Leading industry journal covering the global toy and board game industry including practical 'how to' articles, research, industry reports and insights.

26 March 2020 ~ 0 Comments

5 Tips For Toy & Game Companies To Manage Through The Covid-19 Pandemic

These are tough times for people across the world as the Covid-19 pandemic wreaks havoc on the global economy and threatens health and happiness regardless of national, religious or ethnic boundaries. The toy and game business is not immune to the current situation either.

While there are clearly some opportunities during these tough times to supply toys and games to families who are looking for ways to entertain and occupy their kids while stuck at home, there are also a number of threats and challenges to our business. Not least of which is the impact on physical retail. The current situation is likely to accelerate the movement to online retail, which has both good and bad implications for toy and games companies. Supply chains are also at risk of disruption for the next few months at least, and so this situation need to be carefully managed.

To try to help toy and games companies get through this period of time in tact and to be ready to go again when the world returns to normal we came up with the following list of tips and tactics:

  1. CASH IS KING – those businesses and business people who went through the global financial crisis just over a decade ago should have this glib but critically important statement clearly at the forefront. Because when time’s get tough some businesses fail and don’t pay their bills, and those who don’t fail are probably not paying their bills as quickly as they do in normal circumstances. We’re not suggesting massive cutbacks to preserve cash, but toy and games companies should definitely review their expenditure and credit control during this time to maintain cash as much as is feasibly possible.
  2. OPPORTUNITY ABOUNDS – there are countless toy and game companies that actually made great strides through the global financial crisis. Survival of the fittest applies during these times, but if you are one of the fittest you should be able to ride this out and end up stronger. In particular though, with large amounts of families housebound there has been and should continue to be an upsurge in demand for our products at this time. For sure we can and should be supplying free online materials for families to help them through this time, but we also have a moral imperative to ensure our businesses do well to preserve jobs and employment to reduce economic damage coming out of this horrendous pandemic! There should be no question of under selling or giving away the shop, the world needs what we do, and the more of us who are still in business throughout this time and when the pandemic is finally over the better that is for the world. JFK was quoted as stating that the Chinese characters for ‘Crisis’ contains two parts – one meaning danger and one meaning opportunity. The reality is that while the toy and game business is going to see change and disruption, there is significant demand right now, so we need to adapt to the current reality to take advantage of the opportunity and come through this stronger.
  3. MANAGING SUPPLY CHAIN DISRUPTION – 2020 has already seen significant supply chain disruption with large parts of China effectively locked down and delays in factories getting back up and running in China. Now other manufacturing hubs are seeing lockdowns and delays. Our understanding from reading and listening to various medical health and virological experts is that after an initial lockdown period of a few months, things are likely to go back to a new normal of people being free to work and go out again, but with a few more restrictions than they may be used to. At that point we may get some resurgences from the virus up and until we see a mass produced vaccine which works deployed across the globe. Therefore, we expect some continued supply chain disruption, and recommend that diversifying supply chain across multiple geographies is a good thing for both the remainder of the Covid-19 pandemic and afterwards – if you can’t make ’em you can’t sell ’em!
  4. LOOK AFTER YOUR STAFF – this is a point which should not really need to be made, but your staff need your support right now. We’re all going through quite a traumatic experience, and people handle that in different ways. This is not the time to make panicky cuts in staff levels, this is the time to double down and support and nurture your teams through this crisis, so that at the other end of this what makes you strongest – i.e. your people – will continue to make you stronger post Covid-19. Working from home works better for some people than others. Some of your people are going to struggle with the isolation of being locked down, regular team calls are good for getting work tasks focused on and addressed, but also good to keep people sane in these unprecedented circumstances.
  5. LOOK AFTER YOUR CUSTOMERS – not all of your customers will make it through this troubling period of time. More of them will with your support though. Maybe a multi-buy or discount will help those struggling with the loss of physical retail sales, maybe just acting like you care will help. Perhaps your online marketing team can be spared to put some work and support into helping them set up or enhance web stores and/or local marketing campaigns.

At this point we don’t know how long the Covid-19 pandemic will go on for. What we do know is that there seems to be a huge degree of certainty that a vaccine will be found and that effective treatments are not far away. In the short term we have a medical disaster on our hands in some localities, but this too will pass. For toy and game companies we need to survive this testing period of time in terms of our own health and well being, but also as businesses.

