Retail

How to become a toy expert

The 3 basics for the art of turning insights into forecasts
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What makes an expert stand out? 

“Some of the critical components of expertise are knowledge, skill, and achievement. People who become experts tend to acquire a body of knowledge that makes them one of the most informed individuals in their field. They also possess the skills that they need to determine when and how to utilize their knowledge.” This is how the American online dictionary Merriam-Webster describes an expert.

To call yourself a toy industry expert you must meet three criteria:

  • You must completely understand the sales process between the manufacturer and the retailer. 
  • Be fully familiar with the manufacturing and supply chain governing a toy.
  • Be conversant with the needs of the people who pay you for your expertise. 

The sales process: convince with sound facts

As to the first – the sales process. Again here, there is nothing that replaces actual experience. Unless you yourself have gone to Bentonville AR and faced an extremely experienced and hard-eyed toy buyer you do not know how tough things can be. You need a presentation that includes consumer research data for the product and spells out exactly what your competitors are doing at Wal-Mart, the benefits of your toy over theirs, a clear and competitive pricing policy, and a description of what you are going to do to ensure sell-through. You will need to present mockups of the pack, prototypes of the product, the package insert, and be prepared to discuss the benefits of a national roll-out versus a small store test. In short, you need to convince the buyer to give you shelf space taken away from somebody else. Unless you have this background, you cannot call yourself an expert.

Manufacturing and supply chain: scoring points with experience

As to the second – manufacturing and supply chain – you will not fully understand the ins and outs of the process unless you have been actively involved in it yourself. Manufacturing a toy is a complex process – creating the product concept, deciding on design, size, shape, and materials; producing the tooling needed, and finding a manufacturer in China willing and able to make the toy. If you are the exporter yourself [as opposed to a retailer who buys the stuff on a FOB basis] you need to organize the containers, the transit from the factory to the port, the booking of the space on the container vessel that will leave at the right time and go to the right port on the U.S. West Coast or the Northern European area. Once there, you must present the necessary paperwork to the port authorities to pass Customs. Finally, there is the need for inland transport to your Distribution Center. Reading about it is fine; talking to manufacturers is great; but neither replaces the understanding gained by having done it soup to nuts yourself.

Know the needs of the customers: Conveying expert knowledge in a custom-fit manner

Finally, if you are fully at home with these needs, there is the matter of putting your expertise into a money-making undertaking. Your client is likely to be either a financial institution or a toy company. The former tends to do their own research but are looking to get outside help as a sanity check before deciding whether to buy or sell stocks of a given toy manufacturer. This requires that you be fully familiar with the performance and the future potential of the toy companies likely to be their focus. The latter group, the toy companies, usually want to know all about their competitors or, alternatively, look for help in bringing about a change in organizational direction based on what the toy buyers are telling you.

To achieve either, it is imperative that the expert has ready access to the real decision makers which are the toy buyers in the U.S. and the main international markets. This cannot be accomplished by just picking up a phone but must be a result of prolonged past interaction with them. You can talk to toy buyers, and they will take your calls if they know you and trust you because you worked with them successfully as a supplier of products or services.  They can tell you what companies are doing well, what products are gaining or losing market share, whether they have too much, or too little inventory of a given item, and if there are their positive or negative feedbacks from their stores. Given all this, you can tell your client to what extent a company or a product is likely to prosper. You can also tell the client whether the buyers like a company and are likely to support it or whether there are unhappy about a given aspect of it. 

If you can claim to have all this, you have the makings of an expert.

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