Good news for toy buyers this week – especially if the individual companies follow through with their new consumer market promises and clearly demonstrate greater corporate social responsibility in their design, manufacturing and marketing activities.. The US Toy Industry Association just announced a passel of new testing and quality control processes being put in place to help toymakers / consumer marketers avoid the kind of retailing debacle that occurred during the 2007 holiday season. Will safer toys now make their way to US retail outlets? Stay tuned.
The American toy industry (sales are $22 billion) was really battered by rolling product recalls and spreading consumer buying-avoidance as more and more imported toys were found to contain lead and other materials dangerous to the health of infants and developing toddlers. And then yanked from retail shelves. Bad timing – much of this occurred before and during the big holiday buying season.
Now, at least the independent testing labs are going to enjoy a boom year as Wal-Mart, Toys-R-Us and other retailers test for lead paints on the surface of toys and as Mattel and other toy makers [promise to] increase their watch over the output of their thousands of offshore suppliers. Toy marketers are hoping that consumer trust returns as they increase oversight and testing of products.
Would all this trouble have been avoided if more manufacturing had stayed in the USA? We’ll never know. But USA manufacturers and retail marketers alike have to recognize, accept and live with the rising “accountability and responsibility expectations” of American consumers. The lesson for 2007: Don’t mess with Moms and Grandmothers who care about the safety of things little ones play with or put in their mouths. The American industry race to the bottom for cheaper wages, cheaper goods, cheaper prices at wholesale and then at retail should not include a race to the bottom for product safety, product stewardship and quality assurance as well. That’s an expensive lesson that came out of Christmas buying, 2007.
The Accountability Central “Hot Topic” focus section for Toy Safety Imports will continue to focus on the issues surrounding imported toys and we’ll bring you updates on the industry’s progress and promises. Remember that Chinese factories are continuing to pour out an estimated 80 percent of toys marketed in the United States and there is a long way to go in product assurance in that still-developing nation. Geography may work against US marketers – the sourcing centers are still a l-o-n-g way off for thorough inspections and constant oversight by American marketers. The importer (here) is responsible for goods coming off the fleet of ships from Chinese ports, and the final accountability rests with the retailer putting the colorful toys on shelves in your hometown.
There is a responsibility, we believe, for toy marketers to also begin to communicate more broadly on their progress they make and the safety of their toys to help answer the questions raised by consumers, such as the one presented by one of our readers in December…”I’m aware of toys, especially the ones from China, and leaded toys…and I am so confused [about] where or which toys I should buy…which ones are lead-free…” Will toy marketers respond to these consumer concerns directly? They should. Perhaps the Toy Industry Association board which approved the testing and analysis procedures this week will also encourage more transparency and disclosure by all toy marketing players. Stay Tuned!