This article is written for and published by Kids Brand Insight. For more information on Kids Brand Insight and what we do: www.KidsBrandInsight.com

We have run Consultancy and Coaching projects for dozens and dozens of toy and game companies, and are actively and continuously helping companies get through the current difficult times.

25 March 2020 ~ 0 Comments

Toy Sourcing – The Next 10 Years: Why Nearly Everything We Know Is Going To Change And What To Do About It

We recently ran a Webinar for a select few of our clients looking at trends in toy sourcing and some massive changes which are ongoing, and perhaps further advanced than many toy companies have recognised.

The world of toy manufacturing is changing primarily due to the successful economic development of China. Because toy manufacturing tends to depend on labour intensive production lines, China’s economy has developed beyond the point where such work is sustainable with the same competitive advantages as China enjoyed when labour costs were significantly lower. We believe this is something China should be applauded for as they have significantly raised the standard of living of their population. This does though have major implications for the toy industry as we have become so reliant as an industry on toy manufacturing in China.

The video below is the Webinar we recorded on the topic. Please note this video was recorded by and on behalf of Kids Brand Insight, our Consultancy business: http://www.KidsBrandInsight.com

23 March 2020 ~ 0 Comments

Toy & Games Industry Outlook 2020: Impact of Covid-19

We recently published a LinkedIn article looking at the effects of Covid-19 in the short and medium term on the global toy & games business.

We review what the likely implications are and also look at why there is light at the end of the tunnel for both the toy sector and the human species as a whole.

To read the article, just click here: https://www.linkedin.com/pulse/toy-games-industry-outlook-2020-impact-covid-19-steve-reece/?trackingId=G0ak7FlITFmg%2BMFGwB70iQ%3D%3D

Watch this space for an upcoming series of articles looking at practical steps the toy industry can take to get through this tough time with businesses and people in tact.

For more on how we can help toy companies, here is our toy & game industry Consultancy business: www.KidsBrandInsight.com/services

28 February 2020 ~ 0 Comments

New York Toy Fair 2020 – Review

As the curtain sets on another New York toy fair, and as those exhausted souls who have been mostly on the road attending toy trade shows so far in 2020 head off for some well earned rest, there are a number of clear conclusions to be made about the toy industry in general and about the New York Toy Fair itself.

Firstly, as ever, this show remains the best place to access the lucrative North American toy fair. The show is always a great mix of pizzazz, product presentation and inter personal meeting, this year lived up to the high standards set in recent years. The great and the good of the North American toy scene were in attendance as per usual and the selection of new toy products on display was epic!

The ‘C’ word (in this case meaning the coronavirus) was still a topic of conversation, and there is no doubt that there were very few Chinese visitors in attendance in New York. Since the show ended the virus has surfaced in a number of other countries round the world. Whether we see the virus as a serious global health risk or not the reality is that this pesky virus HAS affected supply chain for the toy business and other industries. There is a genuine risk of global recession as airlines cancel flights, stores are at risk of running out of stock and stock markets have tumbled. If you take a month of economic activity out of the global economy, then you inevitably risk ending up with a recessionary environment. We’re all hoping this thing clears quickly and we can all get back to work sharpish! At least in the toy business we have a business which is over balanced towards the last 3 months of the year, so we have a good opportunity ahead to chase sales, unlike some other industries/categories.

We sat in on a fascinating presentation lat New York Toy Fair lead by the team at ICTI looking at alternative sourcing locations outside of China. While there has been a trend brewing for a few years for outside of China toy sourcing, this trend looks likely to accelerate based on this panel discussion, as people question the prudence of a complete reliance on one country as the source of nearly all their products. Going forward, we expect China’s ‘OEM’ business i.e. contract manufacturing product for other companies to reduce, but the business for self developed products and brands from China to grow significantly. Seems like it is time for China’s toy manufacturing sector to take a step up the value chain, and in doing so to elevate their economy and living standards for their people, which should be applauded. It does though mean that the classic low labour cost production model in China is heading towards the beginning of the end, and prudent toy companies are already looking elsewhere. It’s likely to be a bumpy road, because China’s toy manufacturing sector has become so reliable, so efficient and so integral to the global toy business.

