Toys, Values & Opportunities in the MENA Region!

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Having been born, raised, studied and worked in United Arab Emirates I have been blessed to enjoy both sides of the coin seeing and indulging in a modern world at its finest and enjoying the beauty of the UAE’s heritage and traditions. It is always smart to adapt continuous improvement culture (Kaizen) as the Japanese call it and live by it, while retaining your authentic values. This brings me to a very essential question that always cross my mind whenever I visit toy retailers and observe specific categories: “Do worldwide toy companies know and understand our values to serve kids and parents in our region (Middle East & North Africa) in the best means? Thus, those brands become the ultimate choice for families in a certain category?”

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The answer is Yes and No. The yes part is reflected in the positive steps that have been taken by few companies & retailers who have apparently realized the importance of this topic and started to take actions towards a better understanding of their customers’ values and needs in the MENA region. On the other hand, the No part is translated in the considerable gap (an opportunity), which is still waiting to be filled.

Elements of Cultural Adaptation being implemented now reside in: 1) Product development of some items relevant to our culture 2) Arabic product packaging 3) Arabic translated ads/ marketing campaigns 4) Prohibition of specific items in a product line or prohibition of the whole brand, like Barbie in Kingdom of Saudi Arabia. (You can imagine the opportunity loss in a country that equals almost 50% of the toy market in the MENA region). Other element which retailers and toy companies consider is the spending values of Arabs as this can direct their investments and purchasing decisions. Furthermore, in the whole MENA region just few companies design and invent toys that reflect the Arabic culture and values. However, in entrepreneurial countries like UAE and Kuwait, where talented generation has both the financial resources and the right ideas to build businesses along with their governments’ support, we expect number of companies designing and brining toys to lives which are aligned with cultural values and include a funky touch and a modern twist will surely increase. So what’s the main idea?

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The message here is simple, yet very important; when the toy market started to boom in early 2000, customers purchased what’s available for them due to high demand, nevertheless, in the coming few years, and with supply choices exceeding demand levels, we believe that the trophy and dollars (Dirham as we call it in UAE) will go to companies that serve customers’ needs and customize their products to be aligned with their cultural values. As a future mother, I would definitely want the tools my kids use for playing to reinforce our values, yes I am very open minded and I would love them to have a broad horizon and understand different cultures, and also learn the best traits from each one, yet the roots need to be seeded properly as the 1st 7 years of kids' lives are extremely crucial to their overall personalities. Many future parents are thinking the same. And this is a call to all international companies to start spotting the light on this topic and invest further in market research to better understand the customers’ they cater to, adjust their product offering accordingly and stay ahead of the game. MENA markets are booming, citizens enjoy high GNI (Gross National Income/ Capita) and have great purchasing power, therefore, it is a step to consider if you want to win in fast growing emerging markets. And surely we all want to win!

 

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