HOW TO FIND INTERNATIONAL TOY DISTRIBUTORS & SECURE DISTRIBUTION DEALS – 5 TIPS

The question we get asked the most often in our Consultancy business is how to find distributors internationally and how to secure distribution deals with them. At this stage, we have been working with distributors for more than 20 years, with a fair degree of both success and failure! In the process of working with toy & game distributors across the world there are some recurring realisations we want to share:

  • You need to understand the distributor’s business model.

Let’s start with this – being a distributor is a really tough business. The distributor buys products, warehouses them and ships them to the customer on typically thin margins. Cashflow is a constant strain, and you can’t afford to go big on stock on anything that doesn’t sell. You also don’t have a lot of margin to play with if your retailer needs help to mark products down to clear. In addition, to balance out the risks, prudent distributors will run a fairly broad portfolio of products. Those distributors who are over reliant on one brand or partner tend to be at greatest risk of going bust if those products are taken away from them as quite often happens in this business. As a result, distributors tend to be perhaps surprisingly cautious about taking on new product lines. They also have a massive choice – there are literally hundreds of thousands, if not millions of toy & game products out there for them to choose from. This is one reason why you might find it hard to get them on board to distribute your products.

  • The product is everything!

If you are good buddies with a distributor they will no doubt take a meeting with you at every trade show and be happy to take a look at new product lines you are pushing. However, in the end their business success depends on selecting the right products. A good distributor will not take a commercially unviable product from a friend, as that is just bad business. Whether they like you or not, if it won’t sell it is of no use. We have helped secure distribution across Europe, the USA, Asia & beyond for thousands of products. For some products it was quite easy – either because it was the right type/category of product at the right time or because the product featured a hot license. Occasionally we have secured major distribution deals from the first company we approached – this though had absolutely nothing to do with our selling skill – the product in those instances was so hot it effectively sold itself. On the flip side we have worked on products which are a really, really hard sell. One project we worked on involved us talking to more than 80 distributors before we secured distribution, and again this also wasn’t due to our selling skills, it was just a hard sell!

So above all, develop good products with clear and compelling selling points/benefits which fit commercially viable price points. Instead of falling in love with your product due to your high level of emotional investment, start with making sure you have a commercially viable product and you will be far more likely to succeed!

  • It takes time to build a distributor network around the world

It is usual to take years to build up a global distributor network. Each selling cycle you might bring on a few more partners, but the selling cycle is yearly, so it takes multiple selling cycles and therefore years to get things set up. Sometimes you can be having the same conversation with a distributor in trying to persuade them to take your products over several years. One product we worked on was finally adopted for distribution by the distributor ten years after we first pitched it to them. They were interested from year one but kept having other bigger more attractive products come along just as we were going to nail the deal!

  • Trade shows can be a rapid accelerant for setting up toy & game distributor networks

The toy trade show circuit is long established. (Pre & hopefully post covid) the toy trade circles the world with trade show after trade show getting products in front of retailers and distributors, securing distribution and taking orders. Which shows to attend depends quite a lot on your business and location, but there are often national toy trade shows e.g. the UK or Australia, alongside 3 major global shows – Hong Kong in early January, Spielwarenmesse-Nuremberg in late Jan/early Feb and New York in mid to late Feb. In addition, for toy distributors, Distoy in the UK is growing in importance. Attending these shows costs money, exhibiting costs even more, but there is no surer way of accelerating growth.

  • Marketing matters!

There are typically 2 types of distributors – those who distribute products with TV advertising, and those that don’t. For TV advertising distributors it should hopefully go without saying that you need a really compelling TVC to provide them, they would normally add their own local language voiceovers. Needless to say, it can cost quote a lot of money to TV advertise, so these distributors need to have enough margin and potential profit to merit the investment. Therefore, these TV advertising distributors tend to focus on product lines from major toy companies or hot (easy to sell) licenses. For non-TV advertising distributors, the lack of TV doesn’t mean no marketing…in fact, typically the successful distributors have effective (albeit lower budget) marketing executions. Offering distributors more marketing support in terms of managing pay per click advertising, content and supplying in store merchandising solutions again makes your success more likely.

To wrap up, here’s the bottom line: setting up distributor networks takes time, and above all the more commercially compelling your product is the quicker you will find distribution.

We run a Consultancy business helping toy & games companies get ahead. For more information, check out www.KidsBrandInsight.com/services


Our Managing Director, Steve Reece, works with a limited number of companies as a non-executive director, independent board director and as a board advised. If you are interested in finding out more about this, check out the link to our service above.

Sustainability In Toys: What Happens Next? Part 1, Plastic

COP 26 has been and gone. (Most) of the world’s leaders have agreed that urgent action is needed on environmental matters, not least of which is addressing CO2 output and global warming. While some of the solutions to global warming are beyond the ability of the toy business to resolve, there are clearly some actions we can all take which will help.