One other clear trend in New York was the environmental theme. This was such a prominent theme at the Nuremberg toy fair this year, but the question was whether this mighty and much revered land of gas guzzling vehicles and mass consumption would pay similar attention to this topic. New York toy fair 2020 was the time and the place where it became apparent that there is a truly global acceptance of the need for a move away from so much plastic consumption, with major announcements and initiatives from many exhibitors.

Finally, on the last day of the show, we sneaked away early to go for a guided tour of the United Nations building in New York. In the forums of this building and institution humankind has managed to avoid the senseless mass scale conflict which dominated the 1st half of the 20th century. We finished our 2020 toy fair season by reflecting on meeting people from all around the world at these toy shows including people from China, the USA, Russia, the Middle East, Europe, South America and anywhere else in the world. The world order may be changing, and there may be a lot of division out there in a political and social sense, but above all we humans remain truly inter connected. The corona virus is not just China’s problem and the planet and environment are shared by all of us. China is not leaving the toy business, just redefining roles, heading towards a move from engine room to top of deck.

What makes us different does not mean we can’t get along. Toy fair season is the ultimate proof of how inter connected humankind is, and in the end, we win together or lose together – so here’s wishing for peace and prosperity – toy fair season 2020, over and out!

02 February 2020 ~ 0 Comments

Spiewarenmesse (Nuremberg) Toy Fair 2020 Review

Trying to review an event of the scale of Spielwarenmesse-Nuremberg toy fair is a challenge due to the sheer scale of the event. It would be quite possible to fill 2 weeks with meetings with people from across the industry, although 2 weeks of walking these extensive halls might cause permanent damage to feet!

In the same way as the human eye and mind can struggle to understand and get a sense of perspective of some natural landmarks e.g. the Grand Canyon, so it is difficult to give a genuine overview of Spielwarenmesse.

We can though look for some noticeable trends and happenings:

Eco theme – for years there have been some products at the show which positioned themselves as eco-friendly. This time though, the scale of this trend was extensive. Many booths were showing at least one product or one range which had been made with sustainability and environmental considerations in mind. This was the first time I managed to get my hands on plant based ‘plastic’. This was an interesting experience, it appears to be quite similar to usual plastics at first glance/first touch. It does though seem a little less rigid, and I am told by knowledgeable people that the endurance and reliability of the material is not yet proven. Nevertheless, this eco-trend has been a huge trend, probably the dominant trend at this show.

Coronavirus fear – unfortunately at the time of the show the coronavirus has received much media attention, and as Spielwarenmesse attracts visitors & exhibitors from all around the world (including China), a few visitors have stayed away out of fear. The official attendance figures show a small decline in total visitor numbers, but that wasn’t really noticeable around the show. Also, by way of sense of perspective in all the media hyperbole and sensationalist reporting, people get ill all the time regardless of the corona virus, and Spielwarenmesse is an event where you can come away ill unless you take some steps – just based on the huge congregation of people in one space breathing the same air, using the same door handles and shaking hands together! From a personal perspective, I doubt any germs could have lived on my hands during this years show as they were saturated with alcohol hand rub.

Market challenges & market opportunities – the market is tough in some countries, but is growing in others. Always we judge the year by our own performance first and the market performance second, as such we spoke to people @ Spielwarenmesse who had great years in 2019 and people who had terrible years. Thankfully 2020 is a new year, and all opportunity is still ahead!

Technology & Toys – yet again technology continues to impact the toy business across many fronts: via technology in the products, retail technologies and in media/marketing technologies. There are too many factors here to reference any specifics without missing something important, so more on Technology & Toys in future articles!

Spielwarenmesse-Nuremberg toyfair as the biggest & best toy trade show – arguably (and also in our opinion) this is by far the best and most effective trade show to access the global toy business. Visitors come from all around the world, and opportunity is everywhere. Often the challenge is more prioritisation to ensure maximal benefit from attendance, because the potential avenues of opportunity and the potential business partners are so many!

As the eyes of the global toy community now look westwards towards New York, the next week or two ahead of that event are bound to see a flurry of activity and follow up.

Thanks to the organisers for another great show Spielwarenmesse, and onwards we trot!

24 January 2020 ~ 0 Comments

BTHA UK Toyfair 2020 Review

Following a tough 2019 the UK toy industry assembled this week at the soon to be revamped Olympia Exhibition Centre to show their 2020 product lines.

