The FINANCIAL — As we are contemplating how Earth embraces the fast-approaching holiday spirit across the world, and when the gifting is at its highest, it is timely to talk about the fascinating and mysterious world of toy business in Georgia. Yes, we are soon entering the most active period for toys sales – after all, Christmas and New Year account for around 33% of the total sales of the year in the country.
Parents love their children. Kids love toys. Toys are more than just a source of fun for kids. Most toys provide at least some opportunity for children to learn. A zillion toys are out there, and hundreds of new ones hit the stores each year. Toys are supposed to be fun and are an important part of any child’s development. But the best toys engage children’s senses, ignite their imagination and encourage them to interact with others without posing hazards to their health.
Toys are quite popular products in Georgia as culturally Georgians pay big attention to the children. In Georgia the market is divided into two main segments: the branded toys segment focused on quality and Chinese imported toys that are focused on prices. The first segment primarily involves quality toys stores and is a growing sector that offers mostly brands such as Lego, Clementoni, Hasbro (Nerf, Play-Doh, Monopoly), Mattel and many others. These brands are launching many new products every year that are advertised in media and are coming from the United States and Europe mainly. They have the highest quality with norms such as EN71.
On that first segment, the main player is Super that has been operating on the Georgian market for the past 15 years. The Company has around 10 stores in Georgia with a large assortment of the main brands. The second player is Pepela that has celebrated its 10th Anniversary this year. Pepela is mostly importing branded toys from Europe with a focus on quality and educational value. The third player is Anvol with stores branded as XS. This Estonian company with the Russian shareholder is the last significant player within this segment that entered the Georgian market around 5 years ago. According to our investigations, Super used to be the cheapest toys store on the top 100 sold toys in the previous years but this year Pepela has taken the lead in this category and is currently offering the best prices according to the latest conducted prices study. The XS stores have by far the most expensive selection of top 100 sold toys.
Moving on to the second segment focused on low price, the main aspect that stands out is the low quality of products offered. Most of the toys sold in these stores don’t have any norm control, some being forbidden in Europe. Companies such as Tserodena, Chita, bazroba counters and some supermarkets are active on that segment.
Having approached all major chain stores in Georgia, few have agreed to an interview, mainly excusing themselves with having to deal with much more important business matters because of the fast-approaching holiday season and even an hour of their time was out of the question.
The General Manager of Pepela, Ms. Sophie Pkhakadze stated that: “Pepela has always been focused on quality toys and we abide by the ‘first in quality toys’ slogan, as 100% of toys carried within our network are certified by EN71 and other equivalent norms from the European Union, specifying very high and rigorous safety levels for toys”.
Otsnebis Samkaro (meaning dreamland in Georgian) that is operating the toys chain Chita was also forthcoming when answering our questions. According to Mr. Beka Bochorishvili, Development Project Manager of Chita, they also carry quality products: “all our imported products are regularly examined in different European countries and meet the EU Standards. Our suppliers are providing us with certificate proofs that list the composition of each toy. We have been operating on the Georgian market for the past 20 years and we have always tried to offer quality products with cheap prices”.
Ms. Pkhakadze, enthusiastically mentioned that in October 2016, Pepela became the first e-store for toys in Georgia: “we recently launched the www.pepela.ge website and we are the leading distributor in toys and the second main player in retail of toys in Georgia”. Otsnebis Samkaro also has ambitious plans. Mr. Bochorishvili stated that they are actively working on the expansion of distribution: “we aim to cover all regions of Georgia in the nearest future by opening Chita branches”.
While we were working on this article, www.momxmarebeli.ge operated by Center for Strategic Research and Development in Georgia has published their study on quality of toys in Georgia on November 21. So, to cover the story better, we have also interviewed Ms. Lia Todua, Consumer Protection Program Coordinator that oversaw the given study. According to Ms. Todua, a significant number of toys sold in Georgia are harmful to health and pose hazards: “we have bought 10 toys in 7 stores in Tbilisi and sent them to an accredited laboratory in Germany. The detailed documentation for each purchase can be found on our website. The test results were alarming because 9 out of 10 checked toys were labeled as hazardous by the lab as they contained an unacceptably large amount of harmful substance Bis (2-ethylhexyl) phthalate, in short DEHP. I should clarify that we have selected the toys based on the list of harmful toys published regularly by the EU so it does not necessarily mean that every 9 toys out of 10 are harmful in Georgia. Because of the resonance our study got, we are considering continuing checking toys of other players as well”.
It should be noted that Otsnebis Samkaro was on the list and did not pass the test. Pepela and Super were not on the list of visited stores but they will probably be fine with the quality tests as they are importing nearly all of their toys from Europe.
Although parents and consumers in general have the right to expect that toys they give to children are safe, hazardous toys remain an ongoing problem in Georgia and worldwide. Due to poor design, manufacturing and unfair marketing practices, some toys available for purchase today are with the potential to lead to serious injury of the most vulnerable members of our society – the children. Meanwhile rigorous quality standards are enforced on toys sold in Georgia do take extra precautions when buying toys for your own and someone else’s child alike!