If, like us, you're a fan of construction toys more generally, then today's post is going to be perfect for you. That's because today is focussing on two heavyweights in the construction world: LEGO and KNEX. Well, three if you count us here at Funwhole, but we'll talk more about us later...
Most of today's post will be spent looking at LEGO and KNEX, and discussing the major differences, pros, cons, and quality of the two. That way, you guys can get a better understanding of the two brands themselves (and we can get a better understanding of what we're up against).
Ready to find out more and have some fun along the way? Then meet us below!
Let's start first, by looking at the basic brand info of these heavyweights. Who are they? Where did they start? And just how far is their reach?
LEGO is a construction, brick building toy company that hardly needs introduction, right? We all played with them as kids or at least knew somebody in class that was obsessed with them (and by somebody we mean us, of course). Their interlocking bricks were first produced in 1949, and the company is now being run by the privately owned collective known as The LEGO Group.
The brand is from Denmark, and all their major operations still happen out of Billund, Denmark today. But they're not just based in Denmark. Oh no, it's safe to say that LEGO has conquered the world - with stores popping up all over the globe. Need proof of their success and just how far their reach is in the construction toy world?
In 2021, they were named the largest toy company in the world (not construction toy folks, just the toy market as a whole), and back in 2015 they revealed that they'd already sold 600 billion LEGO pieces since they started in 1949. So, it's safe to say that LEGO pretty much has the construction toy market on lock, right? Well, maybe, but there are still some strong contenders hoping to one day take LEGO's crown...
One such LEGO alternative is KNEX. KNEX building sets work a little differently from LEGO. Yes, they're still a construction toy based company, but their sets operate on a rod and connector building system, that allows for much more flexibility, since many of the rods also bend, allowing you to create shapes that you just can't achieve with bricks.
The brand is based right here in the USA, and they started out in 1992 (43 years after LEGO, so comparing them like for like simply isn't fair in terms of profits or number of sets sold, so we won't be doing that today). Currently, KNEX is owned by Basic Fun! who bought the company back in 2018, and fans of KNEX know that the sale actually helped boost KNEX's reach across the world, helping them become a globally recognized toy company in their own right.
Although their reach isn't as far as LEGO, even in 2011 they were being sold in 25 countries around the globe. Although there aren't any easy to find figures more recently, it's safe to assume that number has grown since then. So, no, KNEX might not be as 'successful' or 'far-reaching' as LEGO, but it's still a fun company that releases amazing KNEX building sets each year. Need proof? Then let's look at some products and themes of both companies below.
Products & Themes
To help get to know the brands more, we'll list some of the most popular products and themes below so you can see what sells, but also which other brands are lining up to work with them...
Let's start with the products. Which LEGO sets and KNEX building sets are the most successful? We'll list some of the most popular products, past and present, below.
- LEGO Death Star (75159)
- LEGO MetalBeards Sea Cow (70810)
- LEGO Lord of the Rings Tower of Orthanc (10237)
- LEGO Harry Potter Diagon Alley (75978)
- LEGO Pirates of Barracuda Bay (21322)
- LEGO Palace Cinema (10232)
- KNEX 15210 Beginner 40 Model Building Set
- KNEX 13419 Imagine 70 Model Building Set
- Kid KNEX 85611 30 Model Dino Dudes Building Set
- KNEX Mario Kart Bike Building Set
- KNEX Mario and Diddy Kong Fire Challenge Building Set
- Angry Birds Space KNEX Crater Crash
And now let's move on to the themes that sell best for each company too (look out for some big brand names who have teamed up with them as you've probably already seen in the products section above).
- Star Wars
- Harry Potter
- LEGO Ideas
- LEGO Technic
- LEGO City
- Thrill Rides (including the ever-popular KNEX Ferris Wheel)
- Kid KNEX
- Family Guy
- Angry Birds
- Mario Kart
Products & Themes Round-Up
As you can see, both companies have varied products and themes, but the key thing to take home here is that both brands manage to attract other brands to collaborate with (like LEGO Star Wars or KNEX Mario Kart), but both brands also have themes and products of their own that stand up without the support of other big brands (such as LEGO's LEGO City range or KNEX's Architecture sets). The bottom line? Both of these construction toy companies are HUGE.
But what are the target audiences of these huge companies? Are they operating in the same field, or do they target different age groups to dominate one slice of the market? Let's find out...