While 2019 was a difficult year for many, and the market was down overall, as per any year there were many winners and many losers. We all look at how good a year was on the basis of our own business performance – market size is more or less an abstract thing. I spoke to companies who had it really tough and to companies who had an incredible 2019. As per every other year, selling effectively, having compelling products combined with compelling marketing is the key, along with spreading risk across a few product categories and prudently trying to expand product offerings.

The outlook for the UK toy market in 2020 is ok but with some challenges and threats on the horizon. Kids still want toys and parents are ever more desperate to leverage kids off screens which makes toys as attractive as they have ever been for parents.

The challenge for the industry overall this year is the weakest movie slate for a few years, which normally dictates growth or regression in terms of total market size. The major risk right now appears to be consumer plastic backlash. It’s hard to know to what degree this contributed to a tough year in 2019, but it is clearly a major topic of conversation and with several retailers aggressively clamping down on needless plastic in packaging this is likely to be a theme for the next few years if not forever more.

Looking forward to the next few UK toy fairs, we can expect some disruption due to the pending renovation of Olympia exhibition centre – this though seems like a discomfort worth accepting due to the great location and accessibility of Olympia versus past venues.

Finally, on a personal note, as ever the UK toy fair seems like the cosiest of toy trade shows, with so many old friends and colleagues attending. While there were the usual reports or claims of traffic being down, I saw pretty much all the usual suspects so from my perspective, and from the perspective of most of the people I spoke to this was a successful show – which once again reinforces the importance of the UK’s own trade show. Even better than that, this was the first UK show for a while where nobody mentioned the dreaded ‘B’ word (that’s Brexit for those in the rest of the world who may not have noticed the UK’s paralysis over this issue for the last few years)!

#ontothenextone #spielwarenmesse

We run a toy industry consultancy business. If you need help to get ahead in the toy business, feel free to drop us a line and we’ll see if we can help, more details on our services here: http://www.kidsbrandinsight.com/services/

25 November 2019 ~ 0 Comments

How To Secure Toy & Game Distribution Across Europe

In the last article in this series we looked at how to secure distribution into North America. This time we’re looking at Europe.

The start point in looking at Europe is that despite the existence of the European Union (which makes things much easier for trading across the continent), you are looking at more than 40 countries, each with it’s own culture, history, retail market and regulatory framework. Europe adds up to roughly around the same market value as the U.S.A., but that large market comes in many bits and pieces in Europe!

The three biggest markets (by quite a long way) are the UK, France & Germany. Depending on which published figures you believe, these 3 markets make up around 50% (give or take a bit) of the European toy market.

Followers of the ’80-20′ rule could be forgiven for thinking they will just focus on these 3 markets & take 50% of the potential opportunity. The challenge though is that these 3 markets alone are actually really quite different from each other, and so it isn’t always possible to use the same strategy in all three:

UK Toy & Games Market: The UK is one of the most license driven toy markets. Movie related toys have always been a big thing, as are ‘TV’ properties and even YouTube content/personality licenses these days. In distribution terms, the market has a strong mass market channel with generalist retailers like Argos & grocers like Tesco, Asda & Sainsburys having good market share. Online has been strong for a long time in the UK, with Amazon leading the market. The toy specialist retail channel in the UK is also strong, with Smyths & The Entertainer achieving ongoing success, which looks set to continue as they take advantage of the gap left in the market by the disappearance of Toys R Us from the UK market. The ‘independent’ toy retail sector in the UK is comparatively small, which means that 5 or 6 retailers can still drive the majority of the opportunity, so most companies approach the UK market either via distributors, sales agents or via setting up their own subsidiary & sales team.

Germany Toy & Games Market – the German toy & games market is quite different from the UK. Overall it is far less license driven, with an emphasis on higher quality components/materials i.e. overall less plastic! And if the toy is still plastic it is more likely to be of higher quality plastic. The parenting culture is strong and German parents tend to be very responsible & interested in the development of their children, especially versus the U.K. Therefore product categories such as board games, construction toys, learning toys are all comparatively strong in Germany. The retail market in Germany is quite fragmented, with thousands of independent toy stores, and a number of retail chains who are important but not dominant players. Germany has long been one of the most internet savvy markets in Europe, as such online channels including Amazon (of course!) are strong. Germany would be a harder market to set up your own distribution due to the fragmented market & store by store of some key retailers/channels in Germany. Therefore distributors would normally be the chosen path to market in Germany.

