Our Playing At Business podcast has been going since 2018, making it one of the first podcasts focused on the toy & games business. We cover all kinds of topics related to our industry on the podcast. To find the full episode list, just click here


Here's some specific episodes which are among the most listened to:


Toy & games companies generally don't test their products enough with consumers. We all know how much testing goes into ensuring products are compliant with safety standards, but what about testing to see if they are compliant with functionality, fun and general appeal to kids & their parents?

Consumer research playtesting is the not so secret, but shamefully under-utilised weapon of toy & game companies. All the major global toy companies have extensive consumer research programs, but as we discuss in this podcast, research doesn't necessarily have to be expensive to be useful.



Toy companies (both big & small) rely heavily on the factories they work with. Every time they produce a toy your reputation and potentially your business rest on the factory & their complying with safety, ethical and quality standards. Competitive pricing is also a concern of course, manufacturing spend is the biggest cost for toy & game companies, so comparatively small savings in percentage terms can add to up to significant money.

In Episode 72 of the PLAYING AT BUSINESS podcast we take a look at how to find and then validate good reliable toy factories. We have worked with many different factories in different factories over the years, and we have introduced more than 100 toy & game companies to new factories. The things we learnt during this process are shared in this podcast.



The toy business is moving from a single hub (China) sourcing model to a multi-hub model. India is the only other country with comparable population size, with abundant cheap production line labour and existing industrial capacity and domain expertise in plastics. There are many more reasons though why India's rise in toy manufacturing is an inevitability.

The current manufacturing solutions in India are not perfect, but as the toy business begins to clamour for ever more production capacity outside of China, only India has the potential to scale up capacity to levels like we have seen develop in China over the last 30 years or so.

More on all this in Episode 71 of the Playing At Business podcast.



France is one of Europe's 'BIG 3' toy & game markets. In this episode we speak to Yann Fresnel (of Toy Influence), who has extensive commercial experience in the French toy market. We discuss his career in toys, what companies need to understand about the market in France and also look at how his company helps with market entry in 'La Republique francaise'.

This episode contains a lot of very useful and insightful information - for example we discuss how the Games category accounts for nearly one fifth of the entire toy market in France. For more key information and tips on how to get ahead in the toy market in France, listen to this episode now!


Alternative Toy Distribution Channels

We in the toy business can tend to get very focused on our existing (traditional) retailers. In markets like the USA, France and the UK, just a few retail chains per market have a very significant market share and tend to demand a large degree of focus and care from our sales teams.

The German toy market is unusual when compared to these other major toy markets, in that it has a very fragmented retail base, with its preponderance of independent toy retailers and no one retailer accounting for a very large share of the market, it is somewhat unusual. This difference shifts the challenge from managing one or two highly demanding super-sized retailers to ensure you can leverage as many listings/shipments as you need, to a challenge of managing a fragmented sales network and the need for more substantial sales infrastructure.

One distribution factor that is present in mostly equal measure in all these markets though is the concept of ‘alternative distribution’. Away from much cherished toy specialists like Toys R Us, and highly valued but very demanding multi product retailers, is a different world where toys can be present but aren’t necessarily integral/essential to the retailer in question. While Toys R Us obviously must stock toys, and the mass market generalist retailers use the toy category to drive in store traffic and to ensure they capture as much ‘family’ spending as they can, why would a book store, a furniture store or a multi-media retailer stock toys – especially when toys are sold on a ‘firm sale’ basis i.e. the retailer buys them and keeps them, not like sale or return to supplier which is typical for books or multi-media for instance? Moreover, do these retailers merit focus and attention when they tend to take a narrow range of products from a limited number of suppliers?

The value to toy companies of such customers probably comes down to business strategy and place in the market. The 80/20 rule would probably suggest that such retailers are not worthy of the time of the sales departments in larger companies like Mattel, Hasbro or Lego for instance. Such non-core customers are more likely to be passed onto wholesalers by these big players. However, for smaller companies there may well be value in targeting such alternative distribution, because the value of the potential opportunity may well be more significant to a company that doesn’t have full distribution into all traditional channels. My own experience would suggest that sometimes it is easier to be one of a few suppliers in a particular category than it is to be one of many. For smaller companies, a broader base may mitigate the risk that gigantic customers pose in terms of ongoing sales/listings stability and inventory.

