The European Toy Market, A Practical Overview

The European Toy Market, A Practical Overview

Europe has just under 10% of the world’s population, approximately 16% of the world’s GDP (just a little bit less than the USA & China) and more than 50m children. Europe therefore represents a significant commercial opportunity for those in the toy business – the market size is in excess of €18billion.

The challenge of course is that Europe is a more complicated region in terms of disparity and local language and cultural difference. Europe has 44 sovereign states and 24 official languages, and so it is a complicated place to try to do business. Most of Europe’s nations are part of the European Union, a political and economic union bringing together 27 countries. European law stands above local national law for members of the European Union. The EU nations use the €uro currency which is used as the national currency in 19 countries. Before the €uro was established setting pricing for European markets was a nightmare, as local currency fluctuations made it exceedingly difficult to fix a price that worked across markets. This was further complicated by one of the primary treaties of the European Union – namely The Treaty of Rome which legislated for free movement of goods across the zone.

Practically speaking The Treaty of Rome causes a lot of problems for those trying to patch together a network of distributors across Europe, as it is all too easy for them to effectively ‘steal each other’s lunches’ by selling into customers in each other’s markets. When talking to potential new distributors in one European country one of the first question’s they will ask is who is distributing for you in the other markets – because from this they can work out how big a challenge they will have with cross border shipments. The massive growth in Amazon’s power in the market has exacerbated this, with Amazon being a major opportunity as well as a major challenge for efficiently running a Europe wide business.

One of the most effective ways to enter the European toy markets is to work with distributors. There are sales reps in Europe, but they tend to work in only one or two countries at a time, and with each country having various differences in culture, law and distribution channels there is a lot of complication involved in trying to sell via reps across the whole of Europe. Distributors take away a lot of the workload, but on the flip side also take away margin from your bottom line!

There are some extremely valuable trade shows in Europe. Firstly, Spielwarenmesse, the biggest toy trade show in the world is held in Nuremberg, Germany at the end of January every year (in normal circumstances): This massive trade show features nearly 3,000 toy companies from all around the world. There is no better place to get an idea of the European toy market and to seek commercial opportunities. In addition, Distoy takes place in London, England every May (again under normal circumstances), this less well-known show is a show specifically for toy distributors, and with over 400 exhibitors much business is done here: There are also national shows in other markets in Europe, which may be of interest to attend if you are particularly focused on that country. But overall, if you had to attend one trade show to maximise access to the European market it would be Spielwarenmesse.

The biggest toy retailers in Europe (in no particular order) include: Smyths Toys/Toys R Us, Carrefour, Auchan, Argos, Amazon (of course!) and there are thousands of independent toy stores across Europe.

By far the biggest toy markets in Europe are the UK, France & Germany. Even within these 3 markets there is a massive disparity in terms of products, culture and retail structure, as well as 3 different national languages. The UK tends towards more licensed toys, having one of the highest market shares in the world for licensed toys, whereas Germany has one of the lowest market shares for licensed toys in the world. The UK and France toy buying structures tend to be centralised with a central buying team, whereas Germany is very fragmented and buying (or at least replenishment) is often more localised.

Warehousing can be a challenge also in Europe. Many companies will have just one central warehouse, often in Belgium or the Netherlands. Brexit has complicated the logistic situation somewhat (damn we knew we had to mention Brexit at some point!), because there are new rules & restrictions on trading between European Union countries and the now ex-EU country of Britain.

Compliance and safety regulations are demanding in Europe. Whereas the USA has ASTM standards, the European Union has EN71, a massive set of restrictions and mandatories that even teams of experts often can’t easily understand! Going forward the UK will have its own (different) standards. We highly recommend specialist expert help in the area of compliance for Europe for toy companies!

The final complication we are going to mention here is that of trying to supply your products in the right language versions, but with as much efficiency as possible. The more countries you can ship the same product version to the better and more efficient your inventory control will be. For some products this is less of an issue, for instance, basic plush might only need a label with brand name and a few other company details which can be shipped right across Europe. For other categories though things can get more complex, board games for instance are often language-based products with significant ‘content’ on cards which is integral to the play experience. This means that often different language versions are needed for each new country. With time though you learn that some countries will need dual or even tri-language packaging. In some cases (most notably Eastern Europe) there might be the need for a dozen or more languages to be somehow included in the product. Sometimes things can be simplified though, for instance in Scandinavia the level of English spoken is so good that sometimes board games companies can get away with supplying English language product with local legal lines & instructions, normally though this risks reducing the amount of sales achieved, so there is a trade off to be made for simplification.

So overall, there are many challenges involved in selling across Europe, but it is also a strong and vibrant toy market, with many great people working in it, and with consumers who love toys and see them as an integral part of childhood.


Our team has been working across the European toy and game market since the end of the last millennium. We have sold products into every country in Europe, and regularly help toy & game companies access the European toy market. For more information on our Consultancy services:

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