France Toy & Games Market – France is a strong toy market, but with some distinct local differences. For instance, France has a content production ecosystem of its own, along with long standing comic culture which means that while licensed toys are fairly strong in France, some are based on licenses from France’s own entertainment content. The retail market has 3 key channels: hypermarkets or ‘hypermarché’ inc. Carrefour, Auchan & Leclerc. These retail behemoths have less market share now than in the past but they are still significant. They are known for running massive toy promotions in the last part of the year. While the toy ranges may be small throughout Q1-Q3, they tend to expand significantly in Q4 with aggressive pricing to match. The toy specialist retail channel in France is long established but has had some issues in the past few years as key players ran into financial difficulty. Again the online channel is established in France and as elsewhere is an increasingly significant contributor to the market. France has some strong distributors, as well as the usual network of sales agents/reps. Setting up your own subsidiary can be risky as hiring staff in France is comparatively easy, but firing staff in France is difficult and costly because of local employment laws.

CONCLUSION – in summary, Europe represents a significant opportunity for toy & game companies to expand their distribution. Bear in mind though that despite the helpful presence of the European Union, it is not one uniform market place. Product culture varies from market to market, as does the retail landscape. A winning strategy for European toy & games distribution is to allow for local differences in your plans!

If you are interested in selling into European toy & game markets we offer a Consultancy service to toy and board game companies across the world (past clients have come from countries as diverse as the USA, Australia, India, China, Bulgaria, Korea etc). Our brand, product and export sales management service allows us to get deep underneath the skin of toy companies and to help them sell more into North America & elsewhere both via effective selling using our extensive toy industry connections, but also by helping them to correctly align their brands and products to the market. We offer this service with a limited capacity with a maximum of 5 spaces at any one time. At the time of writing, we have only 1 space left heading into toy fair season. To find out more about working with us on this service & to get our help to grow your business please just drop us a line or visit here for more details: www.KidsBrandInsight.com/services/

07 November 2019 ~ 0 Comments

How To Secure Toy & Game Distribution Into North America

The USA is the single biggest toy market in the world by quite a long way, and when you add on Canada, which is perhaps a surprisingly good sized market in itself you reach a very significant distribution opportunity for toy and board game companies.

NORTH AMERICAN TOYS & BOARD GAMES – MARKET INSIGHTS

The USA retail marketplace is typically split between Specialty and Mass Market.

Mass market retail often gets most of the attention because just a few retailers can drive huge volumes. A listing in Walmart’s physical stores across their store network will often add up to significantly more than the total sales achievable in an entire European country, or even in several European countries. A single product listing can be worth $millions. The challenge though is that Walmart is not that accessible to smaller companies directly, and the difference between 3 or 5 listings from one year to the next can often make or break companies. It can also be very time consuming to handle logistics with such a large retailer across such a large geographical territory.

Specialty distribution in the USA tends to get far less attention, but can still drive what would be very respectable sales levels in any other country. More importantly, with Specialty distribution, the risk is spread across a broader distribution base typically, meaning that you are not so reliant on the whims or directions of a single retailer or single retail buyer. The USA is unique in that even a retailer trading across just a few states can have hundreds of stores. As such, we often advise our consultancy clients to begin with specialty and to build up towards mass market retail as a longer term objective.

In terms of routes to market, there are 4 main options:

  1. Direct selling to retailers – this is a lot of work to take on in such a vast country. We don’t recommend taking this on lightly!
  2. Selling via reps/agents – there is a large array of sales reps in the USA who can take your products to either a large spread of independent ‘mom & pop’ stores, right up to presenting your products to Walmart, Target etc. Clearly they take a %age, but they represent a much quicker way to grow your distribution as they have already established relationships.
  3. Distributors/wholesalers – these are companies who buy your stock & sell it to retailers. A distributor will often take a more strategic brand building approach and may sometimes invest in marketing. A wholesaler tends to just buy & sell stock.
  4. Direct to consumer – once a pretty much insignificant part of toy and board games sales, selling direct to consumer has grown both in terms of $sales and in terms of importance/influence on the overall industry. Going direct to consumer can justify development costs and open up direct distribution opportunities.