As we head towards another year it is perhaps a good time to take a look at where we are at on sustainability in the toy business. In the first article in this series we take a look at plastic:

Clearly the majority of toy products on sale are either mostly made from plastic or contain some plastic. Plastic being derived from oil and causing significant ocean pollution and other challenges has been very much in the public dialogue in recent years. Toy companies are increasingly aware of this. The low hanging fruit has been excess plastic in packaging, because plastic is cheap comparatively it has always been a large component of toy packaging (including the ties and fittings used to secure product during transit in pack). Much of that type of needless plastic has already been removed, but there is more still to do on that front. Solutions include clever packaging engineering to remove or at least reduce plastic usage, using sustainable materials such as cardboard and removing unnecessary shrink wrap on some products.


Looking forward, there is of course a potential long-term successor to plastic derived from plastic – that is ‘plastic’ produced from sustainable materials. This ‘bio-plastic’ is already available and being used by some companies in products. Lego has made large strides in this area, and is committed to going much, much further. In 2015 Lego announced a $150m investment in formulating a biobased alternative to oil-based plastic bricks, and their pledge is to switch all Lego bricks produced from 2030 onwards (that’s some 60 billion bricks p.a.!) to bio plastics.


Without getting too far into material science, we do know that there are some drawbacks with bioplastics, at least currently. Firstly, they are not proven to be as durable or to hold their shape as long as oil-based plastics, but perhaps that can be addressed with science/technological advancements over time. We also know that bio plastics are considerably more expensive – from talking to people in the business, we have heard costs to be c. 30% higher. At this stage it is not clear whether this is a price variance which can be reduced over time with volumes of scale, but it is clear that consumers are going to need to be willing to pay more for a greener product, and that retailers are going to need to support that also to get mass adoption of toys made from bio plastics.


We predict big change ahead in this space – plastic is so clearly in the environmental firing line, that bioplastics are an inevitability. As always, some companies will lead the charge, and others will lag, following far behind, but over the next decade we predict a mass transition from fossil fuel-based plastics to bio plastics in the toy business.

Stay tuned for the next instalment of this series of articles on Sustainability in toys.

We run a Consultancy business helping toy & games companies get ahead. For more information, check out www.KidsBrandInsight.com/services


We also run a Strategic Sourcing Consultancy advising toy & game companies around the world on their Sourcing strategies, reviewing their vendor base & suggesting improvements. To date our Sourcing services have saved our clients $tens of millions. For more information on how we can help, just go to: www.ToyTeamAsia.com

Asia’s Fast-Growing Economies To Drive Long Term Growth In The Toy Business

For the last 2 centuries or more the economic powerhouses in the world have been Western, Europe first, followed by the might of the USA. Looking further ahead into this century though, it is clear to see that future economic growth on this planet is going to grow most rapidly in Asia. Asian countries once viewed as 3rd world are now coming to the fore.


There are various data sources supporting the evident economic growth ahead in Asia, the one we will refer to in this article is Price Waterhouse Coopers ‘The World In 2050’ published report. That report shows clearly that the largest 5 economies in the world by 2050 will be (in order of size): China, India, USA, Indonesia & Brazil. Much has been written about China’s economic miracle since Deng Xiaoping’s ‘Opening up’ of China’s economy, but far less has been written about the massive economic growth prospects of India and Indonesia.


India is still today a country with many problems to resolve including massive infrastructure investment needed, terrible poverty for hundreds of millions of people and issues with public health which would be viewed as catastrophic elsewhere, but in India are just viewed as normality. At the same time though, India’s massive population is still set to grow further, unlike China’s current population trajectory. Additionally, having contributed so much to major global tech companies away from India, that trend is now reversing with India’s tech scene gathering pace. In terms of consumerism, India has a growing middle class of several hundred million people who are now finding they have disposable income and want to give their children more affluent upbringings than they may have had. The massive growth of Hamleys in India shows that India is no longer just a low quality, super low price point market, there is a growing appetite for ‘international’ standard toys.


Indonesia has around 275million people and is expected to rise above 300million sometime between now and 2050. Today Indonesia’s economy is the 15th biggest in the world – around the size of the Netherlands – just above $1 trillion USD. Yet by 2050 it will hit 4th biggest economy in the world. With economic growth typically comes an accompanying growth in consumerism.


Whereas Asia was once viewed by Western toy companies as difficult to access, difficult to scale up and therefore were often a lesser priority, this view can no longer be allowed to prevail. Lego’s massive store opening program in China (targeting 300 stores by end 2021) is just one example of a significant shift in focus for Western toy brands.


Over the next few decades, the economic fulcrum of the world is going to shift dramatically towards Asia, and alongside that will come increased sales opportunities for toy companies in the West, alongside a growth in Asian toy companies seeking to sell their toy lines into the West. Interesting times are ahead!

Do you need help to grow sales for your toy company? We help people from all around the world to sell more toys, both in their home markets and into export markets. For more information on how we do this, check out our services here: www.KidsBrandInsight.com/services


Have you listened to our Playing At Business podcast? We talk about selling toys & games, interview successful people from across the toy business & we look at key trends in the toy & game business: https://playingatbusiness.libsyn.com/