The History of Equitoy – The Association for Toy Importers.
Every one of us depends on international trade to eat, drive, work, communicate, even light our households and let our children play. Informed advice and support have always been needed, to enable us to be successful, safe, and abide by the law. Nobody would pretend that international trade is simple, and Brexit may well make it yet more complex. Equitoy serves to assist the toy importer and has done since the 1940s.
1940s…The Second World War left Europe wrecked, with 60 million dead, 20 million displaced, and a desperately uncertain future. It is against this background that international trade and the commercial landscape re-emerged, and the body we know today as Equitoy was formed in 1946 as The Association of Toy and Fancy Goods Factors. ( For those too young to remember; many factories here and abroad lacked a sales department. A company operating as a “Factor” fulfilled that role. The two cooperated, each sticking to what they knew best. The factory churned out product, and the factor helped to finance the production, and then saw it on its journey to the consumer through the chain of distribution – wholesaler – retailer – consumer.
The association operated through the London Chamber of Commerce, and at members’ offices in Manchester, Glasgow and Leeds.
1950s… The history of Britain is that of an international trader, finding and creating products, and forging new friendships and influence. In the early post-war years infrastructure and factories were rebuilt at a staggering pace, and manufacture was re-established out of bombed-out hulks by workers desperate to re-establish and apply their skills and knowledge and to rebuild their lives. The incentive to work and innovate was enormous. Trade, the lifeblood of nations, created tax revenues, which in turn restored strength to economies.
Companies like Eisenmann, Ackerman, Cowan de Groot, Angel Toys, Cornelius and Oppenheimer paved the way for “normalisation” after war, and forty years on contributed to the end of the Iron Curtain, as well as helping to prompt China to declare its 4 modernisations in 1979 and subsequently achieve the incredible growth we see today.
Many of these member companies dated from the 19th century; they were led by people who understood trade and manufacturing, and held skills learned and refined in the pre-war years. They helped to re-establish trade, employment and prosperity in the austere days of the late 1940s and ‘50s. In time, toy wholesalers were accepted into the organisation, each with their own specialities, reflecting the changing nature of distribution, and long established companies like Robenau, Keel Toys, and George da Costa brought in new expertise.
1960s and 70s… Over the years, Equitoy (as the association is now known) came to be recognised as the essential body to represent toy importers, and it assisted in the construction of trading agreements with the eastern European “Iron Curtain” countries. This could be said to be the best example of traders being the leading diplomats in the softening of relations between countries that were in other respects deeply opposed.
Trade barriers were significant in the post war years, and import duties were often punitively high in a protectionist atmosphere. The Association drew on the expertise of customs specialists to enable members to adhere to correct tariff classifications, saving hundreds of thousands of pounds in bringing good products to the consumer. Today Equitoy is seeking to answer concerns regarding Brexit and possible new trade barriers.
As trade moved ahead, the lines between importer, wholesaler and retailer became blurred and supermarkets and retail giants came to the fore. With rising living standards came concerns about consumer safety. Many of the leading toy companies were amongst Equitoy’s membership, and together held huge expertise in the practicalities of manufacture and the logistics of importing. The association led the way working with the British Standards Institution in establishing a code of safety requirements for children’s toys and playthings, the first Toys (Safety) Regulations, BS 3443 in 1968.
1970s, 80s and 90s… With Britain’s accession to the Common Market, Safety Regulations were advanced and greater note was taken of hazardous and flammable materials, and the misunderstandings which could arise in the suitability of toys at different age groups.
In the early 1980s the association battled for workable legislation when banning orders were imposed on products unfairly deemed to be unsafe, and more recently it discussed with Government the unfair application of punitive “anti-dumping” duties on products such as birthday candles and party bags, and led a deputation to Brussels to argue the case. It has helped to produce practical and workable safeguards, assisting the toy trade to protect their consumers.
Since 1990 the European Community Directive for Toy Safety has set out the ‘essential requirements’ for manufacturers for their products to be legally sold within the European Community. In response to these developments, Equitoy’s Code of Practice has guided members in accordance with the law and good practice.
2000 and onward… In the late 90s the association saw that the toy trade needed its own independently audited safety accreditation system which any company could train for and comply with, and which would be a “blue chip” assurance for customers. TOYCRED was created, and adopted by many members who then evolved their own quality systems.
Perhaps the most profound change came in 2006 with REACH, (Registration, Evaluation, Authorisation and Restriction of Chemicals) an EU regulation which addresses the production and use of chemical substances, and their potential impacts on both human health and the environment. This has had a great impact on the manufacture of products as diverse as plastics, preservatives in wood, even inks in colouring pens, and the environmental and health benefits are still rolling out. Dangerous chemicals are being eliminated from a wide range of consumer products as well as toys
At all times, Equitoy has ensured that members were aware of the changes in regulation, and established its representation in Europe on the Toy Safety Technical Committee of CEN, the body responsible for developing and defining European Standards (ENs).
Equitoy has supported the standards-making process and facilitated better awareness and understanding. For many years it has organised seminars and Open Days where members can exchange ideas in a cordial atmosphere, and it now issues regular Product Compliance and Safety Update newsletters, and offers a legal advice helpline to ensure members are up to date in areas such as employment law.
2017… Today Equitoy’s legal, safety, customs and insurance advisers provide expert assistance to members to meet the challenges presented by Brexit, the continuing need for consumer safety, and the vital maintenance of free trade.
None of this would have been possible without those efforts 70 years ago to break through political hostility and re-establish commerce. Politics is economics. Trade is the international ice-breaker, and it travels ahead of diplomacy!