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BOARD GAME MANUFACTURING: TRENDS, TRIVIA & TOP TIPS

BOARD GAME MANUFACTURING: TRENDS, TRIVIA & TOP TIPS

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My company has helped various companies find board games manufacturing in various geographies recently, here's some general observations to share based on this & previous projects:


WHY IS THERE MORE BOARD GAMES CAPACITY IN ‘NEAR SHORE’ OR DOMESTIC LOCATIONS VERSUS TOY MANUFACTURING CAPACITY?

Games manufacturing is much more easily automated versus Toy production and therefore the labour cost element for Games production is much lower. This is why there is significantly more local Games production capacity versus Toys where. A board label can be applied by a machine that moves so fast you can hardly see it yet can be swapped for a different game/design quickly and with little cost. The same does not apply to injection moulded Toys where there is typically a large labour element. I remember seeing the iconic standard version of Monopoly being produced some years back and marvelling at the rapid speed of board labelling.


We have to look at why Toy production drifted off to China and Asia in the first place – that being cheap and abundant labour. Because Games don’t need so much labour there was less reason for Games companies with their own production facilities to close down their in-country manufacturing facilities, as the cost savings were more marginal and they could continue to compete effectively with their own in country manufacturing.


There are some specific machines needed to produce Games – it’s not just the boards, but most often a specialist machine is used for card cutting and sorting. Those nice round edges which many game cards have need to be applied, and cards need to be cut out & sorted. This type of machinery is not that expensive in the grand scheme of things, especially when compared with printing machines which can be almost the size of a railway locomotive with high investment costs to match. Most often, board games manufacturing companies come from a more standard generalist printing background which builds their expertise with the key materials (cardboard) and processes, and for whom the additional machinery/equipment needed to convert to Games manufacturing is relatively low compared with their existing investment in high quality printing machines from brands such as Heidelberger.


Most countries have a domestic printing industry due to the presence of FMCG and especially food production and processing facilities in nearly every country. It wouldn’t make sense to pay to ship FMCG packaging or to risk delays when the volumes required to support domestic food consumption are significant even in quite small countries.

So overall we can see that there are some clear reasons why there is more Games manufacturing capacity in market versus Toy manufacturing.

BOARD GAMES MANUFACTURING CAPACITY BOOMED DUE TO THE PANDEMIC

As people were forced to spend more time at home through the pandemic induced lockdowns, so sales of Games & Puzzles soared. I ran numerous Sourcing analysis projects for companies through this uncertain time, helping companies to understand what their alternative options were as they sought to be more flexible and less reliant on any one country.


These projects revealed that many board games manufacturing companies in ‘nearshore’ locations were expanding capacity at this time to meet unprecedented demand. Lockdowns in China persisted beyond the point where other countries opened up, which in turn perpetuated demand for ‘nearshore’ Games & Puzzles manufacturing. I spoke to 3 different ‘Western’ based board games factory groups who expanded production capacity during or coming out of the pandemic.


MAN PLANS, GOD LAUGHS: CORRECTIONS IN DEMAND FOR GAMES & PUZZLES MANUFACTURING POST-PANDEMIC

Unfortunately the boom in Games & Puzzles during the pandemic does not appear to have been sustained. Just as with the broader Toy category, Q4 2022 was tough for board games sales in some markets as consumers fought with significantly decreased disposable income as a result of the inflation fuelled cost of living crisis. Any unexpected downturn in Q4 sales in the broader Toy industry causes inventory issues, but in the Games market, which is typically even more seasonal versus Toys, it is even more troubling. In fact, Games which are primarily played by families & even more so those played by adults – call them ‘Party Games’ or whatever label you want to apply – are highly seasonal, in some markets, these type of games sell c. 80% of volume in the month of December alone, whereas in most Western markets there is a ramp up and spread of demand across Q4. So if the broader Toy industry got caught out on Inventory, they would at least have known it soon enough before the end of the peak season to take drastic steps to clear inventory & end the year cleaner on stock. Many Games companies don’t get long enough between peak sales starting and ending to take these steps.


