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Toy musical instruments: Growing demand for electronic models drives R&D

Manufacturers invest in product development amid increasing opportunities to boost export sales.

Amid the economic slowdown, toy musical instrument makers in mainland China are boosting product enhancements to sustain the current industry growth. Efforts are centered on electronic applications in the latest releases.

Suppliers are increasing their share of this particular segment as revenue for developmental toys has surged in spite of recent financial storms. Offering long-term value as opposed to short-lived fads, electronic versions are top choices given buyers' increasingly tightening budgets.

Toy musical instruments are traditionally known to stimulate creativity and spatial-temporal reasoning in children. To supplement learning and interactive play, companies incorporate add-ons such as lights, musical sounds and preset programs to new designs.

The endeavor is proving profitable as these models, specifically electronic keyboards and guitars, make up more than 60 percent of total export revenue of all toy musical instruments.

In July 2009 alone, the line's shipments generated $11.6 million, which is 12 percent higher YoY, according to China customs. Further, orders from six of the top 10 overseas toy markets have increased. Exports to the US, for example, rose 21 percent while sales to Hong Kong surged 213 percent. Regionwise, the mainland sent 58 percent more products to the Middle East. Business in the Asia-Pacific region soared 204 percent.

A number of manufacturers, however, are wary that strong sales may only be a result of the late Christmas sourcing season and the recent change in tax rebates.

During 2009, the economic slowdown pushed holiday purchasing between June and September, rather than the traditional April to August. The refund in overseas shipments, meanwhile, went up to 15 percent from 11 percent in July.

While the latter has no immediate impact on profit, it has given companies room for future price negotiations, enabling them to promote business more effectively.

To spur sales of electronic toy musical instruments further, some new designs allow users to set models to their own specifications. To illustrate, one can choose preprogrammed songs and music modes, and control timbre, rhythm, volume and tempo.

Other add-ons include a flashing keyboard, microphone, and karaoke, and record and play functions.

Suppliers also invest in sophisticated computer technology. Recent innovations from Hong Jong-invested Advance Bright Ltd are a drum set and a guitar, which come with a plug-in TVvideo game. Each has 10 to 15 built-in activities, including preset songs and multilevel programs.

In coming years, businesses foresee further developments, especially in toy keyboards. Units will combine recreation with learning better, while keeping up with current trends.

Products & prices
Industry composition
Major toy hub
Toy musical instrument
  The electronic toy drum set from Advance Bright has a plug-in TV video game with three multilevel programs.
Products & prices

China makers present several types of toy musical instruments. Popular versions include pianos, organs, drums, xylophones, tambourines, maracas, guitars and horns.

Models can be classified according to how they are played, namely keyboards, idiophones, and wind and string instruments. Apart from that, the type of manufacturer offering the product determines function as both toy suppliers and musical instrument companies are in the line.

The distinct orientation of these businesses results in diverse emphases in design. In particular, toy factories focus on add-ons and visual appeal, while instrument makers prioritize actual musical applications. The latter also provide additional preset programs.

To illustrate, electronic organs from such suppliers can come with 25, 32, 37 or up to 49 keys. Specifically, the SK944 model from Jinjiang Shenkong Electronics Toys Co. Ltd is a 48-key unit with 10 tones, rhythms and demo songs, and eight drumbeats. It has synch, vibrato or sustain, record and play, and auto-bass-chord functions. Programs include fill-in or drum echoes, and rhythm. The product also has single finger chords, auto-sleep, and 32-speed tempo and 16-level volume controls.

Among the toy suppliers offering novelty releases, Quois Corp. (Earnest Creation Co.) has released electronic organs and guitars in cartoon or animal shapes. Targeting children below 3 years, models have simpler musical features. A number are also decorated with images of Disney characters.

In the case of Shantou Dihua Toys Co. Ltd, the R&D team emphasizes the combination of toy and musical functions in units suitable for users under 5 years old.

China toy musical instruments can also be classified as electronic and nonelectronic. The latter still have a significant share of the line.

