Amazement. K’NEX President and CEO Michael Araten says that it is one of the most common responses he receives when he tells people that K’NEX building toys are manufactured in Hatfield, Pennsylvania. “So many people are used to toys from overseas that they don’t even consider that these products may be manufactured not just in the United States, but in their own backyard,” Araten said. “That is the perception that we’re hoping to change.”
If amazement is the initial response to the news that K’NEX products are manufactured in Hatfield, the sentiment only deepens upon hearing the uniquely American story behind the colorful plastic building sets.
Joel Glickman was 50 years old in 1990 when inspiration struck in the form of cocktail straws at a wedding.
Mr. Glickman, tinkering with the straws, envisioned the possibilities of a construction toy built around the concept of rods (like the straws) and connectors to hold them together.
By the time his idea (now called K’NEX) hit the toy market in late 1992 Mr. Glickman had spent two years refining the concept only to have it rejected by the major toy companies including Hasbro and Mattel.
Committed to the idea, he pushed ahead manufacturing the K’NEX pieces at his family’s plastics factory, The Rodon Group, in Hatfield.
Glickman’s hunch was correct — the idea was a good one and in the nearly 20 years that have followed, the family-owned and operated K’NEX has become one of the world’s leading integrated construction systems for children and the winner of more than 200 international awards and recognitions. The line has grown to include sets with not only rods and connectors but also bricks, personality parts, and motors for movement, now sold by retailers around the world. A focus on Building Worlds Kids Love™ has resulted in Sesame Street, NASCAR, Monster Jam and Mario Kart Wii-licensed K’NEX building sets along with K’NEX branded building sets for kids ages 2–12.
Committed to manufacturing in the United States at a time when most toys are made overseas K’NEX is the only U.S. Construction toy company, with more than 90 percent of its parts still manufactured its by sister company The Rodon Group. In business since 1956, the Rodon Group makes billions of parts each year in its 125,000 square foot eco-friendly facility and is one of the largest family-owned and operated injection molders in the United States. In addition to K’NEX, The Rodon Group serves a diverse group of industries including consumer products, medical, construction, and pharmaceutical.
“At K’NEX and Rodon, we’ve learned that manufacturing in America can actually be more cost-effective than manufacturing overseas,” said Araten.
“Furthermore our nation was founded on an entrepreneurial spirit, and the ability to shape our own growth by inventing and making everything we use. Continuing to shed our manufacturing base is akin to trying to run a race without running shoes — you can do it, but you are at a tremendous disadvantage.”
It’s a disadvantage that K’NEX is trying to stem through its membership in various Made in America advocacy groups including American Made Matters, headquartered in Adamston, PA. Araten, K’NEX and Rodon are optimistic about the possibility of bringing more manufacturing jobs to America and increasing the understanding of why American made matters among consumers. It’s just another challenge for a company used to surprising doubters — a fact made even clearer by the rejection letters that line the walls of K’NEX Headquarters as a constant reminder that in America all things are possible.