Tag Archives: toy distribution



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:


  1. 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.


  1. 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!


  1. 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!


  1. 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.


  1. 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.

Why Seeking Alternative Toy Distribution Is Often A Missed Opportunity For Toy Companies

Why Seeking Alternative Toy Distribution Is Often A Missed Opportunity For Toy Companies

Selling toys to retail is hard. It’s hard for one major reason – the level of competition. Spielwarenmesse, the world’s biggest toy trade show, held (normally!) every year in Nuremberg, Germany estimates that there are 1m toy products on display at that show. And that isn’t even every product that the exhibitors run. There are literally millions of toy products on sale each and every year.

What this means in practical terms is that for each and every product you want to sell, there are dozens, maybe even hundreds of other products trying to get on the same retail shelves and trying to get prominence on the same e-commerce platforms. The toy business is one of the most ridiculously competitive businesses out there. Every time you preview your products to a retailer at a trade show you are fighting for attention versus literally thousands of other products they have seen.

Aside from the competition though, another major challenge is that retail buyers come to know their categories really well. They develop very fixed ideas of what works in terms of products, packaging and price points. If you have a product which sits outside there view of what toys in their category should be, then selling becomes really hard.

None of this should be news for anyone who has ever tried to sell a product to retail. But what is remarkable is how few toy companies put serious effort, resources and opportunity cost into breaking out of the shackles of the normal system of doing things. The world has changed so much, yet for many toy companies getting up to speed on Amazon & how to market & sell on social media is their primary adaptation.

One fundamental insight which we see time and time again is this – why would you spend all your time and efforts trying to be one of many products in traditional toy retail when you could try to be one of one via non-traditional outlets?

There are so many good examples of how to do this – we’ve seen companies running corporate gifts using personalised versions of classic toys & games – for instance, the board game Monopoly is offered in customised ‘special editions’ in various countries around the world. Or maybe it’s a bespoke product created specifically for a particular company, brand or organisation. It might be just selling a product with a particular theme to retailers you (& all your competitors) don’t normally sell to.

Another example of non-traditional retail is the educational sector. Although this comes with a minefield of bureaucracy and unclear purchase responsibilities, the education sector is not as price sensitive as retail. Often the person buying toys & games is also buying other forms of equipment, so they aren’t experts in the space. Moreover, they aren’t needing to buy at the best possible price so that they can make a profit, they are instead just spending a budget that is given to them, and while schools and educational organisations are often working on tight budgets, their purchase managers quite frankly lack the commercial ‘smarts’ and hard-nosed approach of retail buyers.

So, next time you come back from a retail meeting wondering why this has to be so difficult, why not try to sell into some greener and untouched pastures?


Have you listened to our PLAYING AT BUSINESS podcast? We analyse key areas of the toy and game business, we interview leading people in the business and we discuss major trends and changes across toys & games. You can listen to numerous episodes here: https://playingatbusiness.libsyn.com/

For more articles & insights on the toy and games business, sign up here for our free e-newsletter sent straight to your inbox: https://forms.aweber.com/form/54/1325077854.htm


How To Find & Secure Effective Distributors For Toys & Games

How To Find & Secure Effective Distributors For Toys & Games

The area where we are asked for help most often from toy & game companies is to help them speak to & close distribution deals with toy & game distributors in more markets outside their home markets. Over time we have developed several ways of increasing the chances of success for our clients in finding productive and mutually beneficial relationships with distributors:

  1. Trade Show attendance is the best & biggest way to meet new distributors

Virtual connections can lead to good results, but you can never meet face to face meeting. For this trade shows are a critical part of the process of finding and building relationships with toy distributors or board game distributors. Clearly this approach is not as viable during the Covid pandemic, but nevertheless the moment it is viable again it will come back to the fore as a primary method of meeting and recruiting new distributors.

