An American Toy Story

By Andrea Lyn Van Benschoten, Manufacturing.netAs parents shop for the upcoming holiday season, many consumers are looking to avoid purchasing toys manufactured in China and instead focus on purchasing American-made toys, after the recent recalls by Mattel and others. Click here to listen to the podcast with K'Nex COO Michael Araten

As parents shop for the upcoming holiday season, many consumers are looking to avoid purchasing toys manufactured in China and instead focus on purchasing American-made toys, after the recent recalls by Mattel and others.
 
 
Moving forward, management and quality control will be the key to product safety in China, according to President and COO of K’NEX Toy Company, Michael Araten.
 
 
“I think that it is clear that 70 to 75 percent of American consumers are trying to avoid purchasing toys manufactured in China,” Araten said, citing a recent poll by MSNBC. “K’Nex is seeing an increase of approximately 30 percent. We are running flat out to meet demand.”
Araten doesn’t believe, however, the “made in America” toy push from consumers will last long past the holiday season in 2007.
 
“I think there is always the tension of having the right price-value equation and there are some magical price points in the toy industry,” Araten said. “Those price points aren’t going to shift a whole lot in the short-term. It is going to be difficult for most people to make the price-value proposition work without using Asia generally, China in particular, and I think what will continue to happen is a continued tightening of the integrity of the supply chain.”
 
When asked about the recent recalls by Mattel of their Chinese-made toys, Araten was very complimentary on the way the entire situation was managed.
 
“Mattel has handled the issue very directly and forthrightly,” Araten said. “They found a problem, they raised the flag and they went about further tightening all their testing requirements.”
 
The company has set up an entire section on their website to keep consumers up to date on all the recall information (http://www.mattel.com/safety/us/). Since this summer, Mattel has recalled over 10 different products for a variety of issues, including lead paint use by Chinese manufacturers. Mattel chief executive Bob Eckert spent a good part of the late summer giving interviews on what Mattel was doing to avoid future recalls and ensure the safety of their toys to American consumers.
 
Araten predicts that companies that have manufacturing facilities outside the U.S. will conduct more testing, additional spot checking and overall monitoring of the integrity of their entire supply chain.
About one-third of K’Nex Rod and Connector toy products are made completely in the U.S. in their ISO-9001 certified plant in Hatfield, Penn. The rods, connectors and bricks are then sent to China for packing and shipping to over 30 countries.
 
“If you get the right partners and you have good systems in place and follow your own rules, you generally do OK,” Araten said. “We are happy to say that’s what we do. Our focus is on innovation, value and safety.”
 
According to Araten, K’Nex actually started out as an injection mold manufacturer for multiple enterprises, including the life science and petroleum industries. The toy business grew from that injection molding process after founder of K’Nex Joel Glickman had a moment of genius experimenting with drinking straws. K’Nex has owned manufacturing facilities in the U.S. for 52 years. The company also distributes Lincoln Logs and Brio-branded products.
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