Nonelectronic models include xylophones, tambourines, maracas and pianos. They are typically made of plastic, wood or metal, and target children below 3 years old. Items adopt simple musical functions and colorful designs, including rainbow or cartoon detail.

In terms of price, nonelectronic pieces are determined by function and the material used. Wooden varieties range between $1.50 and $6, and plastic ones are $4 and below.

Electronic versions usually utilize ABS. Drum sets, guitars and organs are the common instruments produced.

Depending on the features offered, releases are priced from $1 to $20. Models geared toward children 3 years and below are more for play, and range between $1 and $5. Types that provide actual musical applications start at $3, and those with advanced functions can exceed $15 per unit.

Structure and design also affect quotes. For instance, a novelty-shaped electronic organ is costlier to make than the regular rectangular kind.

Organs actually have the largest share of output among electronic toy musical instruments. Geared toward 3-to-12-year-olds, releases are mainly classified by product features.

Low-end varieties range between $1 and $5, and have fewer than 25 piano keys or tone buttons. Targeting the below-5-years segment, models are cartoon- or animal-shaped and come with a flashing keyboard or a microphone.

Quoted at $5.50 to $10, midrange versions are designed for children 3 years and above and use nontoxic virgin ABS. Units offer 32 to 49 piano keys or tone buttons and play five to 10 preprogrammed songs.

The high end is priced at $10.50 to $25 and utilizes nontoxic, virgin ABS. Releases have multiple advanced musical functions and more than 10 preprogrammed songs. Designs are fitted with 37 to 49 piano keys.

Toy musical instrument
  Jinjiang Shenkong's SK3718B model is an electronic toy keyboard with stool. The product has 37 keys and 22 music demos.
Industry composition

There are about 800 to 1,000 companies offering toy musical instruments in China.

Of these, 200 are makers of standard-size models that turn out one or two toy versions, accounting for a small portion of total production. At Jinjiang Shenkong and Catic Group China Joy Keyboards Co. Ltd, for example, toy organs account for only 30 percent of total yield. Such operations focus on ODM and OBM orders.

The rest of the supplier base consists of toy manufacturers, of which 80 percent are small and midsize. Both Quois and Shantou Dihua specialize in ABS variants and carry nearly 20 other toy types, including battery-operated models and role-play sets.

Another example is Kingdom Toys & Gifts Co. Ltd. It offers wooden toy musical instruments together with puzzles, board games, role-play sets and other developmental models in the same material.

Toy musical instrument
  Model EG1000 from Advance Bright has a plug-in TV video game with three one-player, multilevel programs.
Major toy hub

Chenghai in Shantou, Guangdong province, is a major toy manufacturing base in China, with about 3,000 factories and a total workforce of more than 100,000.

The district hosts 20 tier 1 enterprises, each earning more than $20 million annually. The presence of these OBM-oriented makers has spurred the local administration to implement a strategy that encourages other local toy companies to establish their own brands.

Apart from its selection of toy musical instruments, the area churns out a range of plastic releases, including role-play sets, dolls and ride-on kinds.

The sourcing zone is also regarded as a model center for the entire toy industry in Guangdong. Recent investment in technology has enabled the area to secure its position as a hub for high-quality goods domestically and abroad.

Moreover, Chenghai boasts strong product innovation, which has generated more than 6,000 patents.

The district also aims to be China base for original cartoon characters. In fact, the local government has created a foundation to develop a large-scale animation industry there.

This article "Toy musical instruments: Growing demand for electronic models drives R&D" is originally posted in Global Sources.

Note: All price quotes in this report are in US dollars unless otherwise specified. FOB prices were provided by the companies interviewed only as reference prices at the time of interview and may have changed.

Disclaimer: All product images are provided by the companies interviewed and are for reference purposes only. Those product images featuring products with trademarks, brand names or logos are not intended for sale. We, our affiliates, and our affiliates' respective directors, officers, employees, representatives, agents or contractors, do not accept and will not have any responsibility or liability for product images (or any part thereof) which infringe on any intellectual property or other rights of a third party.

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