  1. Understand the business model of the distributor

Being a distributor is a tough business. Distributors take significant inventory risk to run their business, and a few bad product line selections can seriously constrain cashflow, therefore distributors are equally if not more risk averse than the retailers they sell to. In order to reduce the risk of anyone product line failing, they tend to have a broad and diversified product line, and that brings in the biggest challenges with using distributors to get your product to market – FOCUS, if they put little focus into selling and pushing your product line your sales will disappoint. It is really important to understand this, because having a distributor and having a focused and effective distributor for your product line can be different things.

  1. Understand the marketplace

There are two elements of this: firstly, there is the local market situation in terms of retail structure, product culture, consumer preferences and other localised operating parameters. For instance, Germany has a very decentralised retail market, whereas France has a comparatively centralised retail buying structure. Therefore, you need to understand the differences to appreciate which distributor is going to have the best chance of being successful in the market.

Secondly, it is important to be aware of the general situation in the marketplace. In particular, product proliferation is a considerable challenge in trying to secure distribution for toys and board games. There are literally millions of products out there for distributors to chose from, and because they only have so much capacity, so much cashflow to fund stock purchases and so much time in front of each buyer, they will typically turn away many more product lines than they chose to distribute. This changes the balance of power somewhat in terms of negotiating and finalising a deal. In effect, it is a buyers’ market for distributors, they have considerable choice, and therefore the sales process and relationships should not be taken lightly.

  1. Build relationships with people

Building relationships with all your contacts at every distributor you want to work with can only assist your efforts. Aside from it being a source of great pleasure and warmth to build friendships around the world over time (and often over a beer or two!), in work terms it helps if you have god relationships with people you are working with. Sometimes difficult situations arise, and it is usually easier to work through challenges with people you already know and like.

But also, the better your relationship with your distributors the more they will share the details and challenges of selling your product in your market, which should lead to both of you having a better chance of success in each market.

  1. Distribute your distributors product into your home country

One really effective way to bind yourself closer to your distributors is to help them to sell their products into your own market. Most distributors will have at least a few product lines that they themselves have developed or have exclusive distribution for. By helping them to sell more of their products, you quite often build a stronger relationship and then their focus on your products tends to become stronger because they will feel a reciprocal obligation.


We run a Consultancy business for toy companies. We work with major toy companies through to start ups and one person bands. For more information on how we help toy companies grow their distribution around the world: https://www.kidsbrandinsight.com/blog/toy-co-growth-booster-program/

For more articles & insights on the toy and games business, sign up here for our free e-newsletter sent straight to your inbox: https://forms.aweber.com/form/54/1325077854.htm

Toy Distribution Methods: Pros & Cons Of The Main Routes To Market

Toy Distribution Methods: Pros & Cons Of The Main Routes To Market

We consult with dozens of companies each year in our toy and game Consultancy business www.kidsbrandinsight.com – more than half of the projects we are asked to help on include export selling – helping a company who are maybe established in one market grow their sales to other countries. We find that the most important consideration is to match the distribution method appropriately with the product, the company ethos and the country in question.
Sometimes companies create more problems than opportunities by not paying enough attention to the differences of the various methods of getting your product to market in other countries.

This article then outlines the main options for selling product into another market, and looks at the positives and negatives of each of these options:

LICENSING – the least hands on method of getting your product to market is to license the rights to another company. This might make sense for product categories or markets where the company licensing the rights wants to manage their own manufacturing. Your company then takes no stock risk, and aside from a licensing agreement and file/data transfer can leave everything else to your licensee. The challenge with this model is that it pays a relatively smaller $ amount per unit as a royalty is a fraction of the net sales value, which is an issue for companies trying to grow sales and profit versus just profit. The other issue is that you can be so hands off that it can be hard to measure or assess whether the other company is doing a good job with your product – the royalty statements will be all you have to review sometimes.

FOB SALES TO DISTRIBUTOR – with this method your factory (or your logistics company) delivers the product to the port nearest to the factory, and your distributor takes the product from there. This way they are responsible for taking the stock risk and responsible for shipping and import costs and administration. They then supply retailers from the ordered stock. Generally speaking this is as safe a way of getting to market as any, the only limitation is that your margin will be fairly limited, as the distributor needs to make a fairly significant margin to make this method work from a profitability and risk management perspective. The distributor will therefore often tend towards being more risk averse than you might like, and will often under order stock to avoid any costly over stocks. You also won’t get to see much of what happens in market as the distributor is handling the entire domestic process.

