December 11, 2014

A Finnish wooden toy leaves room for imagination

Toys designed by Juho Jussila almost a hundred years ago still find their way into Santa’s sack around the world.
Toys designed by Juho Jussila almost a hundred years ago still find their way into Santa’s sack around the world.
Oy Juho Jussila

A wooden toy can’t play on its own; it requires imagination. Toys designed by Juho Jussila almost a hundred years ago still find their way into Santa’s sack alongside blinking and singing plastic toys due to their endurance, simplicity and Finnish design.

Juho Jussila‘s wooden toys boggle the minds of children in many corners of the globe. According to the company’s sales manager Harri Savo, the vast majority of their products travel from Finland to various export destinations.

This has always been the case: in 1933 a quarter of a million copies of the first toy product, a game called Fortuna, were sent to the United Kingdom. Now the UK hasn’t been the most important country of exportation for decades. Most of the toys are sold in Japan, then Central Europe and the Nordic countries.

Fortuna is still in production, although not in as high volumes as in its heyday in the 1930s. Savo deems it probable that the game is the oldest consumer product still available on the Finnish market. Its current design dates back about 45 years.

Many other Juho Jussila toys have maintained their appearance for decades, although times have changed and technology and special effects have become a part of the everyday life. Savo points out that although wooden toys hold just a marginal percentage of the market, their strength lies in their educative qualities.

“A wooden toy needs someone to play with it,” Savo says. “That takes imagination, which children have plenty of.”

The educational characteristic of the company’s toys stems from founder Juho Jussila’s profession as a teacher.

“When designing new products we still look for simplicity and clarity, yet still shapes that are a pleasure to look at. We avoid appearance that looks like it’s come from the hands of an old-time blacksmith,” Savo describes.

Shapes and surfaces were important to Juho Jussila himself, when he started the company in 1923. According to Savo, Jussila gave written instructions regarding the use of sandpaper. However, nowadays the sandpaper used in the machines is chosen using different type of criteria.

Starring: Finnish wood

Sales manager Harri Savo deems it probable that the Fortuna game is the oldest consumer product still available on the Finnish market.

Sales manager Harri Savo deems it probable that the Fortuna game is the oldest consumer product still available on the Finnish market.

Oy Juho Jussila

The products of Juho Jussila are as Finnish as it gets. Very few products are bought from abroad; for example, most of the paints are made in Finland. Savo believes that the reason behind the popularity of the products is not only their simplicity and strength, but also their Finnish design and production. He’s noticed that the consistency of the design is deemed important by the customers.

The main ingredient of the toys is wood from Central Finland. The work is done in Jyväskylä, where the family company employs 10–15 people – mostly original “Jyväskyläns”. If it wasn’t for export, there’d be work for far fewer.

“The Finnish market on its own would only require one person’s workforce, and even that person wouldn’t be working all year round,” Savo says.

According to Savo, the companys’s business value comes from successful cooperation, in which all parties’ aims are taken into account. A Finnish passport helps, because the country is small and internationally impartial.

“Juho Jussila’s toys are known as Finnish products around the world despite the fact that we don’t particularly emphasise our nationality in marketing. Instead we focus on the educative and family-centric value of our toys.”

In Europe, Christmas is high season for the toy trade. Juho Jussila’s toys are especially popular among children below school-age.

Savo looks to the future Christmases and years warily. He expects the financial crisis to continue for over a decade.

“Somewhere in the world things are always going relatively well. We just need to keep an eye out for those places and create new business relationships with them.”

Text: Anne Salomäki

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