Soon, Vats, a mechanical engineer by training, got down to the drawing board.
Soon, Vats, a mechanical engineer by training, got down to the drawing board.

Indian water gun manufacturers giving China a run for its money

  • In February that year, just before Holi, he went back to the Sadar Bazar trader with the water gun he had produced and also the Chinese one.
UPDATED ON MAR 08, 2021 06:03 AM IST

In November 2015, Deepak Vats went to Sadar Bazar to buy toys for his son. A toy importer in the market, who knew that Vats was a manufacturer of plastic containers, showed him a sophisticated Chinese pichkari (water gun) and asked him if he could try and make anything similar in his factory.

“I accepted the challenge, though I had never produced toys before,” says Vats, sitting in his sleek, first-floor office in Narela industrial area on the outskirts of Delhi.

Soon, Vats, a mechanical engineer by training, got down to the drawing board.

His team did a 3D digital image of the Chinese water gun, and after three months of working in the tool room, Vats was able to make the required moulds to fashion out his own water gun. In February that year, just before Holi, he went back to the Sadar Bazar trader with the water gun he had produced and also the Chinese one.

“The trader was surprised and failed to recognise any difference between the two. He immediately placed an order for 15,000 units, ” says Vats. “That is how I first started making water guns.”

Six years on, Vats is one of the country’s biggest water gun makers in the organised sector, who makes about 80 different kinds of water guns under the brand name of Kittu Toys & Pichkaris. “I really do not know why we should have allowed Chinese water guns to overtake the Indian market in the first place ,” says Vats, the only water gun maker in Narela industrial area, which has about 300 factories that produce household plastic items. “Making a high-end water gun for Holi is no rocket science.”

It is a Friday afternoon, and Vats is busy overseeing the production of the last lot of water guns this season. He starts production in November and stops it three weeks before Holi, after which he gets back to making packaging containers. The assembly floor of the factory, which has the capacity to make about 3,000 water guns a day, is packed with cartons ready to be shipped to states such as Gujarat, Maharashtra, Punjab, Uttar Pradesh and Chennai. “I no longer supply them to Sadar Bazar. The trader I made the first water gun for, sold it as a Chinese product. Besides, our new models are easily copied by small producers in the unorganized sector running factories out of homes in and around Sadar Bazar,” says Vats.

The process of making a water gun, Vats explains, starts with creating moulds in the tool room , which has a Computerized Numerical Control (CNC) Machine Centre, and several manual lithe, drilling, and milling machines. The mould is then taken to the injection moulding machines and blow moulding machines. Plastic granules are fed into these machine to be melted. The hot molten plastic is shot by the machine into the mould’s cavities. Then it cools, hardens, and, now a solid object—a part of the pichkari –is ejected. “Chinese factories are bigger and have more of the same machines we have. It is the quality of the mould and the quality of the plastic granules that determine how fine a water gun or any other toy is. We have matched China in both quality and pricing, despite their economies of scale,” says Vats.

What also goes in desi water gun manufacturer’s favour, he says, is that raw material — poly proypelne, high-density polyethylene, acrylonitrile butadiene styrene and polyvinyl chloride — is easily available in India. “But post-pandemic, the cost of the raw materials has gone up by up to 50 percent, which could make us less competitive compared to china. The government should regulate the prices of raw material and ensure its steady supply,” he says pointing to sacks of plastic granules in his factory produced by Indian petro-chemical companies.

For the past two decades, a common refrain among water gun traders in Sadar Bazar is that Chinese pichkaris captured the Indian market because Indian manufacturers could not match China in terms of variety, quality and quantity.

However, Lokesh Kataria, partner, Star Toys, a company that manufactures toys in Gurgaon, including water guns, disagrees. “That we cannot match China in quality and variety is a myth. I have come up with over 150 designs in the last four years,” says Kataria, who was a toys trader before he started manufacturing them, including water guns, in his factory in Gurgaon, four years ago. “I started making toys on a trial basis; today I do not import anymore from China,” Kataria adds.

Kataria says Delhi’s flourishing toy cottage industry is responsible for the prevailing image that India produces poor quality toys compared to China. He is referring to many makers of water guns and other toys in areas such as Bara Hindu Rao, Quresh Nagar, Kasab pura, Azad Market, Shahadra, among others. “Operating out of homes, they are producing shoddy pichkaris because they do not have modern machinery and use scrap plastic as raw material, instead of virgin plastic granules,” says Kataria.

Until the 1970s, brass pichkaris were most popular in the country, says Satish Sundra, 84, who runs Ram Chander & Sons , India’s oldest toy store in Connaught Place. Locally made plastic squirt guns became popular in the 1980s. “But the arrival of fancy water guns from China in the early 2000s, upended the market. Some of the oldest toy traders and manufacturers became importers. The Chinese invasion of the Indian toy market had begun,” says Sundra.

Most toys, including water guns, are imported from the coastal city of Shantou in China’s Guangdong province.

“I used to manufacture squirt plastic water guns until two decades ago, but stopped when there was a sudden influx of Chinese toys. I felt I would not be able to match them in price and quality, and switched to making plastic suitcases,” says Basant Somani, who, runs Somani Enterprises in Narela, which manufacturers a range of household goods. “Today, I think we gave up without a fight.”

Vats says in the toy industry, the key to matching China is introducing new designs every year. He scours the Internet and makes a mandatory monthly trip to Sadar Bazar, “Just to see what is coming from China and how I can make my products different,” he says. His latest and bestselling model is called Water Gun Racing Car—a water gun whose water tank is shaped like a car and can be detached and used as a racing car toy.

The Atam Nirbhar Bharat campaign, he adds, has helped his products get a thumbs up from big toy traders who earlier used to import water guns from China. “They are slowly realising that it suits them to buy from us; they get quality assurance, can buy on credit, and get timely delivery. When they import from China, they have to pay in advance, and if a certain model is selling well, it takes a lot of time to import it again, or it may not be available. We can supply them any model within days,” says Vats. “Most toys in India are made by small and medium scale industries. The government must bring together engineering institutions and MSMEs to help latter make special purpose machines.”

Naresh Gautam, vice president, The Toy Association of India, says the government should set up a toy research and development centre, provide rebate on import duty of machines and moulds. “Most importantly, it should ensure supply of raw material at a reasonable rate, which will enable us to compete with China in toys. Many homegrown pichkari manufacturers are already beginning to give China a run for its money,” he says.

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