With additional reporting by regional correspondents Virginia Davis, Elizabeth Greenspan, Terri Hughes-Lazzell, Krista Lebednik and Brenda Ruggiero
When TDmonthly Magazine asked 57 specialty toy retailers about some of their surprise sellers of 2006, Webkinz and PlayFoam were the most impressive, while Playmaker’s Flying Monkey and Toysmith’s Noise Putty offered surprises in more ways than one. That plush sales continue to surprise may be a surprise in itself. Here are some of the unanticipated hits of 2006:
Young children will delight in this fun version of the adult game, Yahtzee. Five dice have pictures of animals on each face. Roll the dice, count how many of each animal are face up and add up the points. Whoever has the most points at the end wins. — “I went to International Toy Fair in Germany and brought back Haba. It’s high quality and beautifully made. They make wooden toys, fabric toys, fabric blocks and pull toys, wooden food and wooden board games,” said Valla Wagner, co-owner of Teaching Toys & Books in Tacoma, Wash. — She added, “I was surprised that so many people recognized how fabulous they were and that we’ve sold as many as we have.” — Lea Culliton of Haba USA spoke with TDmonthly about the unique attributes of Animal Yahtzee: “[It’s] a dice game that amuses players with native safari animals: camels, monkeys, snakes, elephants and tigers. Players decide to try their luck at rolling three Camels and two Tigers to make their ‘full house.’ Whoever has the most luck with the dice wins.”
PlayFoam provides hours of creative fun with its lightweight, colorful foam-sculpting material that won't crumble, stick to skin or surfaces or dry out. According to an Educational Insights press release, PlayFoam was being “pre-ordered by the hundreds” at Toy Fair 2006. — Sally Lesser, owner of Henry Bear’s Park in Massachusetts, told TDmonthly in spring 2007 that PlayFoam is a product her stores try to keep “in stock all the time, as I’m sure anyone would.” In fall 2007, Owner Idanna Smith of Juggles in Wakefield, R.I., named it as a best seller. — Jim Whitney, president of Educational Insights, shared this insight with TDmonthly: "From the moment you touch PlayFoam it intrigues and fascinates ... It combines all the fun of sculpting with the soft, dry, squishy tactile feeling of a stress ball. It ... will last for years and is addictively fun." — PlayFoam, a winner of a TDmonthly Top Toy 2007 award, is one of those creative alternatives to clay that many specialty retailers have made a staple in their stores. The reusable product comprises tiny foam balls that draw textural interest for the sculptor and offer visual appeal in a finished creation. Playfoam easily encourages open-ended play.
Role-play is not difficult for kids when it comes to this complete play kitchen set. It’s made of wood and comes with stove, refrigerator, freezer, oven, sink and microwave. Knobs and handles provide added realism. The color and design also add to the appeal of this set. Assembly is required. — “It’s not really a surprise, but Melissa & Doug is getting more popular. People ask for it by name,” said Alyssa Cox, owner of Animal Quackers in Raleigh, N.C. — Rick Davis of marketing at Melissa & Doug told TDmonthly that the Country Kitchen “has been a tremendous success for us this year, and we’re looking forward to introducing even more exciting items in 2007.” — Almost 25 percent of 58 retailers who shared their thoughts with TDmonthly stated that Melissa & Doug kitchens would be their stores’ wow item during the 2007 holiday season.
This monkey works like a slingshot and offers hours of screaming fun (he’s designed to scream on impact). The toy is 11” tall with an arm-span of 13”. With a bit of arm power, he can fly up to 30 feet – the farther one pulls him back, the farther he will fly. “The novelty of a monkey flying through the air and screaming, catapulted by the stretchy arms, brings smiles to children and adults alike,” said Ernie Wong, president of Playmaker Toys. “It requires interaction from those who play with it. You just don't watch it do stuff, you're an active part of what makes it such an entertaining product." — “[We sell] three per day, 75 to 80 in a month” of the flying monkeys by Westminster International, Teresa Ford, owner of Kids’ Ketch in Lewes, Del., told TDmonthly in May 2008. — “[We sell] at least 20 per month,” Owner Mary Sisson of Kazoodles in Vancouver, Wash., told TDmonthly in May 2008. She buys the store’s best-selling monkeys from Westminster and California Creations. “We sold something like 97 in a week before Christmas — mostly to adults for their offices,” Sisson said in early ‘08. — The Flingshot Flying Monkey was a surprise hit, and thus earned a TDmonthly Top Seller 2007 award.
Moxy’s got a lot of moxy. She’s a real get-up-and-go Ugly, with far more energy than her older brother Ox. Moxy’s favorite activity seems to be bouncing off the walls and jumping in and out of mischief. Her giant antennae are always on the look out for a good time, and she can hear a party from miles away. Launch date: May 2006. — When asked for the surprise hit for 2006, Denis Hofstetter, owner of The Toy Store in Atlanta, said “The Uglydoll. We’ve been carrying them for more than just this year, but they've done extra well this year.” — “Uglydolls — I’m shocked that they’re still selling as well as they are,” said Barbara Fineblum, owner of Barston’s Childs Play in Baltimore. — “’Surprises’ is a perfect category for the Uglydolls,” Victoria George, public relations representative for Pretty Ugly LLC, shared with TDmonthly. “They first capture your attention by their name — Ugly — and then you hold one and you’re surprised by how incredibly soft and cuddly they are. Upon further inspection, their stories make for an additional surprise with their funny anecdotes.”