CANADA

Canada’s toy and board game market deserves a special mention. The retail landscape is somewhat different and the market is not insignificant. Often ignored by toy companies, sales to Canada can be significant. While it is quite common to find Canadian based companies or reps selling into the USA, beware that your USA partners have an eye on the Canadian opportunity if you grant them North America territory!

In summary, North America is a massive opportunity. We often come across clients who chase enquiries from small countries and markets, and then get lost in the minutiae of supplying to a new country with all that entails. Putting the biggest opportunity first is clearly more likely to deliver big rewards.

If you are interested in selling into North American markets we offer a Consultancy service to toy and board game companies across the world (past clients have come from countries as diverse as the USA, Australia, India, China, Bulgaria, Korea etc). Our brand, product and export sales management service allows us to get deep underneath the skin of toy companies and to help them sell more into North America & elsewhere both via effective selling using our extensive toy industry connections, but also by helping them to correctly align their brands and products to the market. We offer this service with a limited capacity with a maximum of 5 spaces at any one time. At the time of writing, we have only 2 spaces left heading into toy fair season. To find out more about working with us on this service & to get our help to grow your business please just drop us a line or visit here for more details: www.KidsBrandInsight.com/services/

07 November 2019 ~ 0 Comments

5 Must Haves For Toy Factories

Toy manufacturing is a critical part of what we do in the toy business, but because it is boring compared to new product development or less glamorous than glitzy awards and agency lunches, many toy companies fail to pay manufacturing enough attention.

We came up with 5 must haves for any toy factory your company works with:

Certifications – it should go without saying that many retailers will insist on ethical audit certification for factories e.g. ICTI, SEDEX etc. Other certifications which may be needed/which show a certain level of standards attained in the toy business would include Walmart or Disney certification. Normally most established toy factories will have an ISO certification also.

Established customer base – why would you ever want to be a factory’s first customer? New factories have to set up and then refine a bewildering array of processes, procedures and staff training. Why would you ever choose to take on such an unproven supplier, when there is no shortage of established toy factories out there? Unless your business model is to set up captive factories to focus on only your business (in which case, you would tend to start from scratch so you can set things up the way you are used to working) there is a lot of risk in working with an untried supplier. The first question asked should be which toy companies are you already supplying? If the answer doesn’t include a number of long standing established toy companies, then you are likely to be taking the factory on a learning curve at the expense of efficient and trouble free supply!

Matching Core Competence – if your main product lines are small metal cars, why would you work with a factory that supplies primarily large plastic items? Will they have the skills and capability to be a reliable and cost effective supplier? Possibly not! Your factory may be sub contracting production somewhere else, which is all well and good, but they will be adding a margin to the price you pay, so beware of over paying to a factory that has no core competence in the product area you are concerned with.

Competitive and Future Proofed Pricing – pricing is such a factor normally in toy companies moving production from one factory to another. Pricing is of course really important – when c. 30-35% of your sales value is in manufacturing, a few %age points saved can soon add up to big amounts of money. The challenge though is that many toy companies are attracted by ‘golden hello’ pricing, which then creeps up, either on the initial product lines or on subsequent product lines, due to either cut-throat pricing upfront to start the trading relationship or because of genuine cost inflation. If you are considering moving production at the time of writing, the best approach to future proofing pricing for toys is to consider alternative manufacturing regions with lower labour costs for your toy sourcing vs China e.g. Vietnam or India.

Matching Volume Aspirations – factories vary from huge plants set up to churn out massive volumes to smaller plants supplying lower quantities of really high quality products. One of the key considerations for a toy or board game company looking for new manufacturing is matching likely demand with the level of supply which is motivating for the factory. If your business is too small for a larger factory, focus will go elsewhere and you will be unsatisfied with the level of service/focus you get. If you take big volume business to a factory not set up to handle your volume you can run short of supply if they cannot meet demand.

Finding and selecting new toy and board game factories can be very time consuming and risky. We can help, via www.KidsBrandInsight.com/services we work with toy and board game companies to find cost effective factories. We also work on a consultancy retainer basis with a limited number of tried and trusted factories to help them grow their businesses, for more information on how we can help, just drop us a line.

31 October 2019 ~ 0 Comments

5 Tips To Grow Toy Export Sales

This article is the first in a series looking at Toy & Game export sales as we head into toy fair season.

Unless a toy company is fortunate enough to have the U.S.A. as home market, sales to other countries are likely to be an important component of justifying product development investment.