Broadly speaking, LEGO aims to target kids between 1 and 15 years of age with the sets they release. But don't for a second think they don't operate in other markets too. Some of their most successful sets of recent years have been 18+, and that's because LEGO endears itself to kids at a young age, and then those kids become adults who still love the brand. So when they bring out collector edition large sets for adults, you best believe they flock to them.
If we're being brutally honest, LEGO doesn't have a target audience. Their customer ages range from 1 to 100, and that's a testament to the brand's success (and marketing strategy).
There's no upper age limit for KNEX either, as they claim their products are suitable for anyone over the age of 5. And whilst that's probably true, their more realistic target audience is likely 5-15. They don't offer quite as much for young builders as LEGO do, but their Kids KNEX range is certainly helping to turn that around.
KNEX says they don't have a target audience, but 5-15 feels more likely.
So what does all that tell us?
Mostly that LEGO is enjoyed by almost everybody, KNEX can be enjoyed by anybody over the age of 5, and both companies operate in a similar way when it comes to their customer ages.
Quality & Value
Although both products operate in similar markets, they approach those markets in different ways - and the way this is most evident is with quality and value.
In terms of the price you'll pay, KNEX is much cheaper than LEGO. But in terms of the durability and quality of the toys themselves, LEGO will outlast KNEX. And neither strategy is a bad one. KNEX undercuts LEGO on price, so open themselves up to more budgets, but LEGO creates a reputation for themselves as a top-quality brand people can rely on.
What sells more? Well, that's difficult to say, it's just an important difference between the two brands that we thought was worth pointing out...
Another key difference is the companies' approach to the instructions that are shipped with each set.
With KNEX, they're few and far between. That's because the whole ethos behind KNEX is based on creativity and learning for yourself. Yes, they ship 'instructions' which show you what you can build, but it isn't step-by-step. Instead, they work more as a moodboard that you might want to follow, but you might also prefer to make something else entirely.
There are some exceptions to this rule, since KNEX is teaming up with more brands now to create specific structures, characters, or scenes, so instructions will ship with these types of sets so you get the finished result you were looking for. But with their more generic building sets, you're mostly left to your own devices.
LEGO is very different from KNEX yet again. Instead, LEGO gives you step-by-step instructions to encourage you to build in a certain way. But it isn't nearly as restrictive as it sounds. LEGO also encourage their customers to get creative, to take down the sets once built and build something entirely new. Things like LEGO MOCs are more popular than ever, and LEGO themselves endorse this kind of play too.
So whilst KNEX rarely sends out instructions and LEGO almost always do, both brands champion creativity, they just do so slightly differently.
Pros & Cons
Before we finish, let's just look at the major pros and cons of both brands. We're not here to tell you what's the best, so there won't be a conclusion or verdict today. Instead, we're just here to present the major differences between LEGO and KNEX so you can understand both brands a little better.
LEGO: Pros & Cons
- encourages creativity
- helps develop fine motor skills with kids
- teams up with some of the biggest brands
- play and display is possible
- can be used for education
- suitable for all ages
- well-known brand with high-quality products
- expensive - sometimes ridiculously so
- somewhat limited by the bricks
- bricks are easy to lose, especially the smaller ones
KNEX: Pros & Cons
- perfect for STEAM education
- creativity is a must
- fast to put together
- flexibility in toy design
- easy to manipulate (even for small hands)
- pieces are mostly large and easy to keep track of
- very affordable
- not quite as durable
- some pieces are too flexible and breakable as a result
- smaller pieces are even easier to lose than LEGO
Another LEGO Alternative...?
So that's pretty much everything you need to know about LEGO and KNEX - the biggest names in the construction toy world. What's that? We haven't talked about ourselves? Oh, you flatter us... but since you mentioned it!
Here at Funwhole, we're successfully breaking into the construction toy world in our own unique way. And no, we're not quite at the dizzying heights of KNEX or LEGO yet, but we are offering something different from the other construction toys out there. That's because we believe everything is better with lights. If you spend hours building something, then it should stand out, don't you think?
If you think like us, then let us introduce you to our Funwhole building kits with lights. You can check out our entire product range, but the general gist of them is simple. We give you a kit that you build (we use bricks, here) and you also have a lighting kit with it, so not only can you have the fun of building the set to begin with, but you also get the joy of displaying the set in all its glory thanks to the lighting kit that comes with them as standard. Neat, right?