The Original PlasmaCar continues to intrigue and fascinate. Powered by kid power; no batteries, gears, or pedals needed. Just sit, put your feet up, and turn the steering wheel to propel yourself forward. The patented safety seat design places riders in a safe, comfortable position and minimizes tipping. Moves up to 6 mph on any smooth, flat surface. Supports up to 220 lbs. Visit www.plasmacar.com to see all the wonderful colors available. — In a March 2015 survey, two out of 10 retailers told TDmonthly that Plasmacar is a best-selling outdoor toy. — As of 05/13/2011 this product had 4.5 out of 5 stars from 122 reviews on Amazon.com. Cons: Does not work well on surfaces that aren't completely smooth. — This top-seller in specialty stores earned a TDmonthly Top Toy 2007 award for its distinctive aerodynamic design and ease-of-use. TDmonthly believes it has the potential to become a classic due to its fresh, contemporary appeal and application in a child’s formative years. Awards: 2012 Parents Choice Awards Recommended, 2009 Green Parents List Check Mark, 2009 DisneyFamily.com Top Action Figures and Toys for Toddlers, 2009+2008+2005 The National Parenting Centre Seal of Approval, 2008 iParenting Media Toy Award, 2008 Fat Brain Toy Award Active Play, 2006 TIA Outdoor Toy of the Year - Specialty Toy of the Year, 2006 Oppenheim Toy Portfolio Platinum Award, 2005 Oppenheim Toy Portfolio Gold Seal Award, 2005 Dr. Toy Best Vacation Products, 2005 Creative Child Seal of Excellence, 2001 International Patent Fair, Hong Kong Gold Medal
It comes in a 3” x 2-1/4” can. You take it out, squeeze it and it makes noises. It may not be complicated, but it can keep the kids busy for hours. — “We’ve got this stuff called Noise Putty. Little boys tend to like it because it makes strange noises,” was the response given by Crystal Mobbs, sales associate at Tinkerz Toy Shop in Coeur D’Alene, Idaho. — Toysmith novelty items also sold surprisingly well for Linda Graham, owner of Scheffel’s Toys in Jacksonville, Ore. — According to Toysmith’s Web site, “With an extensive selection of impulse items, retailers can count on Toysmith to provide them with the best in margin builders.”
They can dive as far as 5' in the pool and are also fun to take in the bathtub. They use an AA battery and move through the water in unpredictable directions. They each have a light-up nose that never goes dim. Turbo Subs sit in a display box of four different styles, three of each. They are 6.5" by 3.5" by 2". — “I would have to say, for this year, the surprise was summer items, pool toys … It’s probably because of the heat. MindWalk was the big-selling manufacturer,” said Lance Ghulam, manager of Handlebar Toys in Lafayette, Calif. — “Basic beach and sand toys. Parents are trying to move away from video games,” was what Emily Holmes, executive assistant to the president for Ambassador Toys in San Francisco, had to say about surprises in her store. — “Our Turbo Subs are part of our Super Subbie product line which uses patented random motion technology,” Denise Sanger, VP of operations at MindWalk USA, told TDmonthly. “This allows our Turbo Sub to move through the water in unpredictable directions, diving down 5' in the pool or just scooting around in the bathtub. In addition, the Turbo Sub has an always-on light in the nose, which makes it fun to play with in the dark, too.”
A luxurious plush bear made of 100 percent pure Australian sheepskin, the Flatout Bear can be used as a toy or a comforter for all ages. It can be hand-washed, has baby-safe eyes and nose, comes in six different colors, and even has a “please phone home” tag, where a phone number can be written as reference if the bear is lost. — “The Flatout Bears: They’re hand-made of Australian sheepskin,” was how Kim Smith, owner of Red Wagon in Woodstock, Vt., described one of the surprise sellers in her store. — “Plush — a lot of day-in, day-out good business,” was the reply for surprise sellers given by Rich Gordon, owner of Learning Express in Exton, Pa. — Twelve of 27 retailers that TDmonthly spoke with cited plush items as surprise sellers in their stores — a testament to the enduring appeal of the category.
This tiny doggie is a computer whiz. Not only is he a cute plush toy, but he also lives online. Kids can access his online persona with a special code on his hangtag. They can even build a special room just for him, with points gained from answering trivia questions at the Webkinz website. The Canadian Toy Testing Council, the leading authority on toys in Canada, has recognized Webkinz pets with its top 3-Star rating. Webkinz won the iParenting Media Award, Outstanding Products of 2006. — When asked about the biggest surprise hit of 2006, Lisa Mitchell of Peacock Feathers in Needham, Mass., replied, "The Webkinz. They're the next big craze." "The way Webkinz has continued has definitely been a surprise," added Rich Gordon, owner of Learning Express in Exton, Pa. — In store, Webkinz is also the best-selling plush toy, Laura Brauer, owner of Cloud Nine Toys in Sudbury, Mass., and Nancy Streeter, owner of Eureka Toys in Newburyport, Mass., agreed in September. — Susan McVeigh, communications manager at Ganz, excitedly told TDmonthly that there were more than 1,000,000 pets registered on the site as of early August 2006, and by October "KinzPost ...was used to send more than 1,000,000 gifts and messages."
Writer's Bio: Dennis Furlan is a freelance writer who lives just outside of Toronto, Canada. He works on a variety of writing and editorial jobs with clients and publications worldwide. Dennis is proud to be part of the TDmonthly team, serving as a regional correspondent for the northwestern U.S. Read more articles by this author