Tuesday, March 26, 2013

Klaus Baumann -- Trailblazer Part 5

This is a translation of an article/interview published by GARTENBAHN profi in  magazine 5/2008, pages 16-21. The original magazine is available under http://www.gartenbahnprofi.de/Gartenbahn-Profi-Magazin/Jahres-Inhaltsverzeichnisse.  Italic text in parentheses is background information about related topics in the article. Part 5 concludes the interview/article.
During the 70's celebrities loved to be shown with LGB
as shown on the front page of this old LGB Depesche
Headline: Celebrities driving a celebrated train...
 when will you indulge into the fun of  owning an LGB

GBP: Back to LGB. What still fascinates me is the story about the handmade locomotives by Christian Höhne which were sold as specialty series by LGB as early as 1977 and were high priced. I do remember quite well the 1976 International Toy Fair Nuremberg where the first model was offered. And I do remember the proud price of DEM 5,000.00  (the equivalent of 2 months salaries for an average worker/clerk). Especially because that was beyond my own means and I just think that that was the same for many LGB fans. How did you manage to sell those locos year after year and even under the pressure of ever increasing prices?
Klaus Baumann: LGB(loco) itself did already impress just by her size. But these handmade steam locomotives of different types had a special wow factor. They were made out of metal, therefore were very heavy, were elaborately packed in wooden boxes, were limited in production to 100 pieces, and of course there were offprints of high gloss brochures. And everybody was convinced that those would increase in value even though that didn't prove true over the years. Any way there were quite a few collectors who put several of the same series on their (basement) shelves immediately. And maybe it was a way for some entrepreneurs out there to 'invest' their money... The final series didn't sell that well any more. Obviously they had hit the ceiling price wise plus meanwhile it proved that they weren't suited well to withstand 'tough' LGB operation (on the layout) - quite contrary to initial beliefs. Standard LGB motorblocks were too weak for the heavy metal bodies. And the fact that during production the parts were painted first and then glued in place led to them falling off after years of usage. 'Superglue' as we have today wasn't invented yet.
GBP: Following hitherto articles in GBP it shows that back then LGB really went into high gear. Continuously there were new models and series were extended. How were 'the good ol' times' at LGB?
Klaus Baumann: One was enjoying one's own success. And we wanted to show off a bit towards Märklin. That was one of the reasons for the many annual new items. Back then they made it a big secret every year at the Nuremberg Toy Fair what new items (models) there would be. Later I ensured to ease up on that. Why shouldn't we grant access (in) to the booth (it was common on German industrial fairs to keep the main part of the booth closed to general visitors and grant access only to by-appointment-only high profile guests). After all we could be proud of what we had to show.   And then, the LGB team was simply 'the right stuff'. It is undeniably commendable what the brothers Eberhard and Wolfgang Richter achieved. They also had the luck to find good employees, the Master Craftsmen (Meister) of the various departments, Robert Münzing as technician or the well functioning repair department which also fulfilled almost each and every tinkerer's wish  for component parts. Don't forget Wolfgang Zeunert who - for many years - was responsible for the LGB Depesche and many other things. There was no "Public Relations Manager", no "Key Account Manager" - we managed well without those titles...
Small but effective: LGB management  of the 70's:
 (from left):Robert Münzing Technical Adviser, Wolfgang Richter,
 Klaus Baumann, Eberhard Richter and his wife Karin
GBP: That luck to find one Klaus Baumann as Vice President of Sales - you "forgot" to mention that. You had an integral part in evolving from DEM 3 mill in sales in 1968 to about DEM 65 mill during the heydays of LGB... I could ask another million things. The "100 Years of LGB" anniversary was a special event in a positive way; the sudden death of Eberhard Richter in 1984 was very sad and in long term view quite fateful. From the beginning you were against the "eXtra-System" which probably sped up the final end of LGB. You entering -well deserved-retirement in 2003 in a way - how shall I put this- not working as well as it should have was surely also among the increasing problems LGB already had back then.  One more question: here in your backyard I don't see any LGB and inside I just descried two lonely locos. Is that like the guy working in a chocolate factory not liking chocolate anymore?
Klaus Baumann: Yes, that is a good example. For me LGB was my profession. And I viewed everything associated with that purely business. And that is quite alright. (In) Earlier (years) I had more (LGB trains) but now my grandchild plays with that.
GBP: Herr Baumann, thank you very much for this interview and also for the coffee and the yummy cake.
Klaus Baumann: It was my pleasure, thank you for coming.

