Toy makers tout made in Canada label
Globe and Mail Update
October 23, 2007 at 5:40 PM EDT
In the wake of a massive summer recall of made-in-China toys, this country’s toy makers are touting their made-in-Canada labels and capitalizing on parental demands for safe playthings for their children.
Jim Deacove, who manufactures board games in the workshop near his home near Perth, Ont., estimates his sales have increased 10 per cent in Canada and 25 per cent internationally since the recall, and they continue to grow.
“The preliminary reaction is benefiting us,” says Mr. Deacove. “People are taking a greater interest in where their products are made, and it’s great – it’s what we’re all about.”
A relatively small outfit, his 35-year-old company, Family Pastimes, ships more than 65,000 games to about 3,500 retailers around the world every year, grossing between $400,000 and $500,000 in revenue annually.
The company makes more than 80 games, using recycled materials whenever possible and soy-based printing ink, using local labour. Nothing is imported from China.
“I think it’s up to the company that produces the product to test their product to make sure it’s safe,” says Mr. Deacove, adding: “I couldn’t live with myself if I thought there was a chance a child could get sick from my product.”
Mattel Inc., the world’s largest toy manufacturer, recalled more than 21 million toys worldwide in August after discovering that several of its products might contain lead paint or tiny magnets that could be swallowed by children.
Although the toys were manufactured in China, Mattel has assumed responsibility for the recalls, citing problems with their designs rather than the manufacturing itself. Yet consumers are now wary about foreign-made goods, especially those for children.
In the weeks after the Mattel recall, Mr. Deacove received many calls from parents and retailers inquiring about the origin of his products, and he saw an opportunity.
Mr. Deacove sent an e-mail newsletter to retailers such as Mastermind Toys, titled “Not Made in China,” which he says was a bit of “shameless self-promotion” to draw attention to his games, which already carried a “Made in Canada” logo.
The retailers, however, didn’t need the push. “They were calling and e-mailing me to tell me they were putting my games in their window [displays],” he says.
According to Industry Canada, there are more than 200 toy and game manufacturers, small and large, in this country. Retail sales are worth about $1.4-billion a year, according to the Canadian Toy Association.
The made-in-Canada designation may be initially attractive to consumers, but pricing is still a formidable barrier when it comes to making profitable toys in Canada, says Adam Dunn, co-founder of Monster Factory, a plush-toy company based in Toronto.
Mr. Dunn, whose toys range in price from $8 to $30, finds it difficult to compete against the Chinese juggernaut that dominates the toy manufacturing industry around the world.
“In past years, people have mentioned that they like to hear that [the toys] are made in Canada. But they’d still like it to be cheaper,” says Mr. Dunn. “But now you hear people mention the made-in-Canada part and not so much the price. So there seems to be a bit more of an appreciation for the made-in-Canada label.”
Four-year-old Monster Factory, also run by Bliss Man and Rhya Tamasauskas, makes about 6,000 plush “monsters” a year and plans to double its output by next year.
The company recently expanded operations, outsourcing some of the production to a Toronto-based contractor, and began selling its toys wholesale to about a dozen specialty retailers across the country.
At one point, Monster Factory’s owners, tempted by inexpensive production methods, explored having their toys made in China.
“The total cost of getting a monster made in China was less than just the cost of the materials here,” Mr. Dunn notes.
“But it’s a risk. … We just wanted to grow a little more slowly. Quality is really important to us, we wanted to have that connection with our contractor.”
The company is about to launch a new line of monsters and intends to promote its Canadian-made status to boost sales, both online and to retailers.
As the biggest toy-buying season approaches, Tina Oz, of Barrie, Ont., is thinking twice about where she’ll buy toys for her two young children.
“This toy-recall debacle comes at a perfect time for us to leave [the major retailers] and go to specialty stores,” says the mother of five-year-old Lily, and 16-month-old Ben.
“I don’t mind paying a bit extra for something different.”