Breyer Horses Celebrates 70 Years of Horse Play
Rick Rekedal, Tony Fleischmann and Stephanie Macejko are transforming Breyer Horses from the premier maker of authentic horse models and toys into the No. 1 global lifestyle horse brand.
From the majestic Clydesdale to the striking Arabian, horses inspire awe and admiration like no other animal. A symbol of beauty, elegance and power, of freedom, adventure and opportunity, the horse captures the imagination of children around the world and remains forever in their hearts.
For generations, Breyer Horses has maintained its position as the premier brand of horse models and collectibles. “Horses are simply the most beautiful and inspiring animals of all. Girls around the globe love horses and benefit from the confidence and empowerment that comes from being a ‘horse girl,’” President Tony Fleischmann says. “At Breyer, we invite and indeed transport girls into the real horse world by delivering a beautiful, hand decorated and unique ‘horse of your very own’ to every girl that dreams of one. And now, we’re on a mission to transform Breyer from the premier maker of authentic horse models and toys into the No. 1 global lifestyle horse brand.”
With an unmatched commitment to authenticity, quality and realism, the company continues a legacy that began in 1950 and remains just as relevant today. “You can see the development of these model horses through the years and how incredibly detailed they have become through the use of new technology and our proprietary techniques,” Fleischmann says. “There is no one else on the planet that does what we do.”
Breyer began as the Breyer Molding Company, a Chicago-based tool and die shop and custom molder, designing and manufacturing industrial parts during and after World War II. In 1950, Mastercrafters Clock Company and Woolworth’s asked if Breyer could design and manufacture an authentic 1:9 scale model horse to adorn a mantelpiece clock. It just so happened that Breyer’s molding engineer was also an amateur horse sculptor, so the company said yes. Breyer’s first model, the #57 Western Horse, was shipped to Woolworth’s. They loved it. Consumers began asking for the horse without the clock. With that first horse, the Breyer Molding Company changed the focus of its business forever.
“What we often say here in terms of the culture is that we are a 70-year-old startup,” Fleischmann says. “We’re on a mission to take this incredible foundation and transform it into a truly global lifestyle horse brand, and to accomplish this over the next five years.”
Building a Lifestyle Brand
The horse genre and model horses are purchased by fans of Breyer for both play and as a collectible item. “Horses are a proven genre that appeal to everyone, whether you ride or not,” says Rick Rekedal, executive vice president of brand and new business development. “The growth opportunity is to invite anyone who wants to be inspired by these majestic animals to be part of the world of Breyer.”
Breyer has created a powerful legacy and brand over the past 70 years, remaining committed to bringing horses to life and bringing the power of horses into the hands of everyone. To remain relevant in today’s market, Breyer is turning its attention to the intersection of its products, experiences and content.
“To compete in today’s story-based economy, it’s not enough just to own the horse category. We need to resonate with consumers right where they are,” Rekedal explains. “If the story of your brand isn’t relevant with consumers they will find something that is. Consumers want stories to tap into and have friends on social media they want to share things with. There’s already a ton going on with Breyer — we can help curate that and encourage their love of horses through Breyer.”
It all starts with bringing the horses to life as Breyer models. “Every horse that goes out the door has gone through Stephanie Macejko’s hands, she is one of the leading equestrian experts in the industry,” Rekedal says. “Our horses come alive because of our commitment to quality, including the fact that every Breyer horse is sculpted by a breed specialist, and hand-painted in production. Just like in real life, no two Breyer horses are exactly alike.”
Macejko, vice president of marketing, is as much a fan as she is a leader of the Breyer Horses team. “Breyer ignited my passion for horses,” she remembers. “I went to college to pursue marketing, and have been fortunate to craft a career in the industry that I love.”
Macejko has degrees in equine science, business and marketing, and worked for the U.S. Equestrian Federation. She brings an incredible amount of equine knowledge and product development expertise to the company. She is responsible for ensuring the authenticity of each Breyer Horses model. There is not one model horse that doesn’t have her fingerprints on it. With a skilled eye for what makes the horse so beautiful and powerful, Macejko uses her depth of knowledge of horses and the industry when selecting the right horses out of 180 breeds to model. She then seeks out the most talented sculptors from around the world to create a Breyer Horses model.
“Horses capture the imagination of kids who love to play with them and our models are authentic, durable and lifelike,” Macejko says. “We strive for true realism, and create products inspired by this majestic animal that appeal to kids, including the accessories that accompany them. We make perennial favorites such as Misty of Chincoteague and celebrity horses such as Triple Crown winner Secretariat, Olympian Valegro, and National Finals Rodeo Champion Stingray. We love fantasy designs too, showcasing beautiful unicorns and decorative pieces that celebrate the artistry of Breyer.”