(The original German article contains additional 'boxes' with fun stories shown here in  a grey shade)
The Deal with Playmobil --- Ending a vacation on Ibiza island Klaus Baumann met the young owner of Playmobil, Horst Brandstätter at the airport. They had a lot of time since air control was on go-slow strike once again. The Faller company had offered their "Play Train" but (LGB) wasn't satisfied with that. On the spur of the moment Klaus Baumann proposed a co-operation. (Playmobil) Should manufacture the engines themselves, nicely with rounded edges and thick grab bars matching the Playmobil figurines and Lehmann would provide the tracks and motor blocks. While Mr. Brandstätter took a while to warm up to the idea back at Lehmann they were not amused. How he could feed the enemy? - Wolfgang Richter accused him. But he turned around quickly realizing that this train (which by now is known pretty well) wasn't a real competition but rather the entry for children into trains and later to LGB. In addition LGB enjoyed another plus from this deal: the monthly check from Playmobil for the track production was a boon for the profit situation. Nowadays one could admit to it , smiled Klaus Baumann with a wink in his eyes: track production at Lehmann was never unprofitable.

Monday, March 18, 2013

Klaus Baumann -- Trail Blazer Part 4

This is a translation of an article/interview published by GARTENBAHN profi in  magazine 5/2008, pages 16-21. The original magazine is available under http://www.gartenbahnprofi.de/Gartenbahn-Profi-Magazin/Jahres-Inhaltsverzeichnisse.  Italic text in parentheses is background information about related topics in the article.
Clockwise from top left: Klaus Baumann right and Udo Juergens, singer, left; top right: Comedian Ernst H Hilbich holding a Stainz, Klaus Baumann on right;bottom right: Friedrich Merz w/Bavarian TV Station center, left: Klaus Baumann, right:Wolfgang Richter; bottom left: Klaus Baumann, left, with Dieter Thomas Heck (German game show host) holding a Ge 2/4.
Klaus Baumann (...continued): All those contacts became very useful. That was also how the LGB Tv appearances came to happen. At Peter Frankenfeld's show "Musik ist Trumpf" the LGB carried the quiz-questions and at the end of the show champagne for the participants. And most of the time I was back stage operating the train. After those show episodes they were talking about the "TV train" and customers wanted to buy them in stores the next day and retailers then ordered them with us. That's how it worked!---Peter Frankenfeld was a big LGB fan in his personal life. He had a trestles-LGB train layout in his landscaped back yard. This system that you will often see in England allows for easy viewing the operating train on eye level. Accompanied by his wife Loni he came to the LGB factory one day and of course got a personal tour of the house.
Always welcomed at the LGB factory: Peter Frankenfeld and wife Loni (2nd from right and 3rd from right), Klaus Baumann(right), Wolfgang Richter (left), Eberhard Richter with wife Karin and daughter.
GBP: Leafing through older issues of "LGB Depesche" (German issue of LGB Telegram) one notices a special relationship between manufacturer and their customers marked by the magazine itself, contests and conventions. Of course the main reason for that was the articles themselves being for the hobby market; but also these products were marketed with their heart in it not just their business mind. You yourself were at the front gate almost all the time being "Mr. Lehmann" for many a LGB fan. Wasn't that a  very particular sense of achievement?
From left: Wife of Governor of Saxonia, Klaus Baumann, Prof. Kurt Biedenkopf  Governor of Saxonia, Wolfgang Richter at the Toy Fair Nuremberg 1993 presenting a new unloading feature with a proud Klaus Baumann in the back.
Klaus Baumann: Yes, indeed. But there are always two sides to a coin. I had less time for a private life because of that. Being at a convention through a weekend was work, not fun like it was for the visitors. I am also a member of several consulting committees and I was an active board member of the "Deutscher Spielwarenverband" (German Toys Association), "IGEMA" (International Alliance of Model Train Suppliers),"Deutsches Spielzeug Institut" (German Toys Institute"), "Fachgruppe Modelleisenbahn" (Section Model Trains) and "Spiel Aktiv" (Play Active). Doing a TV show with Peter Frankenfeld took a whole week; the show itself was aired prime time on Saturdays. My wife can tell a story or two how often she had to master things herself because I was on the road.----Later attendance at the LGB Club (events) was added. Whether it was in Switzerland where an LGB layout had a ribbon-cutting at the Arosa-Kulm Hotel or whether the LGB Friends Rhein/Sieg had their anniversary party. If I could make it happen I did make it happen to attend. It was a lot of fun for me, too. Quite a few friendships have evolved out of that - just like the two of us are sitting here today. And back then it was very interesting, quite frankly, to get to meet all those celebrities like Udo Juergens, Wim Thoelke, Dieter Thomas Heck, Peter Kraus, Dunja Rajter, Caterina Valente just to name a few. (compare to Jim Peck, Richard Dawson, Alex Trebek, Barbara Mandrell, George Jones etc). Not to mention a real 'Miss Germany' and rock singer Peter Maffay who I met while I was board member of DSI honoring him for his activities.++++to be continued
Miss Germany 1986 (Anja Hoernich) at the LGB booth and Klaus Baumann

