Chalk and Chuckles: Pioneering eco-friendly toys in India | SupportBiz

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Chalk and Chuckles: Pioneering eco-friendly toys in India

New Delhi-based Chalk and Chuckles is a firm that produces eco-friendly, educational toys that inspire kids to think and develop their creativity, confidence and responsibility, all while having fun! Launched in 2011, Chalk and Chuckles is gradually finding a niche for itself in India. SupportBiz talks to Pallavi Agarwal, co-founder of Chalk and Chuckles.

Since when has Chalk and Chuckles been in operation?

We had been researching since 2009, but Chalk and Chuckles was launched in the market in November 2011.

What is the background of the founders of Chalk and Chuckles?

Pallavi Agarwal and Prachi Agarwal are the founders of Chalk and Chuckles.

Pallavi Agarwal has a background in finance (University of Nottingham). Pallavi’s mission is to create high-quality educational tools with outstanding play value, toys that can be played with in many ways, which allow self-expression and encourage happy talent.

Prachi Agarwal is a psychologist with training and a background in Education (Harvard Graduate School of Education). Focused on redefining play, she aims at making it a way by which children learn about the world around them and the means by which they acquire skills and capacities across the spectrum of various human intelligences.

How did the idea of starting Chalk and Chuckles come about?

There were many things that led to the idea of starting Chalk and Chuckles. As we began to see the children around us (nephews and nieces) playing, we realized how different their play had become. When we thought about play, it was a combination of some simple toys and games and any other object that caught our fancy.

The world in itself was our natural playground. Traditional games like hopscotch and ‘Crocodile, may I cross the river?’ used to entertain us for hours on end. These children were now slaves to electronic games, which were highly scripted and seldom allowed any free expression. How frequently they would say ‘I am bored!’, with parents feeling pressured to find endless ways of entertaining and occupying kids. Activity classes, television, and toys that the child could play with alone, cut down on rich family time in the bargain.

Nostalgia for our own childhood games with its inherent simplicity and tremendous developmental benefits in stark contrast with today’s trends led us to think of starting Chalk and Chuckles. Thus, we formed Chalk and Chuckles with a mission to provide kids with playful learning tools, urging parents to question what a child can do with a game rather than what the game can do for your child, when buying toys. Our games enable them to develop creativity, confidence and responsibility, all while having fun!

How big is your team, presently?

We have about 12 people who conceptualise, design and sell, apart from the workers who are involved in making our products.

How are your toys sold? Do you have exclusive retail outlets or are most of your sales through your website?

We do not have our own exclusive store, we have distributors who put them in retail outlets. We are also selling through many websites – like Flipkart, Homeshop18, Toygully, Firstcry and Hoopos.

How do you get most of your clients?

Do you advertise in any way? We do not advertise yet, but have extensive PR. We also have promotions running across India when we launch our products.

How do you deal with competition from other toy stores?

While we share the market space with the biggies, we are not necessarily their direct competitors. We are producing a different genre of games and toys, which allows for sequential and progressive development of skills in each game.

Parents mindful of their child’s development will make sure that kids have the right 'pleasure toys' and educational toys for play. Our vision is to become synonymous with educational toys. What we do hope is to create awareness in society about the impact of human interaction in learning and the tremendous developmental benefits that games have to offer. The more we are able to communicate our vision, we are certain of our brand success.

How is Chalk and Chuckles different from other toy stores?

Our competitive edge is our content and design, coupled with quality. Our products are enriching and very simple to use. They have been designed keeping in mind the growing concerns of parents.

Chalk and Chuckles does not compete on price alone, but invests in creating a brand value to position ourselves differently from other companies in terms of what we offer to the customer. Our products are inspired by the latest research in child development, and our team consists of professionals in the area of child development, product design and, most importantly, people who love kids and know them.

What are your expansion plans in the near future?

We will be coming up with many more products in the near future. Apart from that, we are also looking at the overseas market. Our distribution network within the country is not fully set up, so it will take some time to cross boundaries.

What are the major challenges that you face?

The investment needed in our kind of business is high. Also, since it is labour intensive, getting the right people is tough. There is not much support in the industry here in India. We had to do our own research for eco-friendly materials, which are either highly priced or not available at all.

We struggled to get the quality we wanted for two years, experimenting with various materials. The precision we wanted was very hard to achieve; everywhere we tried, we were told to move our production to China. However, fortunately, we have been able to achieve what we set out for.

When our ideas finally went into production we participated for the first time at the Toy Biz 2011. We were thrilled when one of our games won ‘the most innovative’ toy award, we thought we had cracked it. Till we went out in the market and realized more and more parents wanted toys that the child could play with by themselves.

While our mission is to provide toys that build on creativity and self expression, we find parents asking for scripted answers. This is also in line with the way our educational system works, where thinking is often discouraged. We are still trying to find our niche amidst the society.

Though we have a good business model which will eventually be financially viable, there are lots of issues. It is too early to say anything about the performance; however, the games and toys have been received well in the cities that we are present in. We do realise that many of our games may not catch the attention of children per se in toy stores and that it may actually have to be the parents who pick them up for their developmental value.

Children may only be engaged and motivated to play with them after they have had an experience with it. We are certain, though, that once the child is engaged in a game, he/she will want to play with it again and again. Each game harnesses a particular interest of the child.

What are the trends in the toy-manufacturing industry in India at the moment?

Times have changed. Today, it is hard to find children who are ready to play with dolls and puppies and other natural games. There are very few ‘thinking’ toys in the market which stretch a child’s imagination and allow them to think out of the box.

How big is the toy-manufacturing market in India at the moment?

The toy retail market in India is roughly INR2,500-3,500 crore in size. Of this, about 25 percent comprises the branded market. The balance 75 per cent is made up of imported toys and products manufactured locally. The Indian toys and games market is extremely fragmented - urban and semi-urban market, organized and unorganized put together - and has been handicapped by the lack of significant national brands. The toy market is expected to grow at a CAGR of 21 percent to reach a value of INR88.8 billion in 2014.

What are the trends in India as far as eco-friendly toys are concerned?

Focusing on global awareness along with maintaining the earth and environment is a crucial issue with families and, even more so, children, as they learn about this in school. Coupled with the safety issues in toys (an issue that has been well addressed by the industry), we develop toys that utilise organic and recycled raw materials in the products. However, it is not necessarily the purchasing point of concern yet amongst children and parents, which makes it a challenging situation for us.

We cannot deny the existence of products that are not eco-friendly as much as we cannot deny the disturbing trend of passive ‘watch me’ toys. We are not eco warriors, but believe in giving our future generations a good environment.

What advice would you give to an aspiring entrepreneur?

It is important to dream for your dreams to come true.

Corporate Website: Chalk and Chuckles