SHIP TO DISTRIBUTOR’S WAREHOUSE IN THE MARKET – with this method you are responsible for shipping into the customer’s warehouse, and so you have to cover the shipping and import costs and administration, as well as the stock risk until delivery. The distributor may prefer this because they don’t have money tied up in stock sat on the water, they are receiving and paying for stock closer to the point in time where they can deliver to the retailer and invoice it.

SALES REP/AGENT – (in the USA they tend to be called sales reps, and in some parts of Europe they tend to be called sales agents). With this method the rep/agent presents your products to retailers and solicits orders. You manage the manufacturing, stock management, shipping, warehousing/logistics, marketing activities and deal with any returns or over stocks. The rep/agent doesn’t normally get paid until you get paid by the retailer, and then they are usually paid a commission based on a fixed percentage of sales, normally 5-10%. The benefit of this method, and one major reason why it is quite a popular route to market is that your company gets most of the margin, and you don’t normally have to pay the rep until you receive sales proceeds. The major challenge/drawback with this model relates to the major benefit – when your sales rep is not getting paid unless something sells, they are not incentivised to a). sell to the right retail channels b). help you build a brand. They are just going to find the biggest and easiest opportunities to sell as much product as they can. For some companies this is fine, but it can cause issues for companies looking to build strong stable brands in the market sometimes. Also, reps are in business like you, and it is not in their interests to pursue a hard sell. They will generally seek out low hanging fruit, and because there are so many products available out there, they can always find another possibly easier/more lucrative product to sell, so some reps will ditch your range or at least focus on something which is likely to pay them back more for their efforts and opportunity costs. Therefore, while the rep/agent model may seem great at first glance, you need to consider the potential pitfalls also.

DIRECT TO RETAIL – this one is quite straightforward. Your company sells direct to retailers, so you are responsible for everything except for the retail element. The benefit is that you get a much higher margin from this method versus some of the other options. The issue is that most retailers are not particularly keen on adding new suppliers unless that supplier has such a compelling range they can’t not take the product line. So getting a ‘foot in the door’ is the main challenge with this method, it takes time. A secondary but nevertheless formidable challenge is that there are many languages spoken in the world, and while most countries will speak at least some English, it can be harder to sell to a customer in their 2nd language. Also with this model, bear in mind that you take significantly more risks versus the distributor model in terms of being responsible for product liability in the market and other in market risks. This may be fine for a market you know quite well and is culturally and perhaps legally similar to your own, but some countries are very different trading environments, and therefore come with risks and roadblocks to surmount, some of which you may not discover until you learn by error – so sometimes while this can be the most profitable route it can be much harder to deliver sales and profitability in reality.

DIRECT TO CONSUMER – with this model you sell directly to the consumer in the market. This model is much more involved. Whereas all the other routes to market listed here are in essence SALES challenges, selling direct to consumer is more of a MARKETING challenge i.e. you need to get your product in front of a significant number of potential consumer purchasers, online, at events via pop up stores or by other methods. Gaining critical mass can be tricky and costly with this method. Clearly the price you sell at is higher, so in theory your margin can be higher, but you need to watch your marketing cost per unit sold and your fulfilment (i.e. delivery costs) per unit to ensure you do actually make more profit per unit.

That then covers most of the routes to market. We find that toy and game companies often spend too little time considering the right option before leaping into selling and processing sales. There are many details in each of these options that we didn’t have space to list here, this is just a topline – we do suggest that companies take their time and do their due diligence to avoid costly mistakes!

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 toy and game companies grow. For more information on our process and methodology for growing toy sales: https://www.kidsbrandinsight.com/blog/toy-co-growth-booster-program/

How To Secure Toy & Game Distribution Across Europe

In the last article in this series we looked at how to secure distribution into North America. This time we’re looking at Europe.

