POP MART: Blind box toys show the designer toy market in China is booming

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According to Euromonitor, the total retail sales of toys and games in China soared from RMB 135.6 billion in 2013 to RMB 324.1 billion in 2018, an average annual growth rate of 19.1%. However, not all these toy consumers are children. POP MART, which sells blind boxes, is a leader in the designer toy market in China.

The designer toy market in China has taken off in the last years. According to Wang Ning, the founder of POP MART, the designer toy trend started in Hong Kong in the 1990s and was influenced by Japan, South Korea, and the West in the 2000s. The trend is inevitable, given the country’s strong economy, he says.

POP MART’s meteoritic rise among the growing Chinese toy market

On December 11 2020, POP MART launched its initial public offering (IPO) at 38.5 HK$ a share seeking to raise 674 million dollars. By the end of the day, POP MART’s share value had doubled to 77.1 HK$, breaking the record for best debutant for deals over 500$ in Hong Kong. In ten years after opening its first store in Beijing, POP MART has secured its place as the leader of the Chinese designer toy market. Boasting a compound annual growth rate of 22.8%, the industry has seen other companies follow POP MART’s wake.

While POP MART is dominating the market with over 75% market share, competitors also have profited from the designer toys craze. 52 Toys is one of them, specialized in IP derivatives toys, the company created in 2015 only started to attract investors in 2017, according to its founder Chen Wei, thanks to the development of the entertainment industry. Smaller IP centric brands like Ali the Fox have also grown in popularity. Foreign brands have also noticed China growing appetite for toys: LEGO and the Japan-inspired Italian brand Tokidoki have made known that they have big plans for the Chinese market.

More and more young adults have become designer toy consumers in China

Designer toys, also called art toys, are toys and collectibles created by artists and designers which are usually made from vinyl and riffed off of pop culture tropes (hip-hop, graffiti, Japanese Manga culture). Not long ago, designer toy collectors in China were still a very small community. However, things are changing quickly. More and more young adults have become designer toy consumers in China.

Chen Shaofeng, vice-dean of the Institute for Cultural Industries at Peking University, said the increasing number of designer toy consumers in China has been sparked by higher standards of living. The rising designer toy market in China has showed China’s young adults’ appreciation of art and culture. At the same time, they are eager to find self-identification. Buying and collecting certain kind of art toys is a way they express their selves; a way to tell people who they are and what they like. While most designer pieces have only a limited amount and the price is very high, they are not available or affordable for most of the designer toy enthusiasts in China. Blind box toys in China, as a piece of affordable art, has become extremely popular in the designer toy market.

Chinese designer toy consumer
Source: Daxue Consulting, A Chinese Blind Toy Collector’s toy room

What Is a Blind Box, and why is it trending in China?

Blind boxes are all the same on the outside but have a unique minifigure on the inside, which are designed by different designers or artists. Palm-sized plastic figurines are individually packaged into opaque polybags and sold separately in so-called blind boxes (Chinese:盲盒). Normally, each character series consists of 12 figures. 12 blind boxes make up one package, and 12 packages comprise one carton. That means, one carton has 144 minifigures in total, in which 12 different styles are randomly distributed.

In all 12 styles, one minifigure will be chosen as so-called mystery style and there will always only be one piece in all 144 blind boxes. That keeps many blind box enthusiasts purchasing more to complete their collections. Because you never know what piece you are going to get, those determined to complete their collection may buy all 144 blind boxes at once. Almost all blind boxes are sold at the same price of 59 RMB (8 USD), that is maybe not cheap for a palm-sized plastic doll, yet not pricy enough to keep collectors stopping buying over and over. Last year, about 4 million pieces of Molly, one of the most popular character in the blind box market in China, have been sold.

Tactics of the blind box economy in China

There will also be limited series (limited amount for limited time period) of characters for special occasion such as Christmas or Chinese New Year for the same price, with no premium price for limited edition holiday specials, some collectors even line up in front of the shops overnight.

Blind Boxes in China
Source: Daxue Consulting, Blind Boxes of Popular Character Molly

“It’s about individuality and relieving pressure. People collect designer toys and they interpret the characters’ emotions in their own way.” Said Wang Ning.

Designer toy consumers in China often show off their collections on social media. They also discuss and exchange dolls with each other on art toy community/e-commerce platforms such as PAQU (葩趣) or secondhand platform like Xianyu (咸鱼) from Alibaba. There are also dealers who earn big money by selling popular blind boxes they have collected. The price on the secondhand market depends on various factors, e.g. the quantity produced of a certain series of published blind boxes; the ratio of mystery style to ordinary styles (normally 1/144); etc.

designer toy collaboration
Source: Daxue Consulting, Authentic Minions Labubu Toy Collection Figure on Beijing Toy Show 2019

What is POP MART (泡泡玛特)?

According to POP MART itself, it is a lifestyle retailing company, following the brand spirit “MAKE SOMETHING FUN!”. POP MART was founded in 2010 and sold various categories of lifestyle commodities, including toy, home, digital, beauty etc. However, in the recent years, POP MART has discovered the unfulfilled need and enthusiasm for designer toys of Chinese young adults. Since then, POP MART has changed its strategy and shifted its focus in the designer toy market in China.

POP MART China
Source: Baidu index, search index of POP MART from last 3 years

Before POP MART started to exclusively cooperate with designers, blind boxes were sold through different channels such as toy store or stationery shops. Now POP MART offers designers an “all-inclusive service” from production to marketing to distribution. Meanwhile, POP MART is running over 30 stores at fine shopping malls in 14 cities in China. It also owns over 200 so-called Roboshops (automated vending machines) across the country. The company opened its Tmall flagship store and launched its APP in 2016.

POP MART told the toy chronicle in an interview this year, the UK number one designer vinyl toy blog, at present, POP MART’s main consumer group is between 18 and 35 years old urban white-collar employees and students; 75% are female. Wang Ning, the founder of Pop Mart says: “The designer toy market in China is huge and promising.”

designer toy market in China
Source: Daxue Consulting, POP MART Offline store in Shanghai High-end mall
designer toy automated vending machine
Source: Daxue Consulting, POP MART Roboshop in Shanghai mall

China Designer Toy Exhibition

POP MART is also behind the Beijing and Shanghai Toy Show. More than 300 designers from China, Japan, South Korea, the United States, and Europe attended the latest Beijing Toy Show 2019 in August. POP MART introduced designer toy exhibitions to China mainland with Beijing Toy Show 2017 (BTS). The art toy exhibitions have had great influence throughout Asia. These events not only offer opportunities for fans to meet their beloved artists and purchase special designer toys; but also, artists from various countries can get together and organize some wonderful collaborations. For POP MART, it is the most effective way to discover promising artists and find cooperation opportunities.

China toy show
Source: Daxue Consulting, POP MART organized Beijing Toy Show

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