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 – 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: