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Never too old for playtime


09:06, July 26, 2013

Though you'd probably never guess it from his appearance, with his neatly tucked tailored shirts and plastic rims pointing more toward his white-collar job as a magazine editor, Xu Hao is an avid Transformers collector.

Clutching on to his oldest Transformers toy from the G1 (Generation 1) series, his most cherished of his 50-plus-piece set of toy figurines, the 30-year-old, like many of his peers born in the 1970s and 80s - who grew up with their eyes glued to the TV watching Optimus Prime and Megatron battle each other - has not lost his "inner child" to age.

Despite long outgrowing his training wheels, Xu indulges his childhood hobby of collecting toys as an adult today - buying limited edition figures overseas that aren't sold in China, whenever he gets the chance to go abroad.

"When I come across some good finds, I can't help but buy them - I guess it's just that 'kid' in me, from when I was young and always dreaming of having more of my own Transformers toys," he told the Global Times.

Worth an estimated annual 50 billion yuan ($8.3 billion) in China, according to the China Toy Association, the adult toy market (aged 20 to 35) appears to be as lucrative as it seems appealing to working professionals willing to squander their paychecks on the figurines they wanted so badly when they were little.

Hot market

Just recently, Shanghai Super Brand Mall was overwhelmed by customers, who in the span of a week, rushed to stores inside to buy some 265 units of the 2,999 yuan-retailing Iron Man 3 Hot Toys Mark 7. Realizing the potential for a grownup toy market in China, US-based toy retailer ToysRus, one of the official retail channels in China for collectible toys, has been strategizing on how best to tap into the growing number of adults who still want to have fun.

"There is a child in every one of us; it doesn't matter how old you are, and I think men, in particular (have that child-like quality)," Pieter Schats, managing director of ToysRus Asia, told the Global Times in an earlier interview, adding that the company is continuing to explore ways to further connect with adult toy collectors.

For starters, ToysRus is accelerating expansion in China and plans to add another 66 shops in the country to have a total of 100 stores on the Chinese mainland within the next three years. The company is also getting more creative with its sales strategies by using social media to entice buyers as "collectors here like to have lots of information on the product before they decide to buy," said Schats.

Window shopping

Still, other customers prefer to make their purchases the old-fashioned way, like when they were little - by pressing their noses up to the glass windows of shops where toys are displayed. Then there is also the joy of conversing face-to-face with other Transformers fans.

Local resident David Hu, 31, who runs a tiny but dedicated toy shop in the city, said that the collectible toy gurus he serves are loyal and enjoy the process of squeezing into his shop that holds only two to three people at a time, to take a look at the new and old figurines he stocks up on - fitted carefully in the small space.

At Hu's Cartoon Shop, most of his clientele come in seeking the classics from the 1970s and 80s in China, when the likes of Japanese manga series Saint Seiya (or simply Knights of the Zodiac) and Japanese anime Gandamu competed for audience attention with Transformers.

"At first, I just loved collecting all the cartoons I knew from my childhood, but the more I collected, the more drawn I became to other toys and before I knew it I owned more than 500 toys in just three short years," he told the Global Times.

But Hu admitted that online shops are taking a toll on shops like his in the city, reminiscing about the good old days when Gulou Dongdajie, where his shop is located, used to be lined with dozens of toy shops unlike today which sees fewer than a dozen remaining.

Still, the former TV station job employee, who quit his job to open the shop a few years ago, said that on a good day, he might sell up to 10,000 yuan worth of toys.

"Many collectors about my age now earn enough to buy more expensive toys," he said. "So, they come and we chat about which ones we like, which ones we don't and then they find something to take home with them."

Hu said that the moral of the story is not that people are never too old to learn.

"We're never too old to play," he said, noting that this is tested true by the increasing number of adults who take joy in collecting the toys of their childhood.

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