x Abu Dhabi, UAEMonday 24 July 2017

Kids can't hug an iPad but can cuddle a bear

The Life: Paul Marks, general manager of the Arabian Gulf states for Build-A-Bear Workshop, talks about the Christmas toy gifting trends here and how it is changing.

Paul Marks is the general manager for the Arabian Gulf at Build-A-Bear Workshop in Dubai. Satish Kumar / The National
Paul Marks is the general manager for the Arabian Gulf at Build-A-Bear Workshop in Dubai. Satish Kumar / The National

Paul Marks, the general manager for the Arabian Gulf at Build-A-Bear Workshop in Dubai, has seen the rise of electronic games and toys among children here. But with stores specialising in stuffed teddies and other four-legged creatures, the company sees a steady demand for its products, says Mr Marks, a 52-year-old Briton.

What are the toy gifting trends in the UAE?

The trends are not much different from those in other parts of the world, though the Gulf is around six to 12 months behind in picking up the concepts. Last year, the toy trends were linked with film releases such as Cars 2 and [Transformers: Dark of the Moon]. This year it is girls buying Justin Bieber and One Direction boy band licensed products. The old favourites are also coming back such as the electronic version of Furby, web-shooting Spider-Man and an electronic Twister. Lego, Barbie, Lalaloopsy, iPad and tablets for children and even preschoolers are also popular.

The global toy industry had sales last year of US$84 billion (Dh308.55bn). The Gulf states accounted for about $5.4bn of that. Where does that position Build-A-Bear Workshop in the region?

Because of the cultural associations with boy and girl bands, these trends are a bit slow to pick up here. We sell traditional stuffed toys and their uptake and acceptability in the Arab world is fantastic. Out of [our] 96 franchise stores around the word, both the Dubai Mall and Kuwait stores are consistently in the top five. The reasons being that in this age of iPads and digital gadgets, we teach children how to care. We all had our favourite bear we took to bed with us. Our pinpoint demographic is a 10-year-old girl and [she] will always have a nurturing instinct. You cannot cuddle an iPad.

What are your sales figures like in the UAE?

The average store sales in the Gulf is Dh2.5 million to Dh5m a year, and the average store sales globally is $900,000 a year. Our average store sales in the US and the UAE are more than those in Germany, Japan, Singapore, Thailand and South Africa.

Do your sales peak around Christmas?

Almost 70 per cent of the total sales take place in the last quarter of the year, and 35 per cent in the week before Christmas. But we are increasingly seeing Eid and National Day sales matching or exceeding the peak sales during Christmas.

The company opened in Dubai in 2007. How have you adapted your toys to fit the market here?

We have introduced camels, Arabian horses and also the [Emirati] national dress for the bears. Our Kids Bear Promise includes the line "I brought my bear to life". That is not culturally sensitive so we changed it here to say "We became friends today".

ssahoo@thenational.ae