By way of evidence in the public domain of a change in demand for Games coming out of the pandemic inspired boom, leading global manufacturing group Cartamundi announced the closure of their iconic Waterford, Ireland plant. Previously owned by MB Games and then Hasbro, I myself visited that plant several times back in my Hasbro days, and greatly enjoyed working with the good people who were employed there.


I remember fondly having to fly over to Ireland with colleagues to approve a licensed version of Monopoly on the production line due to delays in approval by a leading entertainment company. Nerves and tempers frayed as the then critical in-stock date for the Argos catalogue (then the biggest single factor in Toy sales in the UK which saw 20 million catalogues printed, one for every UK household in effect) rumbled ever closer, and the team in the Waterford factory pulled out all the stops to save the day.


It's sad to think that a factory which was such a major part of supplying the European Games market for decades could become unviable so soon after a major boom suggests how sharp the market correction may have been. In fact Cartamundi’s official press release referred to “structural overcapacity and reduced demand for board games globally post Covid”.


WHAT HAPPENS NEXT: THE PROSPECTS FOR BOARD GAMES MANUFACTURING

I believe strongly that consumer demand will revive in general for consumer products, and specifically for Games & Puzzles. Through the years, despite predictions of the impending doom of the category driven by humanity’s technology addictions, Games & Puzzles have remained as social facilitators and a fun way to have fun with friends and family. I would argue that the more we get addicted to technology, and the deeper our immersion gets the stronger becomes the counter impulse to have some good old-fashioned fun. I look forward to the usual annual media reports on ‘Board games making a comeback’ for a long time to come!


Taking a more short-term view, inflation rates have been reducing in most Western market, and wage growth has kicked in to start to reduce the effect of inflation on disposable incomes. Retailers have been very risk averse in terms of committing to new inventory for peak season 2023, which won’t have helped manufacturing demand. BUT typically where the market ends up with a significant overstock as per Q4 2022, the stock is normally cleared into discount channels, which can affect sales somewhat for one selling cycle, but then normally demand and inventory corrects. It’s quite likely that the pendulum will switch back the other way as retailers often become so risk adverse as to lose significant sales revenues, and then tend to invest more in inventory in subsequent selling cycles.


The near shore production facilities are likely to remain a substantial element of Games & Puzzles manufacturing capacity going forward. I have also seen significant growth in manufacturing in other Asian geographies as part of the gradual drip-drib ebbing away of production from China for various reasons.


Regular readers of my articles will know of my own affinity for and experience with India. As a country with a massive FMCG market, India has as would be expected, a strong FMCG packaging sector, and out of this have arisen several strong Games & Puzzles manufacturing facilities. These facilities have seen increased local demand due to changes to Indian import restrictions on Toys & Games which have seen tariffs of 70% added on to imported products. We’re also seeing growing demand from international customers for Indian manufacturing for Games & Puzzles to serve other Asian markets (which have grown quite considerably over the last 10-20 years) & also for Western markets. Games & Puzzles manufacturing costs in India have so far proven to be a little bit cheaper in India on the projects we have worked on – averaging around 5-7% of ex-factory costs overall. There are also now Games manufacturing plants in other countries outside of China and India…in short, the options abound!


BOARD GAMES MANUFACTURING TRENDS: IN CONCLUSION

It’s been a strange few years for the Games & Puzzles manufacturing sector. The pandemic was miserable for humankind as a whole but was like a big party for those in the business of Games & Puzzles, then we had the morning after, and just like after a great party the next dawn brings a comedown. But nevertheless, the category remains vibrant from a product perspective, there have never been so many different games on the market appealing to various mass market and niche audiences, and the appeal of Games has proven to be timeless regardless of how tough things get. After all, Monopoly, the most successful new board game of the last century or so came to us out of the Great Depression. Games sales continued through the financial crisis of the late noughties and so we can expect this much beloved category to spring back.


