The Baby & Children stand at the China Sourcing Fair: Gifts & Home Products is evidence of an industry that is booming Toys have a history as old as human civilization. In the old days, children played with whatever they could find. But these days parents are willing to spend plenty of money on toys and children's products. And the industry is booming. The China Sourcing Fair: Gifts & Home Products, which opens today and runs until Sunday, has some exciting new pavilions this year, including a Baby & Children pavilion, the biggest of the newcomers. The others are Arts & Crafts and Ceramics & Glassware pavilions. With more than 4,000 booths, the China Sourcing Fair: Gifts & Home Products, is the biggest fair at AsiaWorld-Expo organised by Global Sources. More than 31,000 visitors from 120 countries attended the event last year and more are expected this year. Sarah Benecke, director of Global Sources, said the company was aggressively exploring new and remote developing areas in the mainland, which had lower pricing than coastal areas. More than 1,200 exhibitors from China with many companies from emerging sourcing centres such as Shaanxi, Hunan, Guangxi, Hubei, Liaoning and Shandong, have joined the fair, resulting in a 30 per cent increase in the number of exhibitors. Many of them are exhibiting in Hong Kong for the first time. 'Companies have been putting more focus on children's products lately,' Ms Benecke said. 'In developing countries, people tend to have a lot of children, so they need many children's products. In richer countries, people tend to have fewer children but they are willing to spend a lot on their children. So the baby and children's products industry is promising worldwide.' Manny Wong, business development manager of Fame Summit, said children's products were a huge market. 'No matter what the economic conditions, people don't reduce their spending on children. Parents would buy a cheap T-shirt and wear it for several years, but they are willing to buy expensive clothes for their children, which they can only wear for a year at the most. 'The same applies to toys. All of the leading retailers are expanding their baby and children's sections. The whole world is spending much more money on children. I see a bright future in this industry,' she said. Fame Summit develops its business through horizontal integration. It sells costumes, children's clothes, pet's toys and accessories, beach toys and soft toys to European and American customers. The company is launching its own brand, Whys Kingdom. 'Clients came to us with their concepts and designs,' Ms Wong said. 'For example, Old Navy wanted food bowls for dogs and Disney wanted princess costumes. We accommodated their requests. Thus we have developed a wide range of product lines as our business developed. Then some months ago I thought 'why don't we try to sell the products under our own brand?' So we are now preparing for a wide range of baby products under our brand Whys Kingdom.' Another company, Initiator Trends, chose to stay in the original equipment manufacture business. Marketing executive Rix Chan said the company would rather sell its concept to other big brands to avoid the production and marketing costs. 'Buyers usually see our product samples. They like our concepts, and then they buy the design and change the cartoon characters and the appearance to sell the products under their brand names,' he said. Mr Chan said parents had higher expectations of toys these days, and expected more than just a plain teddy bear or a toy car. 'To differentiate our company from others and to secure our market position, we invested a lot in developing new products that are educational and interactive; toys that are fun and can stimulate children's senses and their brains,' he said. Repco Asia specialises in licensed toys. It produces products for popular films, television programmes and famous sports stars including Shark Tale, Madagascar, Barney, Noddy and Michael Schumacher. Carsten Bo Skoett, managing director of Repco Asia, said the toy industry was becoming licence-driven. Four or five years ago there were few licensed products-based companies. The market was now booming and very competitive. Mr Skoett said licensed products were spreading to all lines of toys. Whenever a film was about to be released, it was they backed up with a lot of merchandising. He said movies controlled a lot in the industry, and companies had to be aware of upcoming films as soon as possible. Repco Asia is already producing toys for Garfield 2, which will be in cinemas next year. 'Parents are easily misled by movie merchandise. For example, when they see a Spiderman bike they will expect it to be good quality because it bears the Spiderman brand name. So licensees have to be very careful [about] quality control of licensed products. If something happens to a child playing with a product that you licensed but that was produced by another company, your company will also have to bear a large part of the responsibility,' he said. Other than producing licensed products, Repco Asia also designs its own products and is a licensee. Mr Skoett said the biggest challenge was copied products. 'Whenever you have a good toy idea you will see copied products in the market two to three months after they are launched. That is terrible. They use our ideas, our designs and even our packaging and instruction manuals. Not to mention they sell the products at one tenth of our price because they don't have to pay for the development cost,' Mr Skoett said. 'That is why we never put our latest designs in fairs. We tell the buyers about them, and if they are interested we invite them to our showroom.'