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POP MART is the biggest toy retailer you’ve never heard of. 

Born in the dorm rooms of Zhengzhou University, Wang Ning’s pipedream project is now a reliable presence in Chinese shopping malls. It boasts 114 stores and counting. 

POP MART’s position in China’s toy market is unrivalled; it captures 8.5 percent of China’s toy sales with annual revenue reaching billions of dollars, runs 85 IPs, hosts China’s largest toy conventions, and is, by some estimates, the country’s most popular toy brand.

Its creations are not the playthings of children, but rather collectable toys aimed at young, white-collar urbanites. The Beijing-based company’s secret ingredient? Harnessing the power of mystery. It typically sells products in blind boxes, a practice of packaging figurines in a way that obscures the contents — often through one of its 825-odd roboshops, toy dispensers modelled on Japan’s gashapon vending machines. 

POP MART Robo

Pop Mart sells its blind boxes through automatic toy dispensers known as roboshops. Image: Shutterstock.

More broadly, POP MART’s sustained success can be understood as an ability to keep up with Millenial and Gen Z desires. Most recently, it’s begun tapping into the burgeoning popularity of culturally playful art products, known in China as wenchuang. Earlier this year it collaborated with Hong Kong artist Kasing Lung to create a set of figurines riffing off giants of The Western art canon — think goofy toothed Mona Lisas and Van Goghs with orange rabbit ears.  

In conversation with JT, POP MART’s Overseas Marketing Director, Jojo Lee, describes this art push as a key way the Beijing-based company is deepening its connections with young consumers. Expect future collaborations with prominent Chinese (and international) museums.

POP MART has seen exponential growth in the past four years. How do you explain this success?

Back in 2016, the Chinese art toy market was fragmented and quite niche and one of the main reasons POP MART has grown is because it has developed and focused the industry. It also has to do with the toys themselves, they bring change and pleasure to life, our art toy designers come from different countries and regions and so in a way they carry with them cultures from all over the world.

How important are blind boxes in explaining this development?

They’ve been important in popularizing art toys, they unify the size and price of art toys. Fans can buy something artistic, trendy, and collectable at a reasonable price. Roboshops and offline shops complement this by offering consumers a great buying experience. We’re delighted to see an ever-growing number of people excited by blind boxes and art toy culture.

You mention ‘art toy’ culture, what role does art and design play in appealing to young consumers?

Art toys offer a window onto the aesthetics that young people like. Once people’s material life is satisfied, consumption becomes a means of expressing personal identity. Art toys are a way that young people can connect with art in a way that is easy to understand. 

A number of Chinese museums are tapping into this by creating blind box figurines, how do you understand this trend?

Chinese culture contains unique charms and many such products play into Chinese history, culture, and traditions, this allows fans an opportunity to gain deeper understanding. It’s something POP Mart is aware of. 

Is POP MART considering pursuing this trend?

Yes, we are collaborating with a number of museums, this includes collaborations with international artists, museums, and brands. Since we officially began making art toys, promoting this culture on a global level has always been the aim. 

How is POP MART thinking about turning this intersection of culture and art toys into physical experiences?

First, POP MART’s international toy exhibitions in Beijing and Shanghai. They attract nearly 400 international toy designers and close to 100,000 people, they help fans learn more about art toy culture. But we are also actively developing online and offline fan experiences, from mini games, to pop-up shops, and collaborating with international brands, to give new and different types of excitement. 

Additional reporting by Jiayi Li

Recommended ReadingBritish Museum Pops Up in ShanghaiBy Richard Whiddington
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Cultural Collaborations, Emerging Trends, Interview, Museums