The Ever-Growing Importance Of China To The Global Toy Industry
Spoiler alert: this article is not primarily about OEM manufacturing!
For those who have been in the toy business for a long time, China is synonymous with toy manufacturing, and has been for the working lifetimes of most people in the toy trade. China has been an incredible manufacturing resource for toy companies. Much has been written about the pressures on China’s toy factories (including by ourselves), with rapid economic development which makes labour intensive toy production less and less viable in China. Labour cost inflation is the primary reason why toy companies are increasingly looking to Vietnam, India and other Asian markets to pick up some slack in terms of lower labour costs.
This manufacturing picture though is not the only picture. There are two major areas where China is going to offer huge opportunity, competition and activity for the toy business around the world for the forseeable future:
Domestic China Market
There was a point in time when China’s domestic toy market was primarily generic locally manufactured toys. Over time though, as China’s economy has developed and living standards have increased substantially, China is fast becoming the major growth opportunity in the world today for established toy companies. The fact that Lego has plans to open 80+ stores in China should give a strong indication of just how big the domestic toy market opportunity is in China. If current levels of economic development and brand adoption continue, China could become the world’s biggest toy market in a decade potentially.
China therefore has growing importance to the toy industry because there are only so many countries in the world which offer such a large market alongside significant upward growth. The challenge for many toy companies though is that China (like all markets) has its own quirks in terms of culture, distribution setup, media and consumer wants. To use the Lego example again, Lego has launched products tailored to the Chinese market – this is in itself quite a statement, because Lego’s range is one of the most global in the toy business. The major U.S. stock market listed companies have been investing heavily in China’s domestic toy market for at least a decade because above all they need growth to satisfy their investors.
For smaller toy and game companies it can be daunting to know where to start with selling in China, and just like elsewhere, finding a good committed distributor can be challenging, but nevertheless the opportunities are significant and growing.
Chinese manufacturing companies launching their own brands
China has been the world’s toy manufacturing powerhouse for so long, and many manufacturing groups have generated significant wealth over decades by manufacturing toy products on an OEM basis for other companies. Even from way back though, some toy factories went direct to building their own brands in Western markets supplied from their own factories in China. This method of doing business is growing. Logically speaking it makes sense after all, maybe once a toy factory supplying OEM manufacturing might make 15% profit or more, but today with increased labour costs and constant downward pressure on pricing from customers while costs rise might be lucky to generate 5% profit. It makes sense then that of those thousands of Chinese toy factories some should invest to seek to transition from manufacturing toys for other people to designing, manufacturing, selling and marketing their own products and brands.
This could be one of the most disruptive implications of China’s economic development for toy markets around the world, as long- established toy factories with significant expertise move up the value chain to compete with their one-time customers. In the last 12 months, our company has Consulted for more Chinese factories looking to move up the value chain and establish their own brand than we did in the 5 years before that.
China’s role in the world, and especially for us in the toy business is changing. This vast heavily populated country at one point supplied our industry with a large industrial capacity, huge workforce and cheap labour. Looking forward though, while Chinese factories will continue to play a very significant role in supplying toy companies with OEM manufacturing, that role is likely to recede over time. Whereas China’s domestic market is likely to grow significantly, and the number of Chinese toy factories switching from OEM to creating and building their own brands is going to increase significantly which will add competition and new product development streams to the market.
We run a Consultancy business advising toy companies on how to grow their business by a combination of strategic analysis and export sales facilitation. We have helped more than 100 companies grow. Our clients range from $multi-billion FMCG giants through to start ups, from long established toy companies to toy factories and everything in between. We work with companies around the world – recent projects have been delivered for clients in the USA, UK, China, Hong Kong, India, Eastern Europe and beyond. For more information on our process and methodology for growing toy sales: https://www.kidsbrandinsight.com/blog/toy-co-growth-booster-program/