Global Toy Experts made the exciting announcement last week that we were entering into an agreement with ToyGal to cover the MENA region (Middle East North Africa). Hala AlDuwik, the Founder and President, has the knowledge, the contacts and the grace to lead Global Toy Experts into this market, which is for many, an unexplored part of the world. So that we can all learn about Hala and her company, I decided to do this interview.
Richard: What brought you into the business of play?
Hala AlDuwik: This exciting journey started back in 2009 when I worked with the team of "Dubai Events and Promotions Establishment" in organizing one of the largest kids and family entertainment events in Dubai Modhesh World (the most beloved kids character in the gulf region), then I got more involved with play and joined NewBoy, a leading toy company in the MENA region, where I later headed the marketing department in Dubai, planning and executing marketing strategies for the various brands under its portfolio like the popular spinning top and the hottest toys properties back in 2011/ 2012 “BeyBlade”.
Richard: Our readers certainly know about Middle East & North Africa, but because the news so often depicts disruption they might not see the opportunities. Which countries currently have strong economies and are good places to do business?
Hala AlDuwik: The Middle East And North Africa Market is currently a very attractive spot for internal businesses that are planning for expansion in these areas due to various factors like political stability, economic growth, retail growth, gross domestic growth and market attractiveness. And yes there are some political issues taking place in certain areas in the MENA region, but in countries like United Arab Emirates you can see a great emphasis on political stability as an advantage for residents, tourists and businesses to consider UAE as their ultimate destination for fun and doing business. Other strong countries with strong economies are Kingdom of Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, Qatar and lately Egypt started to attract mega investments from international investors.
Richard: I and our readers would greatly benefit from your educating us about the business of play in your part of the world? Who are the major retailers and manufacturers, what western companies have active presences and how is business generally done. Is it through distributors?
Hala AlDuwik: The supply chain in the MENA region starts from distributors to retailers to consumers. Major retailers are Toys R Us, Hamleys, The Toy Store, Baby Shop, Early Learning Center, Sanrio, Wizz, Krash Toys, Build A Bear Workshop, Imaginarium and last year LEGO opened its first store in Yas Mall in Abu Dhabi. Moreover, in the last few years major toy companies like Hasbro and Simba MENA have established new offices in the region to oversee and manage their businesses in this part of the world, and this demonstrates the strength and attractiveness of the MENA market.
Richard: What are the strong toy categories?
Hala AlDuwik: Action figures (and boys department in general), fashion dolls, arts and crafts, construction toys (led by Lego) and preschool (infant toys) are some of the strong categories in the region.
Richard: Who is the gatekeeper when it comes to purchasing play?
Hala AlDuwik: Distributors have their own buying teams who usually attend exhibitions and fairs to review the latest toys and trends in the industry. Some distributors have established relations with international toy companies hence the business for them in certain brands & lines is ongoing. Also for selected brands/ categories we will find retailers buying directly from toy companies without the involvement of any third party.
Richard: What do they look for in making a buying decision?
Hala AlDuwik: From a distributor point of view, buyers are looking for hot toys, properties and licensed brands that are expected to boom or become the next craze. Properties that are supported with media channels like TV series or movie releases on big screens are attractive and definitely toys, which reflect the new era of phygital is on demand. Furthermore, buyers ask for the right suggested retail prices that generate profit and look for toys that comply with international and local safety standards and don’t interfere with the culture. On the other side, from a retailer point of view, buyers look for the same points and also consider other important factors like margins and the marketing efforts that distributors and toy companies are willing to make in order to drive footfall to retail stores and boost sales.
Richard: What sort of toys and games did you play with as a child and do you still play?
Hala AlDuwik: Toys under pretend play (like kitchen play sets) were my favorite toys as they enriched my imagination as a young girl and granted me the feeling that I am managing my own home.