19 July 2005
Look, No Hands(HKTDC Toys & Games , Vol 02,2005)
Look, No Hands
The Party Line
200 Toy (HK) Ltd
|200 Toy (HK) Ltd subcontracts orders to suitably qualified factories on the Chinese mainland|
Despite its success, the firm prefers not to maintain its own plant and equipment. "We subcontract our work to factories in Shenzhen, where we can exercise better control from among an excellent range of prospective partners," says sales director Ginnie Chan.
"However, we are also very particular. First, a prospective factory must have an established track record of good and reliable production - and for finishing contracts on time. Equally important, they must be able to meet all the various certification requirements that concern our clients, including such matters as proper pay and living conditions, efficient fire and safety precautions, in-house first-aid and positively no under-age staff," says Chan.
"At any time, our buyers have the right to send inspectors into the factories making their goods to check on conditions. Happily, we haven't yet lost an order or a client."
About 14 years ago, 200 Toy commenced operations with three partners and seven staff. Today, there are 11 staff in Hong Kong and seven QC and engineering colleagues in Shenzhen.
According to Chan, she and her two partners - Monty Cheng (Hong Kong) and Bill Devlin (the US) - have been in the toy business all their working lives, and have more than 100 years combined experience. Devlin's office in Massachusetts also handles R&D and "does a very good job of keeping us either ahead of or up with developing trends in the fast-changing world of toys", Chan says.
"Today's kids want toys that resemble the sorts of things used by their parents, such as mobile phones and other electronic gadgets. We meet that demand with cute copies that look like the real thing but which are also colourful and often filled with features like LCD screens, blinking lights and buzzers."
Chan has been in the business since 1973, and has watched Hong Kong's toy industry reinvent itself as it expanded exponentially. "It's been fun to see the remarkable development that's taken place," she says.
"But it's a tough world, too, and even when you develop something original that becomes a hot item you can't sit back and wait for the others to catch up. The competition is always out there looking for any exciting new ideas, and as soon as your product hits the market people will try to piggyback on your innovation and bring out a rival product that's different enough not to be a copy. That's why, apart from the evergreen traditional toys that remain popular, most toys have a shelf life of only a few years."
She cites children's cassette players as an example. "These were all the rage 10 years ago, while today the demand is almost nil because CD players have replaced tape players. "When was the last time you saw somebody using a cassette player?" she asks.
Another chancy area for toymakers is toy guns for young boys. "Parents don't want to encourage their children to handle guns. There have been too many wars and, in the US, too many school shootings. Toy guns are particularly unpopular in Australia and New Zealand and, for obvious reasons, the US. The main market for toy weapons today is when they're connected with a space or Star Wars theme, but they won't sell unless they're marketed under a title other than guns - and they must have a very different look from a handgun or rifle."
Chan says her company mainly caters for youngsters in the 3-8 years age bracket, providing a range of simple yet subtly sophisticated toys in six broad ranges: walkie-talkies; audio and electronic toys; playthings for girls; play phones; pre-school items, and miscellaneous products.
"We are looking for greater sales in the US market," says Chan. "It's an enormous country with a huge population, and many couples have large families. The market there should continue to grow."
She notes that sales are also picking up in Mexico and, to a lesser extent, South America in general. "Several years ago, we received a rush order for over 200,000 cassette recorders by default when a buyer was in a bind and asked if we could rush through a shipment to meet a fast-approaching deadline," recalls Chan.
"Because of our excellent contacts in Shenzhen we were able to find a reputable factory with a lull in its production schedule, and just managed to meet the deadline. Happily, that buyer has been a regular customer ever since."
Proving that keeping your eye on the ball and the client's needs pays big dividends every time.
WRITTEN BY GEOFFREY SOMERS
200 Toy (HK) Ltd
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