Bicycle rolls into India

The US Playing Card Company-made playing card brand has been silently brought into India over the last year.

Parksons Cartamundi, the Mumbai-based toy and card firm, has silently been importing Bicycle Playing Cards into India over the last year. The Bicycle brand is practically the default in American supermarkets. But beyond its cultural omnipresence in the US, the cards, made by the United States Playing Card Company (USPCC), have been sought after by card players and magicians across the world, and were even imported in India by third party retailers serving the niche demand in the country.

The reason for the demand is as simple as it is elusive; Bicycle Playing Cards use high quality paper and a patented “air cushion” finish on their cards, which make them uniquely easy to spread, deal and shuffle. Cards in India are typically built for cost or durability, leading to a vastly different retail ecosystem for playing cards in the country.

Cartamundi, one of the joint venture partners of Parksons Cartamundi, acquired the USPCC in 2019 for $220 million. This makes Parksons’ importing of Bicycle Playing Cards the first time the brand has been brought into the country officially. Smita Singla, the Indian firm’s Chief Marketing Officer, said in an interview that the company was only going to target buyers with high disposable income in the top metros of the country.

The problems don’t stop at the price — which starts at ₹349 a deck, a steep ask in a market flush with inexpensive plastic decks. Bicycle cards are made of a material that has been reported to “warp” in humid climates such as in large parts of India, potentially causing issues for buyers for whom control over the deck is important. Indian decks tend to be bridge-sized, whereas Bicycle cards are standard poker size — wider than what most card players may be used to.

It may not be easy to manufacture locally to bring down costs, either: Singla said that while Parksons has a factory in Gujarat licensed to manufacture popular card games like Mattel’s UNO franchise, the paper that Bicycle uses comes from forests certified by the Forests Stewardship Council (FSC), and all the processes, right down to the printing of the deck, are specialized and developed in house by the USPCC, making it hard to replicate those manufacturing processes elsewhere.

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