Why it will take persistence and cultural humility to crack China.
After last month’s history lesson - ultramontanism, remember? - it’s time to put current affairs into a truly modern perspective by reflecting further on the changing global landscape of toy sales.
For the moment, China remains at the fulcrum of toy production, responsible for the manufacture of 70 per cent of the world’s toys, but its growing value as a consumer marketplace for toy sales continues to be brought into perspective with more news of the rapidly expanding potential of it for Western toys.
Take Lego, Chinese sales of which soared by 60 per cent between 2010 and the first quarter of 2012 and are still accelerating according to Esben Stark Jorgensen, general manager of Lego China. Then, there’s Toys R Us, which will be opening its first store in Beijing’s Joy City shopping mall in August to add to the 30 stores it has opened since entering the Chinese market in 2006.
China’s domestic toy market is expected to have doubled in value to $9 billion from 2010 to 2015 according to the China Toy and Juvenile Products Association. Overseas sales grew 8.9 per cent in the first nine months of last year, still way behind export sales, but “Chinese toy exporters are coming to a turning point where domestic growth is starting to outpace that of overseas orders,” said Hua Zhongwei, a macroeconomic analyst with Huachuang Securities in Beijing.
Most of the China’s toy manufacturers are export-oriented, but the downturn of the global economy over the past few years has reduced international demand and negatively impacted the industry. Exports as a proportion of revenue have been falling from 64 per cent in 2007 to an expected 60.1 per cent in 2012.
Continuously rising labour costs and raw material prices have also contributed to the slower growth of the industry.
Princess Secret is a homegrown fashion doll for the children of China’s swelling mass of consumers who increasingly demand better-quality toys at cheaper prices than foreign brands can offer. The doll’s manufacturer, China Focus (Yiwu) Ltd, is among Chinese exporters seeking licences to sell on the domestic market as overseas growth slows.
In March, Mattel closed its first Barbie-dedicated store in China just two years after opening the ambitious six-story Shanghai outlet. Mattel had lowered the outlet’s sales targets by at least 30 per cent. According to The Wall Street Journal, Chinese consumers thought Barbie wasn't serious enough and wanted a better role model for their daughters. Other reports said the doll was ‘sexy’ rather than ‘cute’, and inappropriate for Chinese children.
It has been said that, for some American companies, China has become the graveyard of ambition. Other US retailers like Best Buy and Home Depot were forced to scale back their plans in China having misread the local market. US companies are not going to give up on the Chinese market but it will take persistence and cultural humility to win over customers.