Tag Archives: toy export sales

Setting Priority Countries For Toy Export Sales

Setting Priority Countries For Toy Export Sales

One of the most fascinating features of the toy business is the vast array of countries to sell toys to around the world. For those who are interested in travel and experiencing different cultures, the toy business offers much (at least in normal times, maybe the travel opportunities are restricted right now but nevertheless export sales opportunities abound).

Clearly some countries offer far bigger commercial opportunities than others, and some are likely to offer a better fit with your product lines in particular. For those who have been around a long time (ourselves included!) it is all too easy to have a fixed mindset in terms of which markets are the priorities, but as economic development has surged ahead in the world over the last decade or more things are perhaps not quite as simple as they once were.

There is one golden rule though for sure, which is that the USA is by far the world’s largest individual toy market and looks set to be so for at least the next five to 10 years. Therefore, when we work with companies to boost their export sales, we always start with the U.S. toy market, because even if a company already has distribution into this most lucrative of markets the reality is that any efforts and investments of time, resources and money is more likely to pay back in a big way in the U.S.A.

What has changed quite remarkably in the last decade is the position of the toy market in China. China’s domestic toy market is growing fast, and whereas it was once a toy market dominated by generic ‘me-too’ products, in recent years the place in the market for toy brands like Lego and entertainment driven properties has been growing substantially. Whereas China would not have been an obvious country to prioritise for export sales at one point in time it is now an important sales opportunity today, but perhaps more importantly looks set to be of even bigger significance going forward.

After the U.S. and China, we normally point toy companies looking for increased export sales to Europe. Europe’s toy market is roughly on a par with the market in North America, albeit much more fragmented and with a much larger number of different countries. Just to put this in context, a Europe wide contract might include 40+ countries, whereas North America would typically be defined as just three countries.

Of the markets in Europe, the ‘Big 3’ markets are the UK, France & Germany. These three markets are all substantially larger than any other European toy market. While all are quite different in terms of the product mix, emphasis on quality versus price, distribution channels and the relative importance of licenses, it is normally best to find good options for distribution in these countries before looking too much further afield.

After these 5 markets (USA, China, UK, Germany, France) there is a plethora of toy markets of smaller but still substantial size, and one of the most interesting dynamics is the rate of growth and importance of some of these markets. For instance, India is a comparatively small market at this point in time, with potential sales which are typically not found to be worthy of much effort and investment for international toy companies. However, in terms of growth rate of both the toy market and the economy, India offers good long-term growth opportunities. Ten years ago, countries like Turkey and Greece would have been far down the pecking order, but now can deliver significant opportunity.

We find when consulting for our clients on toy export sales that the bigger the company is the more they benefit from targeting the larger markets. For the smaller companies who don’t have such a track record of sales success they often benefit more from selling to smaller countries which are often off the radar of bigger companies. As ever though, each company is different and aside from their product mix, the management approach and sales team capabilities often direct which export markets are the most important.


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/



5 Tips To Grow Toy Export Sales

This article is the first in a series looking at Toy & Game export sales as we head into toy fair season.

Unless a toy company is fortunate enough to have the U.S.A. as home market, sales to other countries are likely to be an important component of justifying product development investment.

Even if the USA is your home market, it accounts for less than one quarter of the global market opportunity. The reality is that selling outside your own country is an essential part of your sales opportunity and if you don’t effectively and efficiently maximise that opportunity you are far less likely to build a successful and sustainable toy business.

The challenge though is that there are a lot of countries and potential customers out there, so developing the right approach and strategy needs some thought.

Here are 5 quick tips on how to grow toy export sales:

A. Attend The Right Trade Shows

If we could only suggest one tip to help toy companies expand export sales it would be this one. Trying to cold sell to companies you have never met, whose first language is not your own can be really tough. Even if you are really good at selling it takes a great degree of time and grind. At trade shows you can access hundreds of potential customers in a relatively short time and often set up a whole years business in just a few days. For those who are newer to the industry, the key trade shows for export sales are:

Spielwarenmesse-Nuremberg: www.spielwarenmesse.de

New York: http://www.toyfairny.com/

Distoy (London): http://www.distoy.com/

B. Focus On Bigger Markets First

When you attend trade shows you tend to come back with a raft of new contacts and sales leads. It is of course human nature to follow up all of these to try to sell. The challenge though is that each new market you enter has local needs – regulations, languages, trading conditions etc. It is not possible to be an expert on every toy market in the world. The most common mistake we see in toy & game companies is trying to sell to every market in the world, but what tends to happen is that the smaller markets which get far less focus from everyone are often the easiest to get deals done, but then the need to service those customers takes up more and more time until your export team is spening a disproportionate amount of time chasing small orders. The biggest toy markets in the world tend to do the highest volumes, so sometimes less is more – forget global domination (at least for now!), picking 3-5 major markets & ensuring you have great partners in those markets will deliver way more than chasing every opportunity in small markets.

C. Follow Up

Conversations are often positive at trade shows, but the hard reality is in the purchase order, and the process from first positive conversatioons to purchase order can be long. Having invested in trade shows and spent all that time creating opportunities don’t let good opportunities drift away due to lack of follow up. At trade shows companies can review hundreds of opportunities, but back in the cold light of day they need to make choices and focus on what they will actually spend money on, and the reality is there are always far more opportunities than can be followed. So stay in touch when the customer is back in the office & keep things moving along in your direction otherwise your customer might choose someone else’s products instead of yours!

D. Network relentlessly

If there was one piece of advice we would give to a youngster just starting out in this industry it would be to network relentlessly. It is of course a cliché, but the saying ‘It’s not what you know but who you know’ is so very relevant in the toy industry. Investing time and effort in building good relationships with other people in the industry both makes your working life more fun as well as more effective. There are people you might have met 10 or 15 years ago who are perfectly positioned to benefit from your next project, but if you didn’t keep in touch or if you annoyed them along the way, then both you and they will lose an opportunity.

E. Accelerate Your Export Sales Via Agents/Consultants

Working with sales agents is standard practise in the toy business. Whether they sell to a specific retailer or to specific markets or regions, sales agents offer big sales opportunities for no or little upfront cost. You will eventually end up paying agents commissions though, which then comes out of every future sale you make. The challenge with working with agents is that they have to work hard and sell a lot of products to make a living, so they are inherently likely to push what is the easiest sell. If your product line is a harder or more complicated sell, or if the volumes are low, then they are far less likely to push your products. if you have a hot seling product range, agents should be able to do a good job for you (if you pick the right ones!).

Consultants are at first glance less attractive, in that you have to pay them upfront for their work with you. However, the benefit is twofold:

1. They do not cost you much larger sums if they are successful in selling your product like a sales agent would, as there are not future commissions to be paid

2. Rather than focusing on the easy wins to chase commission, a good Consultant should take a broader look at your business. For instance, you may think your export sales team are under performing, but it might be that your product is only culturally relevant in your market unless a few changes are made. It might be that your pricing is out for major export markets, or it might be that your competitive positioing is not strong enough. It could be many things – and a good Consultant can help you identify these issues for the cost of a few months of Consultancy retainer.

This article was written by Steve Reece on behalf of Kids Brand Insight. We have sold toys & games into more than 90 countries worldwide across a twenty year period. We work on a Consultancy retainer basis to help toy and games companies grow their exports. For more information, please drop us a line or go here for more information: http://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