How Toy Markets Differ – The Difference Between Baseball And Cricket Explains It!
Regular readers of my blog posts will know of my near obsession with the importance of understanding market by market differences in order to maximise export sales potential. However, such theoretical rantings don’t always register as well as a more colloquial explanation…so here goes!
Firstly a brief bit of dry theory – the USA and UK appear to have much in common – very similiar language, cultural influences, mass market license driven toy markets etc. Yet we can see distinct and large differences between the two – while the Hollywood machine dominates kid targeted movies, the UK has it’s own distinct brand of kid targeted TV and the hugely influential BBC, the retail structure and chains are fairly different and certain product types work better in one market or the other. Now when we consider the huge historical and cultural links between these two nations, and when we add in the more or less common language, we can see that still the toy markets in the UK & USA are different…so when you change the language, the culture, the retail structure, the regulatory frameworks, the hstory and more, we can see why for instance so few UK or US toy companies manage to sell in Japan, China or Brazil for example.
Now that may all be a little dry and remote for some, or you may have stopped listening to my point on this market difference, so here’s an analogy I like to use – let’s compare cricket and baseball:
For a start, I imagine there are many people reading this who don’t know what cricket is. There will be some that don’t know what baseball is. So let me briefly explain – both are sports where one person propels a hard ball towards their opponent, and whereby the opponent must try to hit the ball far enough to allow him/his team mates to score ‘runs’ i.e. to run to certain points. With me so far? Good! The interesting part though is just how different the format and process of both games is when compared to the other, despite the overall idea being very similar…for instance, baseball scoring is driven by running between bases set out in a diamond shape, in cricket players run in straight lines back and forth. In baseball, the ‘pitcher’ throws the ball without bouncing it through a set space which is deemed hittable, in cricket the bowler runs in, and using a strictly straight armed motion (i.e. not throwing, no whip or bending of the elbow allowed) propels the ball towards three wooden ‘stumps’ with 2 wooden ‘bails’ on top. In baseball you can be out via: 3 strikes, caught or run out, in cricket you can be out bowled, caught, run out, lbw (leg before wicket when the ball hits your legs), because you hit your own wicket, because you took too long to get to the wicket etc.
Hopefully you’re still awake at this juncture…because the point is not to talk about these two venerable games, the point is how two nations can take the same idea i.e. one player propelling a ball at the other and the other trying to hit it with a bat, and create such a different execution?
The reality is that the same similarity of overall purpose can still be executed in a very different way i.e. even within the same category product formats can change – action figures in Germany for instance are more likely to be high quality fixed animal figurines than the traditional movie driven action figures we might find in the UK or USA, a Chinese board game may be very different to an American game etc.
And this doesn’t just apply to product, it also applies to retail – for instance, only the UK has ‘Argos’ – the biggest toy retailer in the UK for as long as I have worked in toys at least – imagine a catalogue driven retailer which prints over 20 million catalogues (one for each UK household roughly) as the leading toy retaiiler…it’s a bit different from Walmart, or Carrefour etc. In Germany, we have thousands of independent toy retailers, and no single dominant retailer, it’s a very fragmented market in terms of retail…whereas the mighty Walmart & Target in the USA hold a hefty market share and therefore have a much greater impact/power base with suppliers. Furthermore, while Toys R Us may offer a mostly homogenous approach to toy specialist retail on a global basis, each market tends to have its own specialist chains with different characteristics – from The Entertainer in the UK to La Grand Recre in France, things are similar but different in the same way as baseball is different from cricket!
The bottom line is this – you will often get away with selling some of the same stuff in multiple markets, but actually you will be better placed in the long term if you first take steps to understand, and then exploit market by market differences.
We work with companies in countries around the world to help them grow their export/international business, and the major finding from our experience is that companies usually need help with ‘tweaking’ their product line and changing product direction to account for the global opportunity…in actual fact in many cases where companies have struggled to establish significant international sales, it’s often because their product lines/approach is the issue. Clearly it helps if you know the right people/companies in each market (our database holds nearly 5,000 toy companies for instance, and we are regular contact with around 100-150…clearly this is advantageous), but actually most often a good product which fits the needs of a particular market will sell itself.
In terms of benchmarks, bearing in mind that the USA accounts for around a quarter of the global toy market, US companies who have domestic sales of $50m for instance should have export sales of at least $5m-10m. For European companies, a good rule of thumb would be that export sales should be at least the same as domestic sales, albeit with a different margin structure.
So if your export sales aren’t hitting these standards, perhaps it’s time you thought about the difference between baseball and cricket, and whether it’s your selling efforts which are holding you back, your product or your lack of knowledge about market by market difference
P.S. More ridiculous analogies will feature in future articles – watch this space!
by Steve Reece, CEO of Kids Brand Insight www.KidsBrandInsight.com, a leading Consultancy to toy, game and kids entertainment companies around the world, which helps companies find the right toy & game factories, consumer research test their products with kids and parents and secure export distribution/market entry around the world.