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Greek Toy Manufacturers Urge Support To Unlock Exports Potential

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Kids playing with toys. The Greek toy industry is a small but vibrant sector. Credit: Alice Volkwardsen/Wikimedia Commons/CC BY-SA 3.0

In a market dominated by international franchises and illegal knock-offs, the Greek toy manufacturing industry has stood its ground and continued its long-standing flourishment, providing consistent quality and creative originality to millions of customers in Greece and abroad.

Robust over time, yet still under-estimated for its potential and often under-reported, this niche sector of the Greek economy currently counts over a hundred businesses active in the production of toys and games, baby goods and seasonal items.

Most are small and medium-sized enterprises, with a staff of between 5 and 50.

Officially represented by the Hellenic Association of Toy and Carriage Manufacturers (SEVPA) since 1949, industry entrepreneurs had an estimated annual turnover of between 200-250 million euro pre-pandemic.

“Since our launch, some 70 years ago, our members have included acclaimed businesses which produced traditional toys such as dolls, music boxes, tin soldiers, Karagiozis figures, other wooden or tin toys, and more”, says Ioannis Papadopoulos, President of the Association.

He recalls breakthrough Greek toy brands Lyra, El Greco and Kehayias taking part in the first Greek toy makers’ fairs at Zappeion in Athens -once visited by the then-Princess Anna Maria of Denmark, shortly before her marriage to King Constantine of Greece.

“A lot has changed in time. Games and playthings became toys, and puppets became dolls. They were developed, enriched with new materials, produced in accordance with specific safety regulations, all the while children became more demanding and parents more informed”, he adds with a smile.

Economy and societal change

Looking back in time, Ioannis Papadopoulos reflects that in post-World War II Greece, children had an abundance of physical spaces available for play, such as open fields and gardens.

“They also had free time to play with their friends outside the house. Back then, anyway, their toys were few and expensive. Families gifted toys to their children only for Christmas and Easter, birthdays and names days. So, demand for toys and games was low”, he says.

The toy industry started to grow in the 1950s, when many craft units, mainly family-operated, but also a few large factories, launched into business.

“Pioneering Greek toy makers El Greco and Lyra were gigantic by that era’s standards, employing hundreds of staff. With steady development in the 1960s and the greatest boom in the 1970s, kids’ toys made a dynamic entrance in Greek households. Demand rose, family revenue increased, and, most importantly, there were no imports, due to controls in foreign currency exchange”, he notes.

But the picture was set to change again in the mid-1980s, when imports of toys skyrocketed, particularly from Japan.

“Then, the early 1990s signaled the mass import of toys from abroad -not only in Greece, but in the entire European market, which was stormed by cheap Chinese toys. The result was many craft units to close, or to transform from producers to importers”, Papadopoulos concludes.

Reinventing competitiveness in Greek toy market

Nonetheless, the Greek toys industry has managed to rise again, stand out, and even claim its spot on the international market.

According to Ioannis Papadopoulos, Greek toys are distinguished by their high quality. That means they are safe, abiding to European standards, certified, and made of excellent materials.

They are not only designed with Greek philosophy and culture in mind, but also preserve childhood innocence, thus protecting the mental health of the children.

He believes that all the above influence the consumer positively in placing Greek toys high in their list of preference.

At present, the toys manufacturing industry and its respective market in Greece appear stable, with a minor growth forecast.

The President of SEVPA asserts that challenging factors like the harsh economic conditions, the significant drop in the numbers of children population, the low available income of consumers and the high seasonality of toys, which sees demand increase only during the festive seasons, do impact the course of the sector.

There are no major differentiations in sight for the future, however.

“The issues that we have come up against in recent years are mainly financial. A major concern is the illegal trade of cheap knockoffs, most of which are made in China. These have caused great trouble all across Europe due to their low price, and low quality…”

“Another substantial problem for our industry is the lack of state support for business extroversy. There are no funds available. The businesses themselves are burdened by immense costs in order to promote their products at trade fairs abroad, open the way to new business opportunities and increase their sales and profits”, he points out.

Funding for exports development

During the last three decades, the industry has developed its exports significantly. About 20 Greek toy manufacturing businesses are presented at the International Toys Fair in Nuremberg, Germany, each year.

“Greek toys have become competitive and can be found on the shelves of European toys’ stores, and not only. Some of these businesses have a bold and successful exports activity and have made their presence very noticeable on the international market. Their top-quality merchandise has established them among the world’s best in their niche. These are pioneering businesses, with high export targets, whose products make us proud”, Papadopoulos affirms.

However, the complete lack of state assistance is a limiting factor to the sector’s potential.

“There is neither strategic planning nor research for target-markets nor financial aid for exports promotion. There is no support of any sort for participation in trade fairs or business meetings for our members, which would allow more of them to develop an exports profile”, he explains.

“Of course, Greek businesses never cease to try and develop their dynamics by either exporting or signing collaborations and coproduction agreements with big foreign brands for products destined to be marketed worldwide”.

With view to the future of Greek toy manufacturers, Ioannis Papadopoulos wishes for a stable tax framework and liquidity support by the state in the form of what he calls brave measures, especially after toy stores remained closed during the pandemic-hit festive season in 2020.

“These could help the Greek toys industry to see the future with optimism”, he hopes.

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