The start point in looking at Europe is that despite the existence of the European Union (which makes things much easier for trading across the continent), you are looking at more than 40 countries, each with it’s own culture, history, retail market and regulatory framework. Europe adds up to roughly around the same market value as the U.S.A., but that large market comes in many bits and pieces in Europe!

The three biggest markets (by quite a long way) are the UK, France & Germany. Depending on which published figures you believe, these 3 markets make up around 50% (give or take a bit) of the European toy market.

Followers of the ’80-20′ rule could be forgiven for thinking they will just focus on these 3 markets & take 50% of the potential opportunity. The challenge though is that these 3 markets alone are actually really quite different from each other, and so it isn’t always possible to use the same strategy in all three:

UK Toy & Games Market: The UK is one of the most license driven toy markets. Movie related toys have always been a big thing, as are ‘TV’ properties and even YouTube content/personality licenses these days. In distribution terms, the market has a strong mass market channel with generalist retailers like Argos & grocers like Tesco, Asda & Sainsburys having good market share. Online has been strong for a long time in the UK, with Amazon leading the market. The toy specialist retail channel in the UK is also strong, with Smyths & The Entertainer achieving ongoing success, which looks set to continue as they take advantage of the gap left in the market by the disappearance of Toys R Us from the UK market. The ‘independent’ toy retail sector in the UK is comparatively small, which means that 5 or 6 retailers can still drive the majority of the opportunity, so most companies approach the UK market either via distributors, sales agents or via setting up their own subsidiary & sales team.

Germany Toy & Games Market – the German toy & games market is quite different from the UK. Overall it is far less license driven, with an emphasis on higher quality components/materials i.e. overall less plastic! And if the toy is still plastic it is more likely to be of higher quality plastic. The parenting culture is strong and German parents tend to be very responsible & interested in the development of their children, especially versus the U.K. Therefore product categories such as board games, construction toys, learning toys are all comparatively strong in Germany. The retail market in Germany is quite fragmented, with thousands of independent toy stores, and a number of retail chains who are important but not dominant players. Germany has long been one of the most internet savvy markets in Europe, as such online channels including Amazon (of course!) are strong. Germany would be a harder market to set up your own distribution due to the fragmented market & store by store of some key retailers/channels in Germany. Therefore distributors would normally be the chosen path to market in Germany.

France Toy & Games Market – France is a strong toy market, but with some distinct local differences. For instance, France has a content production ecosystem of its own, along with long standing comic culture which means that while licensed toys are fairly strong in France, some are based on licenses from France’s own entertainment content. The retail market has 3 key channels: hypermarkets or ‘hypermarché’ inc. Carrefour, Auchan & Leclerc. These retail behemoths have less market share now than in the past but they are still significant. They are known for running massive toy promotions in the last part of the year. While the toy ranges may be small throughout Q1-Q3, they tend to expand significantly in Q4 with aggressive pricing to match. The toy specialist retail channel in France is long established but has had some issues in the past few years as key players ran into financial difficulty. Again the online channel is established in France and as elsewhere is an increasingly significant contributor to the market. France has some strong distributors, as well as the usual network of sales agents/reps. Setting up your own subsidiary can be risky as hiring staff in France is comparatively easy, but firing staff in France is difficult and costly because of local employment laws.

CONCLUSION – in summary, Europe represents a significant opportunity for toy & game companies to expand their distribution. Bear in mind though that despite the helpful presence of the European Union, it is not one uniform market place. Product culture varies from market to market, as does the retail landscape. A winning strategy for European toy & games distribution is to allow for local differences in your plans!

If you are interested in selling into European toy & game markets we offer a Consultancy service to toy and board game companies across the world (past clients have come from countries as diverse as the USA, Australia, India, China, Bulgaria, Korea etc). Our brand, product and export sales management service allows us to get deep underneath the skin of toy companies and to help them sell more into North America & elsewhere both via effective selling using our extensive toy industry connections, but also by helping them to correctly align their brands and products to the market. We offer this service with a limited capacity with a maximum of 5 spaces at any one time. At the time of writing, we have only 1 space left heading into toy fair season. To find out more about working with us on this service & to get our help to grow your business please just drop us a line or visit here for more details: www.KidsBrandInsight.com/services/

How To Secure Toy & Game Distribution Into North America

The USA is the single biggest toy market in the world by quite a long way, and when you add on Canada, which is perhaps a surprisingly good sized market in itself you reach a very significant distribution opportunity for toy and board game companies.