A lot of companies make toy horses, and many have attempted to recreate Breyer’s masterpieces, but failed. Breyer is the only company that has the attention to detail, techniques, sculptors, materials and relationships in the real horse world that make it a true market leader.
“There is a real, vibrant $40 billion horse industry out there just in this country alone, and the interest level is high,” Fleischmann says. “Horses are universally beloved. What makes our brand so accessible is that you don’t have to be a horse person to be inspired by horses.”
Nurturing a Community
Breyer conducted significant research into how consumers talk about the Breyer Horses brand, their love of horses and how they want to share content.
These insights gave Breyer a roadmap to the kind of content its customers are hungry for. “There’s no better way to gauge your brand than to hear how your fans talk about you,” Rekedal says. “The best stories and content are the ones your fans are already telling.”
On YouTube, for example, there are more than 200,000 individual fan-made Breyer shows that are scripted and feature Breyer models. “They are powerful narratives that show off their love of horses,” Rekedal says. “Thinking holistically about the intersection of products, experience and content is how we stay relevant in the life of a fan and consumers, deepening the engagement and growing the value of the brand.”
Breyer plans to celebrate its 70th anniversary in 2020 all year long with a variety of fan experiences. One celebration it has planned is National Breyer Fun Day in May where all participating retailers will provide an in-store Breyer experience. This includes Breyer arts and crafts activities, model show competitions, meet-and-greets with artists or horse owners and more. “Retailers love it because it’s a reason for consumers to come back into the store,” Macejko says. “Shoppers learn all the ways they can enjoy their Breyer models, from playing to collecting, as well as customizing and showing. This creates valuable lifelong consumers.”
Breyer brings real life experiences with horses and the equestrian world to its fans and consumers through BreyerFest, Breyer’s annual celebration of horses at the Kentucky Horse Park. The three-day festival combines the excitement of a horse fair with model horse activities. In 2019, BreyerFest drew 34,500 people from all 50 states and six countries.
“BreyerFest is the best way to experience and understand the Breyer magic,” says Fleischmann. “I’m always blown away by our amazing community of fans and their super high level of engagement and commitment. It’s second to none.”
In fact, at BreyerFest in 2019, a rare Breyer Horses model was auctioned off for $22,000 to a collector, part of Breyer’s annual charity auction at BreyerFest that over the years has helped raise more than $2 million for charities. “We strive to make a positive difference in everything we do,” adds Fleischmann. “The annual charity auction is very special to me. It shows how much our fans care about what we do and what we make, and provides a mechanism for both them and us to touch the hearts of others.”
Having a diverse retail landscape allows the company to stay relevant by being where its customers want to shop. Breyer’s broad retail distribution includes both mass market and specialty accounts, but also reaches into equestrian stores, agricultural retailers, and a growing international business, as well as selling directly to consumers through BreyerHorses.com. “Over half of our sales at BreyerHorses.com are made through mobile platforms. That means we have to think about what each product’s brand page looks like on a smartphone screen as much as a traditional package,” Rekedal adds.
Imagine the Possibilities
In July, Breyer partnered with Imagine Entertainment’s Imagine Kids+Family division to develop a live-action horse-themed TV series. “We were thrilled they wanted to hear our take on the genre of horse stories and bring them to life,” Rekedal says. “We are extending our brand into natural storytelling.”
The series will be executive produced by Imagine Entertainment chiefs Brian Grazer and Ron Howard, as well as Stephanie Sperber, president of Imagine Kids+Family. Breyer will have a co-producing role on the series, providing Imagine with insights on what equine fans want to see in their stories. Breyer is also developing content in preschool and actively is exploring options in feature films.
Breyer also recently announced a new licensing deal with Aurora World, the world’s leading plush toy developers. Four assortments and about 20 SKUs launched in fourth-quarter 2019, including the Breyer Showstoppers colorful breed collection. “Aurora is very selective about the licenses they pursue,” Macejko notes, “and our teams hit it off with our similar philosophies on taking the long game. Evergreen brands are a marathon, not a sprint. Having the right partners in licensing to branch out is another strategy to expand our growth at retail Aurora is one of the best in the business and we’re thrilled to work with them.”
This year, Breyer is excited to celebrate 70 years of success with several brand-new initiatives, expanding into categories and adding new retail channels. Fleischmann has brought in new team members in sales, product development and sourcing. His goal over the next five years is to drive growth through innovative product, fan-based experiences and new original content.
“We strive to be one company, one goal, one team,” Fleischmann says. “It takes a village, and in our case, it takes a team, singularly focused on the magic and power of the most inspirational animal on the planet — the horse. We think carefully, aspire and plan to be the leading horse-inspired lifestyle brand.”