Tuesday, March 5, 2013

Klaus Baumann - Trail Blazer Part 3

This is a translation of an article/interview published by GARTENBAHN profi in  magazine 5/2008, pages 16-21. The original magazine is available under http://www.gartenbahnprofi.de/Gartenbahn-Profi-Magazin/Jahres-Inhaltsverzeichnisse.  Italic text in parentheses is background information about related topics in the article.

GBP: When you started out (Lehmann) still offered small toys. Did you have to sell that as well?
Klaus Baumann: Yes, of course. During my beginnings (at Lehman) Lehmann still made more sales with the Patented-Toys than with LGB. It changed quickly then but sales from "Stainzys" and her siblings kept being a  nice fill-in in manufacturing.
GBP: Back, once again, to the former LGB. Actually, shouldn't have the customers snatched those new, extraordinary locos out of dealers' hands? I myself remember my own beginnings with the LGB hobby very well. The "Globus" in Siegen (compare to a Walmart in the MidWest) sold them and while shopping for groceries each week we added at least one (freight) car. With prices at DEM 20.00 - 30.00 ( about US$ 8.00- 12.00) that wasn't a budget problem at all. Today with current Euro prices things have gotten more difficult for most LGB hobbyists.
Klaus Baumann: The problem was that a broad audience just wasn't familiar enough with the train product. Hence the subsequent efforts to get into the toy department of the big department stores. People usually didn't stray into a model-train-specialist-retailer to find  LGB and get exited. Our very first success in that was the "Lehmann 74" and LGB (brand) itself became well known through fairs and by being presented to a big TV audience.
"TV"-Big Train in action.; in the second half of the Seventies the TV show "Musik ist Trumpf" delivered the stage for LGB to be seen  by millions. TV host Peter Frankenfeld (center) had an LGB train layout in his backyard. April of 1978 a '99 6001' delivered the envelope and champagne glasses...all that had to be delivered...The next show to be aired in October 1978 was to present the new LGB crocodile which was to pull the 'TV Train' but Peter Frankenfeld was  already too sick to present the show, a colleague filled in. Peter Frakenfeld - the godfather of German TV shows- passed away in January of 1979 and LGB surely owed him a lot.
GBP: How did you manage do get that many (national) TV appearances for LGB back then? TV hosts like Peter Frankenfeld and Hans Rosenthal (compare to Bob Barker and Dick Clark), TV shows like "Musik ist Trumpf", "Vergiss mein nicht", "Der Goldene Schuss", and "Dalli Dalli" (compare to "the Lawrence Welk Show", "Truth and Consequences") were  having a very broad audience and (delivered advertising) free of cost. (LGB) probably couldn't have afforded (to buy) advertising time....
Klaus Baumann: Well, once there was the Transportation Fair in Hamburg where LGB had set up a huge layout and of course such a fair draws a huge crowd. There you get to know the Mayor, the Secretary of Commerce, VIP's and TV-celebrities. And TV producers always are looking for new ideas for their shows. So the big train which was easily visible was lending itself (to this format). She was utilized in ability&skill game shows or was delivering envelopes with quiz-topics or prizes. And then there were personal contacts. Once I was sitting next to Peter Frankenfeld at Berlin airport due to a late flight. And as you'd expect it didn't take long until we were talking about LGB. Another time I met Peter Frankenfeld after an Anniversary Party at the Kudamm in Berlin (compare to Times Square in New York) at night; he sat in a cafe with Fritz Schoenfelder and they were looking for the 'Third Man' for a game of skat. It got pretty late that night....++++++++++++++++to be continued+++++++++++++++++++++

