Crayon makers quick on the draw to satisfy colouring craze among adults
COLOURING books for grown-ups may be a new lifestyle craze, promising ways to combat stress, unleash creativity and help adults take a break from their increasingly 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," said Andreas Martin who manages a factory of the manufacturer Staedtler in Nuremberg in Germany.
Staedtler is a small family-run firm employing a workforce of around 2,000. It has seen demand for some of its coloured pencils explode, almost overnight.
"These are models we've been making for years and demand always chugged along unspectacularly," Mr Martin said.
"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.
On another floor, finished crayons in a kaleidoscope of colours are packed into boxes for shipping to the United States, Britain and South Korea.
Those are the countries at the centre of the current adult colouring craze, said Staedtler chief executive Axel Marx.
In the US, nine colouring books are currently among the top 20 best-selling products on Amazon.
"Gradually, we're seeing a similar development in European countries too," said Horst Brinkmann, head of marketing and sales at rival Stabilo Schwan, which makes fluorescent marker pens and coloured pencils.
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, Mr Brinkmann said Stabilo's sales of crayons had risen by more than 10 per cent while Staedtler saw its sales go up by 14 per cent last year to 322 million euros (S$491 million).
"That's remarkable in this age of digitalisation," said Mr Marx.
But the hype also gives Mr Martin a headache of sorts.
"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."
He added that adjustments to working hours are being made and the factory has also hired around 30 temporary workers.
There is also a question as to whether to invest 300,000 euros in a new machine, he said.
Staedtler is ready to pump in the cash, with the hope that "if the market falls again, we can use the machines for different types of products", Mr Martin noted.
But rival makers are betting on the durability of the trend.
Caran d'Ache has invested in production equipment and extended working hours, said its president Carole Hubscher.
She is convinced that writing and drawing "won't disappear".
Mr Brinkmann said adult colouring "is part of a fundamental and universal trend towards slowing down".
Mr Marx is more fatalistic, observing that a trend such as colouring is unpredictable.
"But we're keeping our fingers crossed that it'll continue," he said.