There is a plethora of options for manufacturing in this space today, and while there have been some changes in terms of capacity and plant locations, overall those wishing to manufacture board games should not struggle to find supply with more natural geographical diversification than some other product categories.

N.B. All trademarks featured herein are the property of their respective owners.

SPIELWARENMESSE – SPIRIT OF PLAY BLOG

THE GROWING ‘KIDULT’ OPPORTUNITY

Here’s to Adults growing older later! The Kidult market is a major thing right now, offering significant growth opportunities for Toy & Games companies despite the fact that birth rates are dropping in most major markets. Read more in this latest article I wrote published by the Spirit Of Play Blog, which is published by Spielwarenmesse, the world’s biggest Toy trade show. Click the link below to read the full article:

UNCHANGING PLAY FUNDAMENTALS

So often in the world of Toys we look for the big changes, we go trend spotting to find new things to jump on. The reality though is that far more doesn’t change than does. That’s what this latest article I wrote, published by Spielwarenmesse.de looks at. Just click the link below to read:

PLAYING AT BUSINESS PODCAST

EP 101 - How To Run A Successful Tech Toy Start Up With HoloToyz

In this latest episode host Steve Reece talks to Kate Scott & Declan Fahy, the Founders of HoloToyz. Their company aims to inspire creativity and imagination via augmented reality technology.

Kate stated "At our core, we believe that children should be able to experiment, play and learn through emerging technologies in a kid-safe environment away from the open web, whilst not losing touch with the physical world."

We discuss this proposition, and the path from starting the business, through raising funding to achieving distribution for HoloToyz products.

This episode is a must listen for anyone interested in or actively pursuing a start up in the Toy business, as well as international distributors looking for new products and new stories to latch onto.

EP 100 – How To Recruit Good People And Find New Job Roles In The Toy Business

Join host Steve Reece in a deep dive into the toy industry's recruitment nuances. Having helped many people to find new roles in the Toy business and having advised many Toy companies on who & how to recruit, Steve unveils key strategies for companies to recruit effectively and tips for candidates to land their ideal roles. Whether you're hiring or job-hunting, discover invaluable insights to assist your recruitment/job search process.

EP 99 – Gift & Hobby Distribution Channels (The Original Kidult Toy Business?!)

Guess what – people have been buying Toys for adults for a very long time. Even though the ‘Kidult’ thing is the big noise nowadays, hobbyists and people buying Toyetic gifts for adults have been around for a long while.

Listen in to Episode 99 as we look at these adjacent areas in more detail:

AND FINALLY…

Can we help your business? Do you want to grow your export sales, prep to offer your business for acquisition, find senior staff or maximise your sourcing department? If you want to find out more about our Toy & Game business consultancy services, please just click the link below. Our company has helped hundreds of Toy & Game companies to get ahead and grow sales/make more profit. I have worked on all product categories across a 25-year career in Toys & Games, and genuinely love sharing knowledge, contacts and facilitating greater success for our clients.

Here’s a profile of some recent projects:

· Helped several Asian Toy companies to grow distribution in ‘Western’ markets & to recruit key staff to build distribution with new retail accounts opened up.

· Advised multiple Amazon vendors on accessing traditional/offline distribution channels with various distribution deals signed across North America, Europe & Asia.

· Toured a leading U.S. company around India’s leading Toy factories leading to factory selection, production start & significant cost savings.

· Advised a leading Toy industry association on trends and data related to Toy Sourcing.

· Secured Plush manufacturing outside of China for a company seeking to geographically diversify.

· Reviewed and scouted available Toy manufacturing facilities in Europe for a major Toy Co.

· Advised a leading high end Toy brand on marketing and licensing strategy.

· Advised the board of a leading factory group on sales trends and best practise in the Toy business.

For more information on our services, click here:

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