Feature: China offers big opportunities for foreign toy-makers
BEIJING, Nov. 22 (Xinhua) -- At weekends, shop assistants at the LEGO retail store at Chaoyang Joy City is occupied in answering the questions from parents and children attracted by the Danish toymaker's creative products.
At the first China International Import Expo (CIIE) held in Shanghai earlier this month, the Danish toymaker's booth was popular with young visitors eager to try out their latest products.
"Even though many people choose to go online for toy shopping, LEGO branded retail stores are still crowded with parents and children simply because of LEGO's powerful brand image," said one shop assistant.
When speaking of the CIIE, Liao, a LEGO enthusiast from Guangdong Province said he was excited to see his favorite toymaker at the expo.
"It was such a pleasant surprise to see LEGO at the expo," said the 22-year-old college graduate, who had started playing with LEGOs since primary school.
Liao said that he hopes that LEGO's CIIE presence can be followed by a richer line of the company's products in Chinese toy stores.
"I'm looking forward to buying some more products from their "Technic" series," he said, referring to a line of LEGO products featuring complex technical functions.
Liao's hopes were in coherence with the company's visions.
In an e-mailed response to a media interview, Niels B. Christiansen, CEO of the company, said LEGO is confident about its business in China.
"China's commitment to fostering a world-class business environment is a great encouragement to us," said Christiansen, adding that the company will expand its business in China by setting up more retail stores.
Entering China in 1983, LEGO has been one of the most recognized imported toy brands in China. It has seen a double-digit growth in its sales in China in the first half of the year, according to its financial report of H1 2018.
China is one of the largest market of traditional toys in the world. Market research data indicate that the annual sale of toys and games in China had been going up by around 20 percent annually between 2012 and 2017.
Market insiders said this is made possible by the expanding ranks of middle-income earners in China and the popularity of "learning through play" philosophy among young parents.
Sensing the potential, foreign companies are vying for expanding their presence in the Chinese market. LEGO has opened two flagship stores in China, both in Shanghai. A third one is scheduled to open in Beijing in early 2019.
Toy retailers are also seeing the same big opportunities. One prime example is the U.S. toy retailer Toys "R" Us. Though facing hardships in the U.S. and Europe, the toy retailer's business has seen rapid development in China.
Andre Javes, Toys "R" Us president for Asia Pacific, told Chinese online media Economic Observer that the company plans to expand its retail network in China by 40 to 50 stores every year.
Toy retailers have also realized the market potential of smaller cities and towns. Kidsland, a Chinese toy retailer, said nearly a third of their new retail points were opened in third-tier cities.
China's efforts in improving the business environment for foreign companies, especially enhancing the protection of intellectual property rights, is another reason why China's market is more and more favored by toy companies.
"Winning intellectual property cases against knockoff brands manifests China's commitment to create a fair business environment for all companies operating in China," said Christiansen.
Christiansen said that hopefully, LEGO's business success in China can encourage other companies to invest in China and provide them with rich experience.