The Playwrite Group

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Playwrite Group
In 1911, William Henry Cornelius was appointed UK Sales Agent and Distributor for the German Manufacturer Saalheimer & Straus. When peace returned in 1919, 'Con', as he was known, decided to start his own venture selling UK manufactured toys, stationery, and gifts to the wholesale trade.
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A New Era

By the 1930s, Con became one of the first UK buyers to visit Japan. Regular trips, made either by the Trans-Siberian Railway or via sea, helped establish an excellent supply and growing range of tin-plate and mechanical toys.

In 1939, with the outbreak of the Second World War, imports ceased and the mainstay of the company became the publishing of children's books. Unfortunately, during the Blitz, the company's offices in London were destroyed so they moved to new premises, including a warehouse and, in collaboration with H&P Decorations Ltd, a factory.

1944 saw the death of Con and the company being run by his brother-in-law, Sydney Vening, who turned it into a limited company in 1945. A few years later, in 1948, he also became a founding Director and shareholder of the Harrogate International Toy Fair.

An International Company

1948 also saw the company being awarded the major proportion of the licenses issued to import toys from post-war Japan. It was also around this time that the second generations, in the form of Leslie Cornelius, Jack Cornelius, John Vening, and Sydney Vening Jnr, came on board.

During the 1950s, as the country recovered and rebuilt from the war, the company grew substantially, concentrating on pocket money toys and especially "filling" items for the Christmas Cracker trade and Lucky Bags for the confectionary industry.

In 1964, the company purchased an office and warehouse building in the Old Kent Road, London, and also made their first buying trip to Hong Kong. Despite a flying time of over 24 hours, with five stop-overs on the way, this was still a dramatic improvement on the weeks it used to take to get to Japan by sea!

1966 saw the first member of the third generation, Warren Cornelius, joining the company. Son of Leslie, Warren spent a few months in training before joining the sales force with his Uncle, Jack. A few years later in 1969, Bill Cornelius, Jack's son, also joined the company on the sales force. This meant that W.H. Cornelius Ltd now had sufficient salesmen to cover the whole of the UK.

Playwrite Continues to Grow

The 1970s saw a period of growth for the company, which was now purchasing toys from Hong Kong, Taiwan, China, several European countries, and Thailand - a relative newcomer that was beginning to make an impact on the toy industry. The 1980s saw far more purchasing from China, with a gradual decline in stock coming from Europe.

By the end of the 1980s, Warren and Bill were now the joint Managing Directors of the company, with the previous directors having either passed away or retired. In 1988, in a joint venture with some Chinese business partners, a Hong Kong office was established to source product, monitor toy safety, and control shipments to the UK from both Hong Kong and China.

Fast-forward 10 years, and the 1990s were undeniably a difficult time as the wholesale trade struggled to maintain its dominance of the chain of distribution. The company decided to broaden its horizons by supplying direct to retail, but were able to keep their loyal wholesale customers through a differential pricing structure.

The late 1990s also saw the introduction of the fourth generation of Cornelius family members working for the company. James Cornelius, Warren's eldest son, came on board in 1999 as a sales rep with his patch covering the north of England.

The Playwrite Group Today

With a view to the future, the company undertook a major restructuring and created a subsidiary trading company, The Playwrite Group. This subsidiary became the day to day trading name of the company, with W.H. Cornelius Ltd remaining in place as the silent owner. The warehouse and distribution centre were moved to Yorkshire, along with a move to larger offices in central London.

In 2014, the offices then moved back out of London to Oxted, in the Surrey countryside. In that same year, Guy Cornelius, James' brother and Warren's youngest, joined the company as part of the office sales team.

After a century of work with the company between them, Warren and Bill retired in 2016 and 2019 respectively, leaving the company in the hands of James and Guy. James is responsible for Purchasing and Sales, with Guy responsible for Finance, Administration, and IT.

Close links with the Harrogate Christmas and Gift Fair have been maintained, with Warren on the board of directors. Playwrite exhibits annually at both Harrogate and the NEC Spring Fair.