While its flagship brand Barbie remains the reigning queen of the toy shelves, local distributor Richwell continues to seek out new innovative items to keep the little ones happy

Kids these days have all the luck. Whereas two decades ago department stores would only sell toys during the holiday season, globalization has made it possible for today’s younger generation to enjoy the latest models of Barbie and Ken, Pokemon, Disney Princesses, Hot Wheels and Bakugan in real time.

“Whatever new toy the U.S. has today, we have it here too,” shares Myrna Yao, COO of Richwell Trading Corporation, the exclusive distributor and licensing agent of Barbie, Fisher Price, V-tech and Pigeon in the Philippines.

“When we decided to venture into toy distribution in the’80s, we could not import toys as they were banned and considered luxury items. Only Rustan’s had the facilities to import because they have their department store, but anything related to toy distribution was virtually non-existent.”

For the Richwell group, it’s literally work to find toys. When the company secured the exclusive distributorship of Barbie dolls in the Philippines in 1982, it paved the way for the establishment of a year-round toy market. But Yao recalls it to be a rocky ride. “When we started selling Barbie, nobody wanted to buy it.

Department stores would only buy two to three pieces of every style, which we had to deliver every three days because they didn’t want to stock up. It was a difficult time to be in the toy business.”

Backed by their company’s motto that “Every child deserves a happy childhood,” Yao and her husband, Albert, started the trend of holding trade shows in 1984 for clients to come in and see the whole line of Barbie merchandise they were selling.

“We gave them incentives—if they ordered our products even though the delivery would still be on the months leading to the holidays, we gave them a discount. And it worked,” she shares. “We supported that with advertisements and marketing, and in one year’s time, business grew. Even today, Barbie sees a consistent increase in growth every year.”

Gadget or Plaything? Let the Child Decide

The toy industry has been surprisingly resistant to hard times. Past economic downturns have proven that parents will give up a lot of things before they will disappoint their children on Christmas or special occasions.

The industry has also shown signs of growing up, says Yao. Over the years, thousands and thousands of toys come squishing out of toy factories, clogging store shelves. Some sell well for years and are now known as classics—Barbie, Lego, Hot Wheels, and the like—while others never sell and are known as just plain duds.

With today’s Internet generation, toy manufacturers the world over are also diversifying into new tech devices for kids ages three and up.

“One of the challenges we experience now is selling traditional games like Scrabble or Magic 8,” shares Yao.

“Children as young as seven are already Internet savvy and play a lot of games on the computer. But we still want them to appreciate classic board games played with the family—the games their parents grew up with.”

In the end, of course, a toy’s success comes down to the children who play with it, and there’s no predicting what they’ll like. And this is something Richwell understands as it continues to attend international toy fairs to see potential brands it can bring into the Philippine market.

“We’ve actually diversified our business and extended it to everything a child needs,” shares Yao. “We are now also in children’s shoes and apparel, and we’ve expanded into infant care, nursery, and child safety items. Everything a child needs, from infancy up until their early teens, we have it. And we still plan on bringing more partnerships with different brands—there are now so many toys in the market and we hope to continue to bring something new and unique to the table.”

Published in the Business Agenda section of the Manila Bulletin, July 19, 2010.