LEGO KidsFest in Connecticut This Weekend, State Experiences Company’s Growth, Strength

There’s no mistaking the popularity of LEGO.  The colorful bricks are ever-present in playrooms, bedrooms, and under couch cushions everywhere.  The passion for the colorful bricks will be on display this weekend (Dec. 6-8, 2013)  in Connecticut when the LEGO Kidsfest returns to the Connecticut Convention Center in Hartford for a weekend of creativity and construction, concluding the year’s six-city tour, and the first time it’s been back in Connecticut in two years.  (Tickets for Saturday are already sold out, with limited availabilities for Friday and Sunday sessions. )KidsFest

Beyond this weekend’s event, the Connecticut connections to LEGO may be surprising.

The LEGO KidsFest is a nationally-traveling giant LEGO expo held over three days and filled with interactive, creative and educational activities for the whole family. Connecticut is central to the LEGO universe.  LEGO Systems, Inc. is the North American division of The LEGO Group, a privately-held, family-owned company based in Billund, Denmark, one of the world’s leading manufacturers of creatively educational play materials for children.  The LEGO Kidsfest, however, is produced by LIFE Marketing and Events, located in West Hartford.

LEGO floorAt each tour stop, the LEGO KidsFest partners with national and local organizations and businesses whose products, services and promotional efforts are kid-friendly and beneficial to attendees. Next year, the tour will again run in seven cities: North Carolina: February 28–March 2;  Michigan: April 25–27;  Alberta, Canada: May 16–18;  Georgia: June 27–29;  Texas: August 29–31;  Virginia: October 3–5; and Indiana: November 7–9.  In 2011, the KidsFest was held in five cities, and has steadily grown in popularity.  Sellouts have been regular occurrences throughout 2013.

In the new book “Brick by Brick:  How Lego Rewrote the Rules of Innovation and Conquered the Global Toy Industry,” published by Crown Business division of Random House, author David C. Robertson points out that Lego “is driven by two desires.  The first is to inspire imaginative play and creative expression in as many kids and kids-at-heart as possible, in as many ways as possible.”  The second is to out-innovate every company it comes up against.”

The book, which explores Lego’s resurgence from near oblivion over the past two decBrickbyBrickades, outlines the company’s trials, tribulations (including near-bankruptcy in 2003), innovations and success, observing that “The LEGO Group’s leaders believe that to discover the next big growth opportunity, the company must adhere to a fundamental truth about innovation:  the more experiments you launch, the more likely it is that one will strike gold.”   KIdsFest is but one example.

The company is also expanding is footprint in Connecticut, having announced earlier this year that it was leasing an additional 80,198 square feet in the Enfield Business Park.  The company eventually plans to add more than 200 employees.

“We have about 600 employees in Enfield currently, and the space will provide desks for an additional 250 — not all of whom will be hired immediately,” Michael McNally, Lego’s brand manager said in April. The company in 2011 started to reconfigure its former manufacturing space into administrative offices. The building houses workers in finance, human resources, information technology, consumer services, direct-to-consumer retail, as well as Lego Master Builders.

revenue-net-profit_chartbuilderLast month, it was reported that LEGO, already the second-biggest toy maker in the world, after Mattel, is continuing its expansion. In 2014, it will go from having one global headquarters, in Denmark, to five. The company is expanding its offices in London, Singapore, Shanghai and Enfield, Connecticut to form a network of global hubs.

The globe depicted on the cover of Robertson’s book, made of LEGO bricks, of course, is a fitting representation of the company’s growth – with Connecticut playing a noteworthy role.

Traditional DUPLO Wins Award as LEGO Expands to New Products, Classrooms and Girls

At a time when LEGO, with North American headquarters in Enfield, is rolling out new themed products, enduring criticism for its increasing commercial tie-ins, expanding classroom connections, rebounding strongly from diminished sales, and launching new lines targeting girls, the company’s very basic DUPLO line for young children is winning new praise. Faculty and student researchers at Eastern Connecticut State University have named the company’s DUPLO bricks as the 2012 TIMPANI Toy (Toys That Inspire Mindful Play and Nurture Imagination). DUPLO bricks are colorful, plastic, interlocking building bricks.  Parents and teachers know them as a larger version of the popular LEGO bricks, sized for use by preschool-aged children.

The annual study, conducted through Eastern's Center for Early Childhood Education, examines how young children in natural settings play with a variety of toys. Nine toys were selected for the 2012 TIMPANI study, based on recommendations from parents, teachers and faculty. After the toys were chosen they were placed in the CFDRC's preschool classrooms and rated on three subscales: thinking and learning, cooperation and social interaction, and self-expression and imagination.

"DUPLO bricks pose many problems for children to solve, so there's a lot of deep thought that goes into building," said Jeffrey Trawick-Smith, the Phyllis Waite Endowed Chair of Early Childhood Education at Eastern and the study's principal researcher. "Construction toys have done well overall in our studies due to the fact that they don't suggest any one use. They can be used in many different ways, so children tend to interact more and negotiate what they want to build."

That’s not the only local news for LEGO.  The company is launching a new education program, and Enfield has agreed to be the first school system to take advantage of it, The Hartford Courant has reported.  The program is modeled after a program LEGO runs in Denmark and will be available in Enfield elementary schools beginning in September 2013. The implementation of the program will be phased in over two years, with all kindergarten through grade 5 students having access to the program by Sept. 2014.LEGO_Logo_DUPLO

LEGO education products are already used independently by more than 9,500 schools in North America, and are said to enhance learning by sharpening creative, critical-thinking and problem-solving skills.  All products, curriculum guides, laptops and software will be provided by LEGO.  The school system will also be assigned a LEGO pedagogic adviser. Over five years, LEGO hopes to reach 15,000 students in Connecticut and Massachusetts as the program grows.

It has also been reported recently that sales of the LEGO Group’s newest line of construction toys designed to appeal to girls exceeded expectations despite complaints that it reinforces gender stereotypes.  Michael McNally, brand relations director at LEGO in Enfield, told the Associated Press that the company has sold twice as much of the Lego Friends line as expected when it was introduced early this year.  Lego’s intention was to raise the number of girls who play with Lego bricks, he said. “In 2011, only 9 percent of Lego sets sold in the U.S. were intended for girls,” McNally said. “To date, 28 percent of Lego sets purchased in the U.S. have been for girls.”

LEGO’s efforts in recent years to extend the brand to books, television and video games have endured some criticism (LEGO with detailed how-to instructions?) but the company says its products are still creatively minded and aimed at driving kids “back to the playroom.”  Those decisions have apparently helped the company’s bottom line which after take a drubbing a decade ago, has seen a 17 percent increase in revenue in 2011.

Also this month, LEGO Systems, Inc. announced LEGO® Legends of Chima™, an original LEGO property set in a mythical land of magical animal tribes who compete for CHI, a valuable energy source which gives them extraordinary powers over one another. The company reports that the “story comes to life through a universe of products across the company's entire play system including classic building sets, collectible social competition kits, buildable figures and board games, and will be fueled by digital gaming.”

According to the folks at Eastern Connecticut’s TIMPANI, the basics are still best.  The university has posted a video featuring DUPLO, and young children, at play.  Eastern researchers announced the results of the 2012 TIMPANI Toy Study at the University's Child and Family Development Resource Center (CFDRC).

The LEGO Group is a privately held, family-owned company, based in Billund, Denmark. It was founded in 1932 and today the group is one of the world's leading manufacturers of play materials for children, on sale in more than 130 countries.