If there is a dearth of Chinese-made toys in the run-up to Christmas, the once-mighty British manufacturers will be unable to make up the shortfall.
More than 80 per cent of the world’s toys are now made in China, and the remaining British manufacturers mostly focus on niche products such as rocking horses, dolls’ houses and other wooden toys.
“In my lifetime, Britain has gone from being the fourth largest toy manufacturer in the world to a cottage industry,” said Robert Nathan, manager of the British Toymakers Guild.
Worries over the safety of Chinese toys has led to an upsurge in inquiries from retailers and consumers about where they can find British-made products, says Mr Nathan. He expects the guild’s October trade show in London to attract additional interest as a result.
The output of British toymakers is worth about £35m, but that compares with a total UK retail market of £1.2bn. So when it comes to the mass-produced plastic toys, soft toys, electronic games and gadgets that are intensively advertised in the media, Britain looks east.
“There isn’t the infrastructure in Britain to make toys of that kind in such numbers,” said Mr Nathan.
The Rocking Horse Shop in York is typical of the British industry, employing nine people and making all parts of the company’s products, which can cost up to £4,000 each. The average price of a rocking horse is about £1,500.
“We’re getting lots of inquiries from people who want something that will be safe for their children,” said Anthony Dew, the owner.
Creations in Wood is an even smaller outfit that makes a range of quality wooden toys, including rocking horses, rocking motorbikes and rocking snails, as well as model cars and trains. Colin Colson, the owner, and his wife make about 50 toys a year for sale at craft fairs and selected National Trust shops.
Worries about product safety had led to “incredible interest” at a recent trade fair, said Mr Colson.
Orders from his regular outlets had risen considerably. But he would be “hard pressed” to meet the needs of big retailers.