These alternative retailers may sometimes appear to be uncommitted to the toy category – some years they are in, some years they are not, but the reality is that they do offer incremental opportunity. Sometimes they may increase their toy line around events i.e. a major book launch, or a particular season of the year. Toys can help them broaden their offer to the consumer and draw in more families to their outlets.

While consumers may not be looking in such types of stores for toys specifically, the research I have conducted suggests that the average consumer does not think ‘I’m in a book shop, I am only here to buy books’, rather they look at and eventually purchase items which they want or even need, regardless of where they are when they buy them. Certain types of toys can fit very well with a particular retailer, i.e. the Lord of the Rings and The Hobbit film toys (& other merchandise) appear to have achieved significantly more in store space than the general line of toy products offered usually due to the clear link between the movies and the books they are derivative works of.

Toys may not seem such an obvious fit with some of these alternative distribution channels, but they still offer revenue opportunity for those willing to step outside the usual and place a sales call!

Check out our Toy & Game business Consultancy business here: www.KidsBrandInsight.com/services

The Endless Appeal Of Board Games

“The reports of my death are greatly exaggerated!” - so wrote author Mark Twain following a false rumour circulating alleging that he had died.

For much of the nearly twenty years I have worked in the toy & board game industries, people/colleagues/customers of mine have speculated as to the future for board games. Firstly, there was the video game console explosion offering much more immersive, much more addictive gaming experiences. Then we had the tablet & smartphone revolution which gave us anything we wanted on a device always to hand. Why (I was repeatedly asked) does anyone still need board games? Well the answer is that we apparently do still need board games, despite all the technological advances of the last few years.

This ancient form of gaming dates back thousands of years, developed further through the twentieth century and today is still standing as one of the prime pillars of the toy aisle in retail. In fact, in recent times, just as the tablet/smartphone has become ubiquitous, so the board game seems to have undergone yet another renaissance. In fact, I would argue that the board games category has not been in such a good state since board games were a genuine prime leisure activity decades back before media content became such a big part of our lives.

There are several reasons/drivers behind the current/recent renaissance of board games:

Firstly, there is a fundamental benefit of board gaming that is genuinely timeless. People are social animals, we live in/interact with other people around us. Sometimes this social interaction needs an aid or a prop to keep things fresh, to avoid any bickering or other negativity and to have fun with family and friends. This is the fundamental purpose of board games – social facilitation. Technology has not taken this benefit of board games away or delivered it any better to date. The back end of the year is the real peak season for board games sales & playing (in the major Western markets), because cold weather, increased hours of darkness outside and ritual family get togethers (like Thanksgiving or Christmas) deliver the play occasion that best suits board games.

Secondly, society and people in general are now struggling to combat the reality of excess screen time – staring at small screens all day is not such a positive thing in terms of lifestyle, social cohesion and eyesight among other things. Therefore, the toy industry as a whole and board games specifically are benefiting from their deployment as an antidote to screen time – both for our children and for ourselves! Parents nowadays struggle to get their kids off devices, in fact many children would be looking at tablets all day if left to themselves. Board games and toys in general offer play patterns which are perceived by the majority of parents to be more worthy and more positive. The more we come to rely on/be hooked on these devices, the stronger this impulse/counter reaction becomes. In reality, that doesn’t mean parents succeed in using board games to get their children off screens, but it is a definite purchase driver, even if usage doesn’t always follow purchase!

Thirdly, we have a much healthier, much broader array of board games available to us today than we did say ten years ago. The old model of product selection was all about getting past gatekeepers – from the inventor/author to the game company, from the game company to the retailer and from the retailer to the consumer. Crowdfunding has today completely revolutionised & at least at the start of the process, circumvented this old way of doing things. Today games which would have been too quirky for anyone to launch ten years ago are able to go direct to the final arbiter – the consumer. If enough consumers like the game, it can be made via crowdfunding sites like Kickstarter. Thus we have had such hit games as Cards Against Humanity and Exploding Kittens – these much more politically incorrect/less old fashioned games and game concepts have opened up board games as a relevant medium to today’s young adults, bringing in a whole new ‘forgotten’ generation to board gaming as a cool & hip activity. The glorious fact about this massively powerful trend is that it is still in the infancy stage – look forward to many more games pushing the boundaries to come – that ‘staleness’ that permeated parts of the board games industry some time back is thankfully long gone.

It would appear that all that talk of the eventual demise of the board games category are fundamentally unfounded!

Check out our Board Games Business blog here: www.BoardGameBiz.com