The USA retail marketplace is typically split between Specialty and Mass Market.

Mass market retail often gets most of the attention because just a few retailers can drive huge volumes. A listing in Walmart’s physical stores across their store network will often add up to significantly more than the total sales achievable in an entire European country, or even in several European countries. A single product listing can be worth $millions. The challenge though is that Walmart is not that accessible to smaller companies directly, and the difference between 3 or 5 listings from one year to the next can often make or break companies. It can also be very time consuming to handle logistics with such a large retailer across such a large geographical territory.

Specialty distribution in the USA tends to get far less attention, but can still drive what would be very respectable sales levels in any other country. More importantly, with Specialty distribution, the risk is spread across a broader distribution base typically, meaning that you are not so reliant on the whims or directions of a single retailer or single retail buyer. The USA is unique in that even a retailer trading across just a few states can have hundreds of stores. As such, we often advise our consultancy clients to begin with specialty and to build up towards mass market retail as a longer term objective.

In terms of routes to market, there are 4 main options:

  1. Direct selling to retailers – this is a lot of work to take on in such a vast country. We don’t recommend taking this on lightly!
  2. Selling via reps/agents – there is a large array of sales reps in the USA who can take your products to either a large spread of independent ‘mom & pop’ stores, right up to presenting your products to Walmart, Target etc. Clearly they take a %age, but they represent a much quicker way to grow your distribution as they have already established relationships.
  3. Distributors/wholesalers – these are companies who buy your stock & sell it to retailers. A distributor will often take a more strategic brand building approach and may sometimes invest in marketing. A wholesaler tends to just buy & sell stock.
  4. Direct to consumer – once a pretty much insignificant part of toy and board games sales, selling direct to consumer has grown both in terms of $sales and in terms of importance/influence on the overall industry. Going direct to consumer can justify development costs and open up direct distribution opportunities.


Canada’s toy and board game market deserves a special mention. The retail landscape is somewhat different and the market is not insignificant. Often ignored by toy companies, sales to Canada can be significant. While it is quite common to find Canadian based companies or reps selling into the USA, beware that your USA partners have an eye on the Canadian opportunity if you grant them North America territory!

In summary, North America is a massive opportunity. We often come across clients who chase enquiries from small countries and markets, and then get lost in the minutiae of supplying to a new country with all that entails. Putting the biggest opportunity first is clearly more likely to deliver big rewards.

If you are interested in selling into North American markets we offer a Consultancy service to toy and board game companies across the world (past clients have come from countries as diverse as the USA, Australia, India, China, Bulgaria, Korea etc). Our brand, product and export sales management service allows us to get deep underneath the skin of toy companies and to help them sell more into North America & elsewhere both via effective selling using our extensive toy industry connections, but also by helping them to correctly align their brands and products to the market. We offer this service with a limited capacity with a maximum of 5 spaces at any one time. At the time of writing, we have only 2 spaces left heading into toy fair season. To find out more about working with us on this service & to get our help to grow your business please just drop us a line or visit here for more details: www.KidsBrandInsight.com/services/

How Toy Markets Differ – The Difference Between Baseball And Cricket Explains All!

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.

5 Top Tips For Growing Toy Export Sales

Steve pic

Rarely does my company encounter more wasted effort, expense and opportunity than in the field of export sales. Nearly every company wants to sell overseas, but apparently fairly few actually look to build a sustainable, coherently managed business which will thrive and grow longer term.

The reality is that selling toys overseas can be comparatively easy, but the main issue is a lack of strategy, a lack of planning and a lack of analysis of whether a particular product range will work in other markets. When we help toy or board game companies set up or grow their overseas sales, the start point is not who can we sell to and how soon can we get started. The start point is product selection, collateral material production and an understanding of how future developments can be tweaked to maximise the opportunities.

