Toy companies that manufacture products in this country are seeing new levels of demand from retailers and consumers.
American Plastic Toys has been making trucks, slides and other plastic toys in the United States for 55 years, but it’s found that this year in particular, being able to say “Made in the USA” is a major selling point.
“We’re seeing a new level of interest,” said John Gessert, president of Michigan-based American Plastic Toys, while exhibiting his company’s new products at the North American International Toy Fair last week at the Jacob K. Javits. Convention Center in New York. Retailers who sell the company’s toys, he said, have told him they are hearing more and more from their customers that they are looking for toys made in this country.
The 2016 campaign and election of President Donald Trump brought new attention to “Made in America”, with Trump’s promises to punish manufacturers who move production from the United States, and his praise for companies that build factories in this country.
For some retailers, Gessert said, the decision to buy American-made toys is more pragmatic than patriotic. It is faster and cheaper to ship goods from American Plastic’s factories in Michigan or Mississippi than from overseas. And they don’t have to worry about port closures, trade wars, or other issues that could delay shipments from countries like China or Mexico.
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American Plastics, which sells large injection-molded items such as toy kitchens and backyard play equipment, belongs to a segment of toy manufacturing where production has remained in the United States. Dolls, electronic games and other toys representing more than 90% of the toys sold in this country have been transferred to factories abroad, most of them in China. Large plastic riding toys and playhouses take up too much space in shipping containers to make overseas production desirable. Two of American Plastics’ competitors in the large plastic toy category, Little Tikes and Step2, also manufacture products in this country.
More Made in USA labels
But a growing number of toymakers are putting Made in the USA labels on stuffed animals, construction sets and other toys the industry believed for decades could only be made profitably in China. .
At this year’s toy show, the directory, published by the Toy Industry Association Inc., listed 91 manufacturers in the “Made in USA” category, nearly three times as many as last year. This number does not necessarily reflect the growth in the number of manufacturers made in the United States – many companies listed in 2017 also attended the show in 2016 – but rather that more toy manufacturers believe it is beneficial to be identified. as a company that manufactures products in this country.
Vijay Prathap, co-founder of California-based company Bears for Humanity, which makes teddy bears and stuffed toys, said there’s so much interest in American-made toys that he’d like to see a section of next year’s toy fair dedicated to the Category. “People are looking for that,” he said, even big-box shoppers who in the past favored low-cost Chinese-made products.
China still dominant
In 1992, less than half of all toys imported by American manufacturers were made in China. By 2008, that percentage had jumped to 90.6%, according to statistics from the US Department of Commerce. Last year, the percentage of toy imports from China was 88%, down slightly from the previous year, but this change seems to be due to a sharp increase in toy imports from countries such as India and Vietnam, rather than a switch to American production.
If a retailer or consumer is primarily concerned about price, Prathap said, “there’s always someone in China willing to do it for 25 cents less.” Bears for Humanity, he said, has other priorities, such as making plush toys from certified organic textiles, distributing toys to children in need, and employing at-risk American women. under the California Workplace Assistance Program. Bears for Humanity donates a toy to a child in need for every toy sold. Prathap said the company has donated 1 million toys in the four years of business and expects to triple that number this year.
Making toys in the United States takes a lot more effort than traveling to China, where production companies can do everything from design to manufacturing to packaging.
“Gives us bonus points”
Rob Lubeck, CEO of Brackitz, the Colorado-based construction toy maker, said the company had to work hard to first find a US factory that could create the injection-molded plastic parts, another that made the inner packaging, a third that does the outer packaging, and then have them work together to produce the finished Brackitz sets.
“We did it because it was important for us to try to do something in the United States,” Lubeck said.
While deciding to do the sets in this country was “three times the work,” Lubeck said, it pays off in three ways. First, retailers seek out the product because it’s made in America; two, consumers get excited when they find out they’re made in Canada; third, “it definitely gives us bonus points” with the current focus on job creation in the United States.
Charlie Friend, president of California-based Green Toys, which makes toys from recycled milk bottles, said Green Toys also needed to look for a US factory that could make its products. “There aren’t many people who want to make toys in the United States,” he said. Consumers, he said, especially customers of specialty toy stores where green toys are sold, like that the products are made in this country. “They feel they can trust the quality,” he said. Specialty store customers also “want to buy unique things,” and the Made in the USA label and use of recycled milk cartons set Green Toys apart, he said.
The Slinky spring-loaded toy, now owned by Fairfield-based Alex Brands, has been made in America since its introduction in 1945, and its Made in America heritage is an important part of the brand, Alex executives said. Slinky, which is made in Pennsylvania, promotes its Made in USA status in its packaging and in-store displays.
Three other brands that are part of the Alex Brands portfolio – Shrinky Dinks Activity Kits, SpinWheels Reels and Poof Foam Balls – are also made in US factories.
Neil Friedman, president and CEO of Alex Brands, and former senior executive at Fisher Price, Mattel and Toys ‘R” Us, said that while toys requiring intricate detail or complex electronics will continue to be made in China, due to that country’s production capabilities, more retailers and consumers are likely to look for made-in-the-USA options in the coming years.
Leading toy industry expert Jim Silver, editor of toy review website TTPM.com, said while some niche manufacturers are capitalizing on interest in Made in America, he sees little movement. from the major toy manufacturers to move production to that country. . “The reality is they’ve moved on to other countries because it’s expensive to do it in this country,” Silver said. “People want to support Made in America, but they don’t want to pay the price.”