March 2, 2008 11:10 pm

Value strategy no puzzle for UK toymaker

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Danny Bamping, managing director of Bedlam Puzzles, says the prices at which his company’s products are sold are a long way from being the deciding factor for ­consumers.

This makes Bedlam, a toymaker based in Plymouth, a good example of the trend towards UK manufacturers competing more on value than purely on price.

The company started out in 2004 with plastic parts made by contractors in China. But Mr Bamping, 33, has become so relaxed about prices that last summer he decided to relocate production to the UK, in spite of the higher costs entailed.

“The Chinese contractors made a few mistakes which led to problems,” says Mr Bamping, whose products are sold mainly by domestic retailers.

“I then realised that the costs of having the products made in the UK were not as bad as I thought.”

With products made in China, Mr Bamping in principle had leeway to cut prices and improve volumes while keeping margins the same. But this would have been a mistaken strategy, he says.

“Even though the products cost less than £1 ($2) to make in China, three times less than in the UK, the profit margin in my business is such that I can afford to have them made in Britain.

“I have fewer headaches in dealing with suppliers here because the distances [between us and the supply companies] are so much shorter.”

Telling consumers the products are made in the UK is also a distinct advantage, since “there is a certain group of consumers [of toys] anxious to avoid China-made products if they can”, he says.

Bedlam’s basic product is a 13-piece puzzle that retails at about £10, with sales of £1m last year. The company employs 10 people.

“Also, I can place an order with a UK manufacturer and get the delivery in two to three weeks, while it takes two to three months with a Chinese supplier.”

Mr Bamping hopes to expand the business to annual sales of up to £10m by producing other puzzles under licence, but continuing to have the items made in the UK.

He says there has been a “backlash” against China in some quarters of the toy industry as a result of the problems last year suffered by Mattel, which discovered a range of technical defects in its Chinese-made toys.

“This helps us when we say our products are made in the UK,” Mr Bamping says.

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