Even if the USA is your home market, it accounts for less than one quarter of the global market opportunity. The reality is that selling outside your own country is an essential part of your sales opportunity and if you don’t effectively and efficiently maximise that opportunity you are far less likely to build a successful and sustainable toy business.

The challenge though is that there are a lot of countries and potential customers out there, so developing the right approach and strategy needs some thought.

Here are 5 quick tips on how to grow toy export sales:

A. Attend The Right Trade Shows

If we could only suggest one tip to help toy companies expand export sales it would be this one. Trying to cold sell to companies you have never met, whose first language is not your own can be really tough. Even if you are really good at selling it takes a great degree of time and grind. At trade shows you can access hundreds of potential customers in a relatively short time and often set up a whole years business in just a few days. For those who are newer to the industry, the key trade shows for export sales are:

Spielwarenmesse-Nuremberg: www.spielwarenmesse.de

New York: http://www.toyfairny.com/

Distoy (London): http://www.distoy.com/

B. Focus On Bigger Markets First

When you attend trade shows you tend to come back with a raft of new contacts and sales leads. It is of course human nature to follow up all of these to try to sell. The challenge though is that each new market you enter has local needs – regulations, languages, trading conditions etc. It is not possible to be an expert on every toy market in the world. The most common mistake we see in toy & game companies is trying to sell to every market in the world, but what tends to happen is that the smaller markets which get far less focus from everyone are often the easiest to get deals done, but then the need to service those customers takes up more and more time until your export team is spening a disproportionate amount of time chasing small orders. The biggest toy markets in the world tend to do the highest volumes, so sometimes less is more – forget global domination (at least for now!), picking 3-5 major markets & ensuring you have great partners in those markets will deliver way more than chasing every opportunity in small markets.

C. Follow Up

Conversations are often positive at trade shows, but the hard reality is in the purchase order, and the process from first positive conversatioons to purchase order can be long. Having invested in trade shows and spent all that time creating opportunities don’t let good opportunities drift away due to lack of follow up. At trade shows companies can review hundreds of opportunities, but back in the cold light of day they need to make choices and focus on what they will actually spend money on, and the reality is there are always far more opportunities than can be followed. So stay in touch when the customer is back in the office & keep things moving along in your direction otherwise your customer might choose someone else’s products instead of yours!

D. Network relentlessly

If there was one piece of advice we would give to a youngster just starting out in this industry it would be to network relentlessly. It is of course a cliché, but the saying ‘It’s not what you know but who you know’ is so very relevant in the toy industry. Investing time and effort in building good relationships with other people in the industry both makes your working life more fun as well as more effective. There are people you might have met 10 or 15 years ago who are perfectly positioned to benefit from your next project, but if you didn’t keep in touch or if you annoyed them along the way, then both you and they will lose an opportunity.

E. Accelerate Your Export Sales Via Agents/Consultants

Working with sales agents is standard practise in the toy business. Whether they sell to a specific retailer or to specific markets or regions, sales agents offer big sales opportunities for no or little upfront cost. You will eventually end up paying agents commissions though, which then comes out of every future sale you make. The challenge with working with agents is that they have to work hard and sell a lot of products to make a living, so they are inherently likely to push what is the easiest sell. If your product line is a harder or more complicated sell, or if the volumes are low, then they are far less likely to push your products. if you have a hot seling product range, agents should be able to do a good job for you (if you pick the right ones!).

Consultants are at first glance less attractive, in that you have to pay them upfront for their work with you. However, the benefit is twofold:

1. They do not cost you much larger sums if they are successful in selling your product like a sales agent would, as there are not future commissions to be paid

2. Rather than focusing on the easy wins to chase commission, a good Consultant should take a broader look at your business. For instance, you may think your export sales team are under performing, but it might be that your product is only culturally relevant in your market unless a few changes are made. It might be that your pricing is out for major export markets, or it might be that your competitive positioing is not strong enough. It could be many things – and a good Consultant can help you identify these issues for the cost of a few months of Consultancy retainer.

This article was written by Steve Reece on behalf of Kids Brand Insight. We have sold toys & games into more than 90 countries worldwide across a twenty year period. We work on a Consultancy retainer basis to help toy and games companies grow their exports. For more information, please drop us a line or go here for more information: http://www.kidsbrandinsight.com/services/

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