The joys of handmade toys
By Evelyn Seltier Associate Public Information Officer, International Trade Centre
At only 26, while living in London, Thuy Nguyen found her life’s mission: to build an inclusive enterprise back home in Ho Chi Minh City.
Despite the challenges of the COVID-19 pandemic, the young entrepreneur extended her customer base and remained resilient in uncertain times.
Bobicraft might be a company unlike any you have come across. Its ingredient for success? All the products, from stuffed animals to baby clothing and accessories, are 100% handmade, with a majority stitched from organic cotton sourced locally in Viet Nam.
But this is not all.
The company grew from 10 employees in 2015 to 400 today, with 98% being women and 20% persons with disabilities, including the visually impaired as well as people who suffered from exposure to Agent Orange.
How did Bobicraft become this successful, producing around 30,000 stuffed animals per month?
Like other small business-owners, founder Thuy Nguyen had to face challenges before she could build a name in the wholesale industry during the six years after Bobicraft first went online.
‘I knew I wanted to be creative in my designs since this is my education. I had a few friends working in toy shops in England so I decided to produce products in that range and use this market connection.’
To test her export potential, Thuy exhibited some products in England at trade fairs.
After a positive response rate, she decided to make her online business official.
With her graphic design degree, she even designed the website herself. ‘After we got started, Viet Nam’s business support organizations, the Vietnam Association of Small and Medium Enterprises as well as VieTrade, thankfully supported us.
This way, we were able to visit many trade fairs in Japan, Korea and Germany to build market connections with customers who support fair, inclusive and environment-friendly trade.’
Safety standards and certifications needed for toy production were posing hurdles along the way.
‘First, we failed. We didn’t have much knowledge of safety standards which includes safe materials, needle controls and physical tests.
Now we have enough experience to make sure that our products pass all safety tests.’
Bobicraft is mostly exporting to Europe and the United States, with domestic sales at 30%.
The European Union market is not the easiest to tackle as an exporter, but the trade agreement between Viet Nam and Europe for products made of natural materials reduces any tariffs.
Many of our customers supported us as they believe in fair trade.
Staying afloat despite the world markets shutting down is another story.
Even though the company lost over $100,000 in 2020, Thuy kept all of her employees busy.
‘Every business was affected by COVID- 19. Most of my customers went bankrupt, so we didn’t get any payments in. At the same time, we were lucky! Many of our customers supported us as they believe in fair trade.’
Most clients have therefore deposited up to 60%, contrary to usual procedures in wholesale, which has allowed Bobicraft to manufacture big amounts of products in advance.
It also gave the company more flexibility in terms of cash flow to expand, hire more people and reach out to more customers.
My team worked extra hard during COVID. Since we couldn’t go to exhibitions we tried expanding through our established contacts. Moreover, we are offering design, not only production.
Business is picking up. Since the European market is slowly opening up again, I am happy to see that new contracts are coming in.
Direct marketing, online marketing, using the power of television and staying on top of things through the business-to-business (B2B) platform Global Sources were key for Bobicraft to gain new market opportunities.
Thuy also started working with national television channel VTV7 to develop and promote her newest product range: smart toys with integrated Bluetooth speakers.
Be in it with your whole heart, otherwise you will not be able to face any difficulties that may arise.
Stay resilient: Thuy’s recommendations to fellow entrepreneurs
- Try to be creative in both product development and sales to differentiate you from your competition.
- Keep your business alive through B2B marketplaces.
- Restructure your website so people can see and reach you. Renew content and find your niche. Innovate.
- Actively find customers online from exhibition websites.
- Invest in your digital infrastructure. The internet is the key player during COVID-19.
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