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Toy story

Traditional hand-crafted toys are getting little play in a market dominated by plastic factory products even as parents prefer trendy global brands

The sunrays on Monday afternoon are striking hot. At Delhi Haat, under a bamboo ceiling stands Satish Kumar, a man in his 40s, hopelessly looking for customers as not even a single toy has been sold in two days.

Kumar, like many others, sells hand-crafted toys at Delhi Haat. All crafts stalls in the cultural complex get just 15 days to sell their products until the next seller gets his turn.

“The toys I make are traditional and only tourists or a person who’s looking for traditional toys buy them,” says Kumar. One is made with pared bamboo sticks covered by a thick paper. Sticks fixed in the middle creates a sound of a nagara, a musical instrument.

Cultural shift: Satish Sundra of Ram Chander & Sons, oldest toy store in India

Durability is a factor that customers look for, but toy cars have to be handled with care. No wonder people prefer factory-made plastic toys. “They’re made in bulk. Whereas we first cut off thin and wide bamboo sticks separately and then start assembling for each car,” says Kumar.

Kumar sells his toy for R100, and the Delhi Haat is where his toys sells the most. He sold about 30-40 such pieces over the weekend, but on weekdays he says the market is almost dead.

If the same bamboo toy car could be put on one of the shelves at a multinational toymaker’s store, it would sell like hotcakes, they will get packaged and marketed in a fashion which promotes the Indianness of the toy. For instance, a wooden toy car at Hamleys easily sells for R700-900.

Deepak, 34, another seller of traditional toys, has been in the business since past 10 years, is another seller who says that durability is a factor which contributes to low sales of traditional toys.

He makes toy versions of cycle-rikshaw, autos, bicycles and motorbike from aluminium wires. It takes about 3-4 hours to make a single piece which he sells for R300.

No buyers: Satish Kumar waits for customers at Delhi Haat

With each wire folded with precision to achieve a design as accurate as a real bike, the pricing is for the sheer amount of hours that goes into the making of the toy. He says the toys are not meant to be played with, but to kept as a showpiece.

Different tools are used to bend the aluminium wires. For the tyres, he uses thin rubber pipes, which are again bent. He says the hardest part is to make the tank, where precision is required to bend very thin wires so that they don’t break.

“These toys cater to only selected people who appreciate the art of these toys. People who don’t focus on the usability factor,” says Deepak.

Deepak is one of the lucky few whose business is sustainable, as another stall keeper Sunita, who sells traditional toys, struggles to get a business of even R2,000 on a weekend, while weekdays give her almost zero business.

As cultural shifts occur, people splurge more on modern toys available in the local market, a market which is heavily dominated by imported Chinese toys. It is estimated that 70-80 per cent of the toy market is filled with imported Chinese toys. The local toy shops come under the non-organised sector of the Indian toy industry.

According to the Toy Association of India, 90 per cent of the Indian toy industry belongs to the non-organised sector.

A report by the National Productivity Council states that out of 4,000 toy manufacturing units, 75 per cent are in the micro sector, 22 per cent are small and medium, and 3 per cent are large. The toy market has two broad segments, oganised and unorganised.

The organised market is estimated at a whopping R3,000 crore retail value, roughly making up 0.5 per cent of the world toy market.

“The major reason for loss of traditional toys are lack of adequate marketing support and investment in innovating and commercializing the traditional toys,” says John Baby, CEO, Funskool (India).

Funskool is the first and top most valued toy company in the Indian organised sector. “Entry of global players with deep pockets is a challenge for any domestic company. Many small and medium sized companies will find it difficult to continue,” says Baby. He also says that the company will definitely try to revamp the traditional toy market in India in future.

To further extend the role of domestic toy sellers in revamping the traditional toys, Satish Sundra of Ram Chander & Sons, the oldest toy store in the country is going to introduce traditional toys which will be playable and not to be kept as showpieces.
He also says the toys will be made in topmost quality under the likes of the international brands, and will also attract foreign sellers.

“Kids need toys they can play with. Selling toys is one thing but understanding the needs of a child is another,” says Sundra.
The store currently has toys imported from almost 50-60 countries across the world, catering to the age group of 0-14+.
From indoor play to collectibles, outdoor play, ride-ons and RC fun (remote control) toys, almost every toy that suffices the need of a kid in the modern world is easily available in the store.

Sundra speaks of how Indian toymakers try to copy the toys made by the International toymakers, but the imitations fall behind in terms of colour schemes, quality of material and accuracy. According to him, these are some of the reasons people prefer toys from foreign brands because they give you an accurate replica of life-size things.

He also believes that wooden toys are more personal to the user and non-toxic. “Plastic is cold while wooden toys give a sense of warmth. Children can put a wooden toy in their mouth and it will not be harmful,” says Sundra. He says before launching the traditional wooden toy line in the market, he will test the toys himself to ensure their nontoxicity.

“Nowadays there is also a trend to combine traditional toys with electronic and digital segments and create new kind of toys. As a result there is a wide variety of toys to cater all different preferences of the children. But traditional toys will always play a significant role in the life of a child,” says Katharina Janotta, Managing Director, Spielwarenmesse India.

A trade fair called Kids India which is annually organised by Spielwarenmesse India, a fair organiser and marketing services provider for the toy sector and other consumer goods markets, is supported by The All India Toy Manufacturers’ Association (TAITMA) and the Sports Goods Export Promotion Council (SGEPC).

For the market to grow, proper sanctions are required, more factories are needed to produce domestic toys in the country rather than relying on Chinese imports, whereas most of them are not even are BIS (Bureau of Indian Standards) certified.
Janotta says there is no doubt that the Indian toy market will grow considerably in the future due to rising income and purchasing power but local shopkeepers such as Sundra say the market is in depression since 1.5 years and it may or may not get a growth spurt in the near future.