A baby girl plays with toys at her home (WEI YAO)
Few men have come across their eureka moment while changing nappies and preparing infant formula, but that's what made Xu Shu a superman, or, to be more precise, the founder of ToySuperman.
When he had a baby two years ago, the then 31-year-old went through all the ordeals parents undergo, especially trying to keep her amused with the toys she wanted without going bankrupt.
Xu found that Chinese parents were generally spending about 2,000-3,000 yuan ($305-$458) every year on buying toys for their children. It was a no-win situation because despite spending all that money, the toys were often discarded within months or even weeks, with the child losing interest and moving on to other new toys.
While most parents accepted this stoically, it gave Xu Shu brainwave. "Why not rent out toys?" he thought, and that's how his online-to-offline toy rental business was born last year.
ToySuperman.com is a site that allows parents to rent toys for their children at a fraction of the price they would have to pay to buy them by using its eponymous phone app. "This way, parents can reduce the amount of money they waste buying toys that become outdated. Renting would also mean a house uncluttered by piles of unused toys and therefore, more space," Xu noted.
The warehouse of ToySuperman.com, an online-to-offline toy rental company (COURTESY OF TOYSUPERMAN)
Huge market potential
Living in Beijing as a stay-at-home mother, 32-year-old Xiao Yuan is happy with the newly emerged toy rental business. For her, buying a plaything for a child is not a simple activity. If it's a boy, the most popular toys are remote control cars, robots and model planes. If it's a girl, then Barbie dolls are in demand. Plus there are the teaching aid toys of different varieties for different age groups. "Sometimes it makes me go crazy trying to choose a toy for my son," Xiao said. "It's easier to just rent the toys he likes."
Today's kids have a "loving the new, loathing the old" kind of mindset and their interest in new toys wanes just after seven to 10 days. Then, discarded toys pile up in a corner, just taking up space.
That's not all. "The price of toys today is no joke," Xiao told ChinAfrica, a monthly magazine published by Beijing Review. "Some high-quality toys can cost anything from hundreds to thousands of yuan. The prices of some imported brands such as American Fisher-Price are totally scary!"
The Chinese toy market has huge potential. According to a survey by Euromonitor International, a London-based strategic market researcher, retail sales in the Chinese toy market reached 74.4 billion yuan ($11.3 billion) in 2014. The agency estimates the figure will touch 100 billion yuan ($15.2 billion) in 2017.
The number of toy consumers is large and growing. Euromonitor said that by 2013, the number of major toy customers who were less than 14 years old was 220 million on the Chinese mainland alone. Besides, with the Chinese Government changing its family planning policy, a family can have a second child now. It means every year, there will be an estimated extra 5 million newborns, who would be potential consumers.
Seeing the vast potential for future development, in March 2016, dozens of investors offered nearly 10 million yuan ($1.52 million) to ToySuperman to support its development.
ToySuperman's toys are being sanitized (COURTESY OF TOYSUPERMAN)
How the business works
ToySuperman currently has a small office in Beijing. The staff accept online orders and direct transport staff to deliver toys from the warehouse to consumers.
ToySuperman now has a collection of over 2,000 toys in more than 500 categories. From small items such as puzzles and building blocks to larger pieces such as rocking horses and trampolines, it has most, if not all, the toys parents seek for children under the age of 6. Eighty percent of these are imported because Xu thinks they have better quality and higher wear-and-tear resistance.
The most attractive thing about ToySuperman is the affordable rental, which, on average, is below 10 yuan ($1.5) per day.
"I once wanted to buy a multi-function table by [American] Hape Toys for children to learn numbers and characters, but the price was more than 4,000 yuan ($610), and I gave up the idea as soon as I saw the price," said Li Mengmeng, a 35-year-old mother, who works as a nurse in a Beijing hospital.
"However, at ToySuperman, you can rent it for only 28.5 yuan ($4.35) per day."
Xu says parents enjoy the benefit of lower costs by co-sharing. "ToySuperman provides parents a platform to maximize their access to toys, eases financial stress and releases space for families," he said.
According to a survey by Spain's University of Cadiz, plastic waste accounts for 88 percent of the rubbish found floating on seas worldwide. A part of it comes from toys. "The recycling of toys goes with the green, low carbon consumption concept," Xu said. "What's more, when kids play with rented toys, they are told to handle them carefully as they would have to share them with other kids. In this way, children can be imbibed with a sense of sharing from an early age."
One parental concern about shared toys is the safety aspect. Xu said ToySuperman takes a very strict approach to disinfecting the toys once they are returned by a user to guarantee they are clean and safe to use. After being cleaned rigorously, the toys are stored in the warehouse that Xu says is disinfected as well. "The cleanliness and safety of our toys is guaranteed," he said.
For the toy rental industry, Xu thinks the marketing has to be a little different. "We stress emotional marketing since toys are not just cold plastics but the means to bring happiness to youngsters," he said.
Copyedited by Sudeshna Sarkar
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