Business - Machines and Tools - Wood processing techniques - Furniture Production Machinery

What do a play tower, two Wood IQ CNCs and €500,000 turned down at the Lion Empire have in common?

The birth of his daughter prompted him to think of ways to spend time that would educate and develop the child harmoniously. Thus was born play tower. It was well received and appreciated, which led to the development of a concept and the transformation into a business. And that's how Leea Toys. But to really be a business, the idea has to become a marketable product. That meant production, machinery, and the father started to look for information on the Internet, to visit trade fairs where he met Dan Pruteanu and met the company. Wood IQ. With the CNCs purchased, the playtower was mass-produced, eventually being shipped to many corners of the world. This is how Leea Toys reached a turnover of 600,000 euros in 2019, which led the father to want to expand the business. He went to Empire of Lions where he asked for €500,000 in financing in exchange for 25% of business. Which he ultimately turned down. In short, that's the story. But life doesn't move fast and reality is never that simple.

cnc wood iq play tower leea toys

The idea and beginnings of Leea Toys

Dan Popa is the father in the story and the common element of the play tower, Wood IQ CNCs and hundreds of thousands of Euros at the Empire of Lions. He has a medical degree, but gave up practicing medicine in favor of entrepreneurship. He chose to do so because he always had more otherwise he wanted to put into practice. Although he has been in the business world for a long time, he has only been producing functional children's furniture since 2016. In 2015, when his daughter Leea was a year old, the concern arose to find the best educational and developmental opportunities for her age. As the market wasn't offering what she wanted, she thought of combining her knowledge of child development and parenting with possible practical solutions. That's how she built the first multi-purpose play tower. The idea was for Leea to discover life through play, to be able to participate in daily activities with her parents and to have fun with them.

Leea was growing and the tower had to be adapted to the new needs. So it was developed, new functions were added, but the original idea of multiple functions in a small space was respected. Parts could be transformed, a door could become a chalkboard and a slide. Leea enjoyed the tower, it developed harmoniously, and their friends and children appreciated the concept because they couldn't find anything like it on the market. And so the idea of turning the play tower into a business was born.

"What is on the market is unfortunately not very applicable to children's needs, it is rather designed to appeal to adults and/or to keep children busy without a clear educational purpose. What I am doing comes in the general context of radical changes in early education, attitudes towards children, the parent-child relationship. This context has only recently emerged because it is only recently (in the last few decades) that the results of long-term studies showing the impact of these things on children have emerged and are emerging." - says Dan Popa.

cnc wood iq play tower leea toys

Production and meeting with Wood IQ

The product you are thinking of has many component parts and a lot of machining that needs to be done with precision. For children, play should be natural, simple and easy, and they should always be safe. There was no question of the machining being done with ordinary woodworking machinery, especially as it was going to be a mass-produced product. After intensive research he concluded that he needed CNC.

It was at the beginning, and the money, which was not very much, had to be well divided. The first thought was to get in touch with Chinese manufacturers and buy directly from China. He even managed to get two CNCs from there, but it was an experience he'd never want to repeat.

"I had a lot of problems with them and it was very difficult to communicate with the seller. Although he was welcoming, the differences in time zone, language (everyone had their own English 😊), software and holidays have created a lot of problems."

From this experience he understood how important it is how you choose your supplier. After-sales service is just as important as the machine itself, sometimes even more so. He decided to buy his next CNC from a local supplier. Last September he visited BIFE-SIM where he met Dan Pruteanu and the Wood IQ team.

"I met them at a trade show at Romexpo. They seemed to know what they were talking about 😊 and they did an impeccable, professional followup devoid of the usual aggressiveness of salespeople. He was a gentleman engineer who inspired my confidence from the start."

The offer made by Wood IQ was very good and so he was able to buy two CNCs 2030 Pro ATC which were assembled in the Leea Toys workshop in Chisinau. He is also satisfied with the machines and the service he received.

"[The machines] work very well! But mostly I know where to call if there's a problem and I get a response. The after sales service was very good, as it should be! In a manufacturing business, the after sales service has to be very good, you can't have it any other way."

The CNC 2030 Pro ATC is part of campaign offering a discount of 10% for all CNC equipment purchased by the end of the year. It's a campaign to celebrate Wood IQ's 100th milestone, 100 CNCs sold nationwide. The discount applies even to optional accessories (unloading table, 4th axis, etc).

cnc wood iq play tower leea toys

Leea Toys Development

The business started timidly in 2016. The market was not used to such a product and customers were not confident. Like most businesses, it was at a loss in the beginning, but Dan Popa was confident in the product and its potential. The boom came at the end of 2018 and especially in 2019, when they posted the product on international sales platforms. Sales grew exponentially, with turnover rising from €72,000 in 2017 to €600,000 in 2019.

"We mainly work with the end customer. 90% of our customers are in Western Europe. We also have a few retailers, but they are not big. Everything is online. There are no mass market products that fit in physical stores and the price doesn't allow for that either."

The large number of orders compared to production capacity forced him to increase the price to attract buyers. That's how he came up with the idea of increasing production capacity and trying to find a partner to finance the development. But he didn't want to lose his majority stake, so he turned down the offer of €500,000 for 50% in the company he received from the Empire of Lions. However, his presence at the issue also had a consequence he would not have suspected.

"[It was] a kind of 'exam' and a mirror in which I could look at myself. But I only gained notoriety in Romania, so sales weren't affected too much. But it's interesting, people stop me on the street or in shops to congratulate me.😊

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Pandemic period

During this period of isolation, the hardest thing for parents was to find opportunities for their children to play and have fun at home, so that they could get them away from the TV or the phone screen. Being present on the net, the multipurpose play tower from Leea Toys has been highly visible and much sought after. The sales have increased and it would have been a good time to increase sales. But quarantine production is not so simple.

"Orders are up but unfortunately all the other quarantine and containment issues are creating a lot of problems for us. Couriers, raw materials, customs, everything is very difficult. So there's no point in having orders if the plywood factory where we get our supplies has closed down or we send the orders and we don't know when they will arrive. Or the paint supplier! Many areas in Italy have been completely closed down during this period, just as an example. Our workshop is in Chisinau, now I can't go there because of the restrictions, and that creates problems."

Despite the problems, the idea of development has not been abandoned. Dan is confident that his product will reach more and more homes with children. The multi-functional tower can be further developed and new functions can be added. Buying CNCs that he can rely on and selling exclusively online were good decisions that allowed him to obtain quality products, reduce production costs and increase visibility.

Good luck, Leea Toys!

cnc wood iq play tower leea toys

cnc wood iq play tower leea toys

About the author

Mihaela Radu

Mihaela Radu is a chemical engineer but has a great passion for wood. She has been working in the field for more than 20 years, wood finishing being what defined her during this period. She gained experience working in a research institute, in her own company, as well as in a multinational. She wants to continuously share her experience with those who have the same passion - and more.

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