BRIO History

Ivar Bengtsson 1860-1948
In 1878 Ivar Bengtsson, a famers son received an offer to accompany Olof Persson, a basket merchant, on a sales trip to Denmark. The reason for this offer was that Ivar had a savings of 77 Kroner and Olaf had no money to make a trip to Denmark by himself carrying his load of 2,000 chip baskets. The trip took two months and they sold the baskets at the following locations: Slagelse, Kalundborg, Korsør , Frederiksborg, Svendborg and Odense. On this first trip Olof and Ivar earnt one hundred kroner each. Ivar was captivated by this opportunity, which led to another journey the year after with his brother Alfred who was three years younger than him. Ivar went on to make many trips south. Pretty soon his product range was also to include ’Loshultasmide’ and various kitchen and wood applicanes. These products were bought in Loshult, Glimåkra and Vissefjärda. The company counts 1884 to be the first year of business. The reason for this is that this was the first year that Ivar recieved orders by mail from various locations in Sweden.



                           BRIOs History
                           From the left . Ivar Bengtsson, chip basket, the Osby-horse


Handles sold the baskets
Ivar acquired a stamp and stamped his baskets with "Ivar Bengtsson's Basket Factory Boalt". There was an increased consumer demand for his baskets. This is thought to be because they were found to hold better than others because he reinforced the handle with an extra layer. Ivar's baskets were cheap on the Swedish market, five times cheaper than the wooden baskets available. When business in Sweden improved, Ivar began neglecting Denmark.

In the middle of the village
In 1902 Ivar and his family moved to Osby. The reason for this move was Ivar wanting to be closer to the market. 1903 was the start of him selling self-produced products. There were approximately fifty women who worked for him at this time. Those who made his products could earn from 1.50-20 kroner a day. 1907 brought an expansion of the range which included the Osby-horse, which was a small locally produced wooden horse, this became the company's very first toy.

The transfer
Ivar's two oldest sons, Victor and Anton had plans to emigrate to America in 1908. Because of this Ivar and his wife Sissa decided to sign over the business to their three boys. The company was registered as Brothers Ivarsson Osby. Victor and Anton immediately began studying German in order to make a shopping trip to "Leipzigermässan" in Germany. The Germany trip was successful, shown by the increase in custom in the following year, so they changed their stamp they used on their products to; Brothers Ivarsson "Import Export".

 

                                    From the left. Victor Ivarsson, Anton Ivarsson, Emil Ivarsson  
                                      From the left. Victor Ivarsson, Anton Ivarsson, Emil Ivarsson

Brothers Ivarsson 1909-37

When the brothers took over leadership of the company, they realized that the market must be indicative of the products purchased and catalog designs rather than the consumer. At that time the agricultural trade need for goods was large and imports were very much needed in Sweden. Imports became an increasingly important part of the Brothers product range in addition to all crafts and household items which were Swedish goods. The need for items that weren’t affected by the changing seasons was very large. This need led to the Brothers importing prams (also known as strollers). The figures show that the business grew slowly but steadily during this phase in time. Emil the third son showed a particular business talent with toys. 1937 transformed the company into a limited company.

What the old catalogs tell
Between 1910 and 1920 the product range expanded enormously, this is illustrated by the catalogs. The 1909 catalog contained only 999 items, by 1912 the number had risen to 2,700 and in 1914 it was 6,000. The toys start to gain more and more space in the catalogs. In 1920 the company presented truly big news in their catalog, it was three models of collapsible prams (strollers). That same year, the Department of china and glassware section of the company had its own catalog.

The BRIO acronym stands for Brothers Ivarsson Osby. The first logo was black and red and gold with the subtitle ‘quality goods’ this logo came in 1934. In 1949 there was a new version of the logo with the subtitle ‘sustainable as ten’. 1946 introduced the Brothers Ivarsson ‘labyrinth’, a marble game, which was a success. No other product has had as much importance in the 1950s and 60's to spread the name BRIO internationally - and no other BRIO product has been so copied. BRIOs miniature railway came in 1957 with tracks and bridges. Supplementary Sets (3 pieces) were first seen in 1959. A miniature railway tunnel is shown as news in the directory for 1962.

The first BRIO clown came in the year 1958. Christmas 1963 brought the introduction of the fashion doll Barbie to the BRIO archive. It was an unparalleled success during 1964-65. But the Brothers Ivarsson were forced to re-export due to large stocks of the doll. The brothers turnover rose by about 30% in that year.

New generation takes over

Wartime presented difficult problems for the import side of the company, which led to increased investment in its own countries production of baby carriages, wooden toys, furniture and other domestic products. Profitability fell but was recovered somewhat when imports started to get going again after the war. The company consolidated its position as a leading toy wholesaler. Both the internal organization and product and customer structure were in dire need of modernization and rationalization. This proved to be management's main task in the 1940’s and 50’s. Lennart Ivarsson, Anton's son the first MBA in the company, he was entrusted with this mission from 1942 and with Anton's death in 1952 he became Managing Director of Brothers Ivarsson’s Company Limited. In the 1950s, exports began and this helped to strengthen the brand BRIO internationally. Lennart Ivarsson had great help from a set of reliable veterans and a number of young, creative, talented staff. These staff included his wife, Inger, who was export manager in 1954 and his cousin Ulf, DHS, the son of Emil Ivarsson. In 1964 they established their own wholesale company in Denmark and Norway; they also changed the company’s name to BRIO AB.

In 1983 BRIO began issuing shares to the value of 6 million kroner, with over 60% of staff subscribed to the scheme. BRIO's B shares where first seen on the OTC Exchange in Stockholm in January 1985. In the years 1986/87 a sales trend of trendy Scandinavian toys and wooden toys in the United States produced a record result for BRIO, which was not surpassed until 1994. In 1992 BRIO Group's established an overall target document - BRIO ABC - where the written company policy was linked up with the business idea "Children and BRIO belong together". 1999 saw a publication which was about the future of BRIO called "BRIO 1001 - on the future of BRIO."


                Different BRIO products, Baribe, BRIO Builder System
                                From the left. Different BRIO products, Baribe, BRIO Builder System

The 21st century
2002 brought the beginning of moving part of production overseas. The reason for this simply being, that it is hard to gain a good level of profitability when producing toys locally in Osby. The company Proventus then moved in and now supports the old family business with its existing resources. Proventus is currently the largest shareholder of the company BRIO, with BRIO’s headquarters now in Malmö. Osby now accomodates among other things, the company's central warehouse and BRIO Lekoseum. Today - as always - BRIO is working hard to develop new toys for children. Some of the old favorites have been updated and many more see the light.
 
If you would like more details on BRIO's history contact the Lekoseum at solveig.nordh@brio.net