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Q and A with Jeremy Kirk-Smith, NZ’s top toy expert

Jeremy Kirk-Smith has lived and breathed toys for 30 years, launching his career at Hasbro in the 80’s. Jeremy started Planet Fun eleven years ago and in 2005 the company was in the Deloitte Fast 50.

Here’s the Q and A from Jeremy Kirk-Smith – CEO and Founder of Planet Fun.

What is the toy market worth in New Zealand – ie how much are Kiwis spending on toys each year?

•    The toy market is not measured, and it is difficult to estimate due to the high number of toys in dollar stores etc. However, it is roughly estimated at $200MM. There are roughly 60,000 kids in each age group, so if we assume that toys are generally purchased for all kids up to 10 years old we are talking about a market of 600,000 kids. Therefore each kid possibly gets $330 spent on them per year.

How much time do you spend on the road researching and buying?

•    Approximately a full 3 months of the year is spent overseas. There are toy fairs in Australia, Hong Kong, LA, Dallas, London, Nuremberg, Japan and more. In addition there are suppliers to visit, and often retail toy buyers are escorted to the fairs to give them an insight into the toys coming up during the year.

Where is the biggest “toy market”? And are there particular companies that are leading the way?

•    USA then Japan…..there are no real stand out toy manufacturers (roughly 10 big ones in the USA, and Bandai is the leading company in Japan)

Is there a concern over safety in the toy business? Does that drive your decisions in regards to which toys you look to bring into NZ?

•    Yes there are big concerns, as outlined earlier. Although NZ has strict laws about certifying that toys are safe, unfortunately we have fairly loose border controls. The only solution is that parents have to be vigilant in buying from reputable retailers, and if they are in doubt they should ask if the toy is safety tested. It is really not worth risking your child’s life to save a few bucks – sadly there are plenty of rogues who import toys directly from dodgy factories in China. Parallel import laws have not helped. Any retailer or online seller should be able to show you a toy certificate of compliance for this country.

•    In addition to certificate of compliance, there is an industry self-policing body called the International Council of Toy Industries (ICTI) who audit factories in China to ensure that they are operating to ethical standards regarding labour, wages, safety etc. Toys from reputable retailers are sourced from such factories, however there are many toys in street markets and online that are not. A reputable brand is not always an indicator because there are always imitations.

Is there still a place for the small toy shops in the NZ economy or will the big chain stores continue to dominate?

•    Yes, there is a role for small retailers, and large, and online.  There are two main reasons that people like to shop in a small toy shop:

  •     Many consumers like to have assistance and advice. This may be to check what is likely to be a popular choice with their child, or it may be to find out more about the toy. A good example is the LeapFrog LeapPad learning tablet for kids – this is a technical product with a high price tag – it is a considered purchase, and many consumers like to seek advice before buying.


  •     The other reason is location. A lot of toy purchases are unplanned impulse buys – people are passing, their child convinces them to visit the store, and they end up leaving with a toy.

How do you see the “toy business” in New Zealand changing over the next three to five years?

•    Internet has become a significant part of overseas toy markets, but to date there isn’t really anyone in this area that has taken a strong chunk of the NZ market.  We will definitely see that change radically over the next couple of years – some big players will enter the online area.

•    We will also see a change in how we communicate to kids. In the past we have solely communicated via TV, but because kids are changing the way that they consume media we have to change also. So, we now enhance our TV advertising with other forms of message online, within TV shows, and in store.

•    In toys there is the on-going challenge of kids getting older younger – ie they are growing up faster. A 10 year old no longer wants to play with a doll, but may prefer to receive a mobile phone for Christmas.

•    In the past many toys emerged from TV shows, but increasingly they are emerging from heroes in other forms of media – internet sites, apps, console games etc.

•    Technology is merging quickly into toys – the LeapFrog LeapPad2 is a good example (essentially an iPad for kids). Nw technology tends to find it’s way into toys fairly rapidly – eg robots, touch screens, holograms

About Planet Fun and Jeremy Kirk-Smith:

Planet Fun is proud to be wholly NZ owned and is currently this nation’s largest toy distributor.

As New Zealand’s number one toy expert, Jeremy travels approximately three months of the year to toy fairs in New York, London, Hong Kong, Nuremberg, Tokyo, Los Angeles, Las Vegas and Dallas. His opinion is internationally sought within the toy industry.

Jeremy’s past accolades include the New Zealand introduction of Teletubbies, Cranium, and Lord of the Rings, Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, Cabbage Patch Kids, Ben 10, Bakugan, Zhu Zhu Pets and many more.
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