China’s Toy Makers are Hit Hard by Global Economic Downturn

While organizers of Hong Kong’s 39th annual Toys & Games Fair, held over a period of four days during last week, maintain that the event was a success, Chinese toy makers exhibiting their wares at the fair are telling a different story. Hong Kong government officials went the extra mile to attract visitors to the fair, with around US$12.3 million being spent on promotions and subsidizing travel costs for more than one thousand potential buyers traveling from emerging markets including Eastern Europe, Russia, South America and the Middle East.

More than 2,000 exhibitors, representing thirty-six countries, competed for the attention of potential buyers at the Toys & Games Fair, with everything from remote controlled cars having the ability to climb up vertical walls to rocking horses that talk to their riders, and inflatable child-sized hot tubs to all the tricks of the trade for budding magicians. China’s toy makers, many of which have been promoting their goods at the fair for decades, have expressed their dismay at the noticeably reduced numbers of potential buyers that trickled past their stands in the maze of row upon row of toys and games on display.

The global economic downturn has wreaked havoc on Guangdong province, China’s toy manufacturing center. Customs statistics reveal that of the 3,266 toy companies exporting during 2007, only 1,554 were exporting at the end of September 2008. With mature markets such as the United States facing massive ongoing job losses, which in turn affects consumer spending, China’s toy makers can no longer rely on this previously lucrative market. So, in an attempt to survive the global economic crisis, China’s toymakers have placed emphasis on enticing buyers from emerging markets, becoming ever more creative in their products in order to keep afloat in this highly competitive market. Many toy makers are also focusing on the development of educational toys and games with the belief that parents and teachers will be prepared to spend money on a toy that serves the dual purpose of entertaining and educating their children. Family games were also under the spotlight as manufacturers promote the idea of family home entertainment for households with restricted income to spend on leisure activities outside the home.

Although they were spoilt for choice at the Hong Kong Toy & Game Fair, potential buyers were cautious, being acutely aware that the global economic downturn has left no country untouched, and with the future looking uncertain for many wage-earners and consumers, toys may feature very low, if at all, on family shopping lists.