Colour us crazy

Colour­ing books for adults have be­come so pop­u­lar that colour pen­cil and crayon man­u­fac­tur­ers can’t keep up with de­mand.

The Star Malaysia - Star2 - - LIVING - By MATHILDE Richter

COLOUR­ING books for grown- ups may be the new life­style craze, promis­ing ways to com­bat stress, un­leash our cre­ative spirit and gen­er­ally take time out from our in­creas­ingly tech- fraz­zled, gad­get- ob­sessed lives. But for the mak­ers of crayons and colour pen­cils, the trend also poses a fun­da­men­tal strate­gic ques­tion: is the cur­rent boom in de­mand just a pass­ing fad or is it a new sus­tain­able trend?

“I dream about crayons at night,” says An­dreas Martin, who man­ages a fac­tory of the man­u­fac­turer Staedtler in Nurem­berg, south­ern Ger­many.

Staedtler is a small fam­ily- run firm em­ploy­ing a work­force of around 2,000 that has seen de­mand for some of its coloured pen­cils ex­plode, more or less overnight.

“Th­ese are mod­els we’ve been mak­ing for years and de­mand al­ways chugged along un­spec­tac­u­larly,” Martin says. “But then all of a sud­den, we weren’t able to man­u­fac­ture enough. It’s in­cred­i­ble.”

Just be­hind him, a ma­chine spits out yel­low ink pens at a rate of around 6,000 per hour. An­other next to it is cur­rently pro­grammed to pro­duce or­ange ones.

On the next floor down, fin­ished crayons in a kalei­do­scope of dif­fer­ent colours are packed into boxes of 20 or 36 for ship­ping to the Bri­tain, South Korea or the United States. Those are the coun­tries at the cen­tre of the cur­rent adult colour­ing craze, says Staedtler chief, Axel Marx. In the United States, nine colour­ing books are cur­rently among the top 20 best­selling prod­ucts on Ama­zon. com. In Malaysia, best­seller lists have fea­tured colour­ing books in the top six for months.

A slice of the cake

Grad­u­ally “we’re see­ing a sim­i­lar de­vel­op­ment in Euro­pean coun­tries, too,” says Horst Brinkmann, head of mar­ket­ing and sales at ri­val Sta­bilo Sch­wan, a Ger­man man­u­fac­turer which makes flu­o­res­cent marker pens and coloured pen­cils as well.

All the play­ers in the sec­tor are keen to get a slice of the cake. Sta­bilo has launched a set of crayons and book with spring mo­tifs. Swiss up­mar­ket maker Caran d’Ache has pub­lished its own colour­ing book of Alpine scenes.

With­out re­veal­ing any fig­ures, Brinkmann says Sta­bilo’s sales of crayons have risen by more than 10% while the colour­ing craze en­abled Staedtler to lift its sales by 14% last year to 322mil ( RM1.5bil)

“That’s re­mark­able, in this age of dig­i­tal­i­sa­tion,” says Marx.

But the hype also con­sti­tutes some­thing of a headache for fac­tory chief Martin.

“No- one knows how long it will last,” he ad­mits.

“We need to strike a bal­ance”, so as to know how much to sen­si­bly in­vest to be able to ride the wave while still keep­ing in mind that the trend could van­ish as quickly as it started.

“At the mo­ment, we’re mak­ing use of ad­justable work­ing hours,” he ex­plains, adding shifts, say, at night or on Satur­day morn­ings. In ad­di­tion to the 350 reg­u­lar em­ploy­ees, the fac­tory had taken on around 30 tem­po­rary work­ers. But, ul­ti­mately, the de­ci­sion is whether to in­vest the 300,000 ( RM1.4mil) needed for a new ma­chine.

Fun­da­men­tal trend?

Staedtler is ready to stump up the cash, with the hope that “if the mar­ket falls again, we can use the ma­chines for dif­fer­ent types of prod­ucts”, Martin says.

But ri­val mak­ers are bet­ting on the dura­bil­ity of the new trend. At Caran d’Ache, “we have in­vested in pro­duc­tion equip­ment and ex­tended work­ing hours”, says pres­i­dent Ca­role Hub­scher. The com­pany sets great store by be­ing a “Swiss made” brand and “there is no ques­tion of re­lo­cat­ing to boost pro­duc­tion”, she says. Hub­scher is con­vinced that writ­ing and draw­ing “won’t dis­ap­pear”.

And “our growth tar­gets are not solely built on trends”, she ar­gues.

Sta­bilo’s Brinkmann in­sists that adult colour­ing “is part of a fun­da­men­tal and uni­ver­sal trend to­wards slow­ing down”. Nev­er­the­less, “it’s im­por­tant to con­tinue to in­no­vate in this area” to main­tain mar­ket mo­men­tum, he says, point­ing to the new “fash­ion within a fash­ion” of “Zen­tan­gling”, or draw­ing im­ages us­ing struc­tured pat­terns.

Staedtler chief Marx is more fa­tal­is­tic, say­ing that a trend such as colour­ing is not pre­dictable. “But we’re keep­ing our fin­gers crossed that it’ll con­tinue,” he says.

— Pho­tos: AFP

1 & 2 Graphite about to be­come coloured pen­cils in Staedtler’s fac­tory; stacks of the fin­ished prod­uct – the Ger­man man­u­fac­turer is hav­ing prob­lems meet­ing de­mand. 2 Marx says Staedtler is keep­ing its fin­gers crossed that the craze for adult colour­ing books will con­tinue.

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