution label. After years of success, Lincoln Logs were inducted into the National Toy Hall of Fame in 1999, and continue to be popular with parents and childcare organizations around the country. The K’NEX website currently posts that for the first time in 50 years, Lincoln logs are now made in the USA with a combination of plastic and 100% real wood parts – “just like you remember!”
Lincoln Log Cabin with Soldier
The Lincoln Logs appeal is heavily tied to its WWI origins, and patriotic nod to former president Abraham Lincoln. Because of this, the toy sets continue to sell old fashion designs such as “Wolf’s Lodge,” “Mountaintop Hideout,” “Colt’s Creek Command Post,” and “Frosty Falls Ranch.” The allusions to old-timey America keep the Lincoln Log tradition alive; however, the apparent disconnect with 20th and 21st century youth is apparent. This, combined with conspicuous simplicity in design gave way to the colorful, Denmark based LEGO brand by the 1950s.
Today, LEGO generates billions of dollars in revenue, employs over 11,700 people, and is a worldwide household brand. The company has released extravagant themed sets containing any number of colors, piece, shapes, and figurines imaginable. Some of the most coveted sets include: Architecture, Bionicle, City, Super Heroes (DC & Marvel Comics), Pirates, Minecraft, and the list goes on. Children have the opportunity to build practically anything simply with LEGO pieces. Interestingly enough, even though The LEGO Group had already successfully dominated the construction toy market, K’NEX joined the competition in the early 90s, offering children a different approach to building their dream structures.
K’NEX: The Educational Tool
K’NEX Roller Coaster
K’NEX, and its entire toy system, can be credited to Joel Glickman. The toys were introduced to the U.S. in 1992, and currently fall under the umbrella group, K’NEX Industries Inc. “Building Worlds Kids Love,” and “The K’NEX Big Thing,” are the two (very 90s sounding) K’NEX slogans. Unlike Lincoln Logs or LEGOs, K’NEX relied on a flexible plastic rod and gear design. Children could use these rods, gears, wheels, and connectors to build more abstraction objects such as race cars, bridges, animals, or amusement parks. Unlike the inflexible designs of Lincoln Logs and LEGOs, K’NEX aimed to appeal to older children from ages 5 to 12, providing them with complex, fun designs. Because of this, K’NEX were often used in educational setting to represent 3D DNA models, simple machines, or basic geometry. Even the K’NEX website has a dedicated “K’NEX Education” section. For this reason, K’NEX still survives today, ranging from basic $10 kits to $1000 luxury, full-scale designs. However, LEGO has somehow retained its dominance over the brand.
The first reason for LEGO’s dominance could be explained in the following way: LEGO has become an iconic brand to such a point that the pieces are no longer being used simply as toys, but also a means to create and design other forms of art by adults. From designer bags to social commentary, LEGOs have been used to create masterpieces. In addition to this, LEGO introduced the first LEGOland, a family-oriented theme park, in Billund, Denmark in 1968. Ever since, LEGOland has expanded to other parts of Europe, North America, and Asia. There’s even a LEGO Digital Designer that helps you create virtual plan before constructing in real life.
LEGO: The Cream of the Crop
LEGO transcends the realm of “children’s” toys and extends into the general world of art. Furthermore, LEGOs have entered into the world of pop culture via video game and cinema. The 2014 LEGO movie was extremely well received and particularly impressive with an IMDb rating of 7.8 and an Oscar nomination. The LEGO Movie, directed and co-written by Phil Lord and Christopher Miller, features some of Hollywood’s biggest celebrities as voice actors, including: Chris Pratt, Will Ferrell, Elizabeth Banks, Will Arnett, Nick Offerman, Alison Brie, Charlie Day, Liam Neeson, and Morgan Freeman. The film was a huge success, grossing $257 million in North America and $210 million in other territories for a worldwide. A sequel is scheduled for May 18, 2018.
Lincoln Logs and K’NEX have safely remained in a niche sphere of child development, created a natural distance in playing field between them and the mighty brand of LEGO. However, all small differentiating details aside, it’s safe to say that Lincoln Logs, K’NEX, and LEGOs have a special place in our hearts. Children from generations past and generations to come have the opportunity to use these tools to build some of the best structures their minds can imagine. And for that, we have to appreciate the years of service these tools have provided.