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Tumbling Dominos – Toy Recalls Could Lead to Toy Shortage This Christmas.

Posted Aug 26 2008 11:36pm


I wrote this post awhile ago and it originally ran on gnmparents.com...but, I thought you might be interested too!

As I continue to read and write about toy recalls that have surged over the last month, it occurs to me that I should start my Christmas shopping early this year.

Way early. Like Now.

If you are unfamiliar with the process that most toys go through to make it to your shelf, here’s a rough flowchart. Around July or August toy marketing and product development folks, here in the US, finalize ideas for toys that will appear on retailer’s shelves next Christmas. By late fall they have had prototypes made, either in their labs or by contactors in China. These, “mock-ups” usually somewhat fragile and costing hundreds of dollars as they are hand made, are shown to major retailers, like Wal-Mart, the countries largest toy seller, Target and Toys R Us.




Most toy purchases are close to finalized by this point, a good year in advance. As manufacturing has moved to China, toy companies have had to extend their lead times to accommodate shipping times and distances. Exacerbating that, much of Asia shuts down around the New Years celebrations in late January and early February, leaving little time for changes in toy design.

In mid February, toy manufacturers attend Toy Fair in New York City. Once the place, when toys were made in the US, this was where new toys were presented to retailers each year, now it falls too late in the cycle and is more a place to pick up new ideas and for smaller manufacturers to try to get orders from the big retailers.

Early summer, manufacturers place their orders with their Chinese vendors – remember over 80% of toys are made in China, so this is a big rush season in Asia. Manufacturers hurriedly air freight prototypes back and forth between supplier and toy company finalizing details.

By late summer, like now, orders are already in production for shipment in August and September. Many have already arrived, on their way to retailer’s warehouse to be stocked on shelves just after Halloween. Looking out my window at the Los Angeles/Long Beach port, through which the majority of US sold toys pass, the slow trickle of containers waiting to unload is growing.

And now…. Recalls – which means testing, which means delays, which means returns which means shortages. Mattel, the world’s largest toy manufacturer has announced:

We are testing every production run of finished toys to ensure compliance before they reach you.

How exactly are they going to do that with toys already on the way? My guess is that some will be tested prior leaving the factory, and, returned for re-production. Some will be tested on arrival at the port and held back from distribution if found harmful to children.

Both methods will cause BIG delays! ANY toy orders that need to be redone will overload already overloaded factories in China. Any remake will cost toy companies BIG money as inventory will need to be sent air freight rather than the cheaper, more typical way of shipping, by slower container ships. Some won’t make it in time for Christmas. Some won’t make it at all.

Better get your shopping done early this year or perhaps they’ll be nothing to buy!


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