Friday, March 1, 2013

Klaus Baumann - Trailblazer Part 2

This is a translation of an article/interview published by GARTENBAHN profi in  magazine 5/2008, pages 16-21. The original magazine is available under http://www.gartenbahnprofi.de/Gartenbahn-Profi-Magazin/Jahres-Inhaltsverzeichnisse.  Italic text in parentheses is background information about related topics in the article.

She was important to get LGB into retail stores and to the customers: the battery train "Lehmann 74"  priced initially  at DEM 49.50 for the complete starter set. (The 40-year logo is part of the article and not related to the product)
GBP: Even if I don't convert that into Euro right now it still seems a pretty low price. As is well known starter sets have been priced below costs again and again as an incentive to buy into the product. Did the battery-pack train set fulfill these expectations?
Klaus Baumann: Yes, definitely! Back then the toys-wholesale-trade still played an important role and they were to offer the hesitant retailer a basic offer with that "Lehmann 74" (train set). It didn't exist at all, then, since 'Playmobil' didn't enter the market until Christmas 1980. But even the robust LGB seemed too complicated for a lot of retailers. So, the "Lehmann 74" was a foot in the door. But sadly, they made the mistake at Lehmann - as would be done again and again later on- to include more and more (stuff) into this set and it got more and more complicated technically. Consequently the battery pack train set almost matched the price of a regular LGB (train/loco). After about 10 years in 1985 they eventually abandoned the battery-pack train set product line.
GBP: The new battery train was offered in big department stores and wholesale chains like 'Metro' and 'Handelshof' (compare to Macy's and Costco). LGB trains were not available at these stores at first. Why did Lehmann not make use of these expanded retail possibilities? What strategy were they pursuing?
Klaus Baumann: They would have but- they had to protect the specialist retailer (specialist retailer in Germany was/is a distinction/award given to a retailer by the Federal Retail Association when the retailer fulfills certain distinctly set rules). That was a balancing act! Therefore they tried to use a two-track policy; get the attention of the prospective customer at the department stores and at the whole sale chains and at the same time have the complete product-line offered at the specialist retailer while 'coercing' him to deliver an expert service covering the complete LGB program.
GPB: Did LGB have enough market coverage back then; did the specialist retailer trade realize how much money they could possibly make?
Klaus Baumann: This insight was growing very slowly. Often space problems in those retail stores hindered   the placing of the big LGB boxes. (The average German specialist retail store space was 500 sq ft) and then the retail trade just dreaded the (required capital) investment for a complete (LGB) product-line. You just depicted what was already offered  in the early Seventies. And that was all cutting into the piggy bank already.---Later that changed at the big department stores. (By then) they offered only those products that had been assigned (to them) by their operational headquarters. And it was one of my tasks to get them (headquarters) to list LGB. And for that it was especially important to be able to offer a simple,basic product- not only for the consumer but also for the sales person.+++to be continued++++
(The original German article contains additional 'boxes' with fun stories shown here in  a grey shade)
Customs Control: --- Eberhard Richter and Klaus Baumann were jointly travelling in Austria in the Seventies to visit a model train fair and present the LGB brand. To forgo pesky customs formalities at the border they tried to wing it. Well, that didn't work. Eberhard Richter was asked to move to the side maybe because of his big Mercedes. He had to open the trunk which of course was filled to the top with red LGB boxes. That's when he showed his quick wittedness and his acting abilities. In front of an audience of puzzled customs officers he started to wildly berate Klaus Baumann why for heavens sake he'd forgotten to empty the trunk the day before. They were just about  to attend a meeting and  did not at all plan to import any merchandise whatsoever.
It worked. They were able to proceed unchallenged. 300 ft into Austria Eberhard Richter apologized profoundly to Klaus Baumann....