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Finding this year's hot toys By BILL CHAPIN Times Herald November 10, 2002

Finding this year's hot toys
By BILL CHAPIN Times Herald
November 10, 2002
Item# finthisyearh

Product Description

Sunday, November 10, 2002

Finding this year's hot toy is serious business for parents and stores


Times Herald


About this time six years ago, a little, red, giggling Muppet became the obsession of parents across the country. Tickle Me Elmo was in such demand during the 1996 Christmas season that the toy was selling for $2,000 on the black market.

"Elmo was just phenomenal," said Chris Powloski, who was working at a Target store in Battle Creek at the time. "Two weekends before Thanksgiving, you could find them, and then something happened and you couldn't find Elmo to save your life.

"I haven't seen anything like that since," said Powloski, now a manager at the Fort Gratiot Target.

Nothing lately has approached the scope of Tickle Me Elmo, but there have been subsequent toy crazes -- Furby in 1998 and Sony Playstation 2 in 2000. Among the toys vying for the title of this year's hottest toy are Mattel's Barbie as Rapunzel doll, a Harry Potter Lego playset and yet another incarnation of Elmo (this time, Elmo comes dressed in a chicken suit and does the Chicken Dance).

John Reilly, a spokesman for KB Toys Inc. in Pittsfield, Mass., said so far there is no single "breakout toy."

"This is not a year where we have something that gets blown off the charts," Reilly said. "Between now and the next few weeks, something else could certainly rear itself as hotter-than-hot, and KB along with every other retailer will be chasing it down."

"We're starting early," said Pace, 28. "If you get a little bit at a time, it doesn't hurt as bad."

Some toy industry analysts are worried that the current economic downturn will hurt sales this year.

"We are concerned," said Tom Conley, president of the Toy Industry Association. "Toys are not recession-proof."

Raquel Nugent of Port Huron said the sour economy probably means her Christmas budget will be smaller this year. For her, comparative shopping is a must.

"I have four kids. I have to get the cheaper stuff," she said. "I watch the papers and I shop at different stores.

"I try to set a limit for myself," Nugent said. "They're not getting everything they want."

Stock worries

Labor problems at West Coast ports could further complicate things. A 10-day shutdown that began in late September created a backlog. Because most toy shipments originate in Asia, the shutdown could lead to shortages even at local toy stores.

"The majority of goods come in through the West Coast and are trucked to four distribution centers" including one that serves the Midwest, said KB's Reilly. "If there's going to be a problem, its going to everywhere."

But Reilly doesn't anticipate a distribution problem for his company, and despite the economic troubles he thinks toy sales may be slightly higher this year.

"Last year there was a lot of doom and gloom predicted in wake of the terror attacks, and KB had a very strong holiday season," he said. "Parents usually do not cut back on their children."

Predicting trends

Retailers have learned to try to anticipate which toys will be flying off the shelves as Christmas draws near. Most assemble a "hot toys" list based on which items are selling strongly at the beginning of October.

Retailers expect Rapunzel Barbie, popular since it reached stores in September, to be this year's hottest toy overall, according to PlayDate Inc., an independent marketing services firm that recently surveyed 25 retailers.

Other toys that are showing up on most hot toy lists include anything related to Dora The Explorer, a Nickelodeon TV show; the Spider-Man Deluxe Web Blaster, a glove that lets young web-slingers shoot silly string; and Yu-Gi-Oh!, a Pokemon-like card trading game.

Gerre Bular of Kenockee Township, who was looking for ideas for her 12-year-old nephew at Target last week, said her nephew and his friends are into Yu-Gi-Oh!

"They have cards they buy and trade in this Yu-Gi-Oh! stuff, so I don't doubt it's going to be a big thing," she said.

Last year saw the introduction of new game consoles, including the Microsoft Xbox and Nintendo GameCube. Now there are a number of new games for those systems. Rockstar Games' Grand Theft Auto: Vice City and Electronic Arts' Bond 007: Nightfire are ones to watch, according to PlayDate.

Not everyone is feeling the effects of the economy. Pace said he makes sure his kids' stockings are stuffed no matter what.

"We try to get them everything they want," he said. "We figure it comes once a year. I don't want my kids to be disappointed on Christmas."





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