For those companies with a successful domestic business who are not overly interested in selling further afield, consider these stats – the US toy market is huge by any standards, but even then the market only accounts for between 20-25% of the global toy market i.e. 75-80% of the opportunity is still outside the US. For other markets the scope of this export opportunity is even greater, if we take my home market (the UK), then there is roughly 95% of the global toy opportunity outside the domestic market!

So a good sound plan, and a willingness to devote time and resources to export sales can yield great results.

Here’s 5 top tips for how to maximise the toy export opportunity:

1. Make Sure Your Products Sell Well In Your Domestic Market – the first question any overseas customer will ask you is how well your products will sell at home. If your products don’t work particularly well in your home market, they aren’t all that likely to work elsewhere. Perhaps you could hold off from attacking the vast international opportunities until you have a proven performer to sell…because until you do you are likely to be better rewarded spending your time on building traction domestically!

2. Understand That Markets Differ – presuming that all markets are the same and that you can sell the same thing the same way anywhere in the world is setting your company up for failure. Markets differ vastly in terms of product mix, retail set up/key players, pricing, culture and many other factors. Companies who achieve success in the export business either a). create globally relevant products or b). adapt to the needs of each market opportunity as far as needed. For an example of how different markets can be, check out our article on how the European toy market is actually far from being one single homogenous market:   https://www.toyindustryjournal.com/?p=53

3. Prioritise, Prioritise, Prioritise – there are so many individual countries out there that it can be overwhelming to approach them all at the same time/during the same selling cycle. A winning approach has to be driven by prioritising by size of opportunity – for instance, if you are not located in North America, then the North American market (as the largest, most homogenous toy market in the world) should be your first priority. The next largest toy markets are China & Japan, although they aren’t all that easy to penetrate, followed by the UK, France & Germany, with Australia thrown in as it’s an English language speaking market of reasonable if not large size. If you are just starting to look at export sales, those markets should be more than enough to keep you busy and offer a very significant chunk of the global opportunity. Everything else after that is basically ‘ever decreasing circles’ i.e. smaller and smaller volumes for the same amount of work…for sure you will want to get there eventually, but that can be step 2!

4. Get Off The Seat Of Your Pants – the companies who achieve the most in terms of international toy sales tend to be those who travel! If you have the biggest, hottest product in your portfolio, or an international smash hit movie license you can probably get away without doing so until the heat dies off, but eventually you are likely to need to get on the road! Hong Kong, Spielwarenmesse-Nuremberg and New York toy fairs should be pre-requisite annual itinerary items for you to get ahead in the export game. Emails, phone calls and Skype are ok, but really you can’t beat face to face meeting to build rapport/relationships and to work out whether you trust a company to do a good job on your brands/products.

5. Take Short Cuts Via Expert 3rd Party Help – there are international sales reps out there who will cover the whole world for you via one rep/distribution deal, there are regional and market by market reps, as well as Consultancy businesses focused on helping companies significantly increase their export sales. Often these 3rd party solutions are both more effective and cheaper/less risky than hiring your own export sales staff. Reps only get paid if you make sales and get paid for them, some specialist Consultancies charge less than the wage of an inexperienced junior sales person. For instance, my company Kids Brand Insight (www.kidsbrandinsight.com) offers export sales consultancy via TOYEXPORTBOOSTER™. We find that we end up being cheaper than reps, as we charge a consultancy fee instead of % commission, and cheaper than an export sales manager…so once clients see the effects and cost effectiveness of working with us they tend to stay with us on an ongoing basis. There are other similar companies offering the same type of service also…so the bottom line is that 3rd party solutions can dramatically propel your toy export sales forward.


STEVE REECE – is CEO of Kids Brand Insight a leading Consultancy to toy companies specialising in playtesting research, factory finding and toy export sales Consultancy. Kids Brand Insight have a database of in excess of 4,000 toy companies, and are in regular contact with hundreds of toy companies. To find out how they can help your business, please visit their website: www.kidsbrandinsight.com