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October 2007 | Vol. VI - No. 10
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October 2007 | Vol. VI - No. 10
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Kookeys Aim for Webkinz Jugular

New Company Schemes to Dominate Online World


Think plush is cute? What about the hungry creators behind it? Kids may be playing with KinzCash, but Ganz is raking in real millions, and manufacturers want in. (Read Webkinz are Exploding and Webkinz Knows What Kids Want)

The latest contenders are the Kookeys by 10Vox.

“The guys are software developers. It sounds like the website is more dynamic than Webkinz, and it’s somehow tied in with Scholastic,” Bill DeFusco, owner of Toyz Toy Store in Cheshire, Conn., told TDmonthly Magazine.

STARTING WITH THE WEB

10Vox means business. They've designed some of their plush and several of their online "neighborhoods" to appeal to boys, who've been largely ignored by products such as Webkinz, Shining Stars and Ty Girlz. A T Rex is among their first offerings, with another dino to follow in November.

Their website mission statement bluntly trumpets their intention to "become the international industry leader in web-based interactive entertainment through a virtual, web-based world geared primarily towards children ages four to fourteen, often accompanied with a physical product."

They just might make it, too. Co-founder Alex Reece worked in toy distribution during Ty's Beanie Baby craze and owned Quality Collectibles — toy stores that specialized in hot fad products such as Beanie Babies, Razors and Pokemon. His team of seven co-owners includes designers and programmers who all have expertise in web-based technologies.

A PRIMED MARKET

"In 2003, I started looking at how we could integrate technology with traditional toys," Reece told TDmonthly. It took him three years to assemble his team. By the time they had a prototype ready, Ganz had hit the market with Webkinz.

"Webkinz did us a huge favor by introducing virtual products to the marketplace so people are comfortable with them," Reece continued.

So comfortable, in fact, that when articles on the Kookeys appeared in Beckett's Plushie Pals, "tens of thousands of kids were calling and emailing us," said Reece. Then thousands of retailers began calling, too.

CONTROLLING SUPPLY

"We're only opening accounts with 1,500 stores," Reece assured TDmonthly, and they've almost reached that goal. Retailers are limited in the number of products they can order, too. "We're basing our distribution plan on Ty's," he said.

Though Reece foresaw the delays that have already hit his retailers, 80% of Kookeys merchants are now waiting for product that was supposed to have been delivered on October 15. To appease his customers, 10Vox has pushed up the grand opening of the Kookeys website to coincide with the launch of an ad campaign on Cartoon Network that will reach a projected audience of 96 million all across the nation.

But some retailers were miffed with the company before the delays, claiming that 10Vox had hired an actress with a strong New York accent to call into their stores demanding Kookeys for their kids (see comments below this article).

At the Fall Toy Preview in Dallas earlier this month, however, Reece denied using any such tactics to promote his product. On October 22, he told TDmonthly that the company had its own sleuthing since the show and discovered that the marketing company it had hired to do some "viral marketing" via emails and forums may also have been responsible for the phone calls.

"We may be in a lawsuit with them," said Reece, who insisted he had not okayed the phone calls. He also stressed that the 10Vox employee who'd worked with the marketing company was no longer with 10Vox. "If [the phone calls] did happen, it'll never happen again," he promised.

PLAYING FIELD FILLS

Webkinz have already lost part of their market to Russ Berrie’s Shining Stars and Ty’s Ty Girlz. Will the Kookeys finish them off?

“They’ve slowed in the last two weeks,” Betsy Mouk, owner of Magic Box in New Orleans, said of the original plush pets who live in a virtual world.

“No one seems to want [Webkinz], but they do want the accessories,” continued DeFusco.

Retailers hypothesized that the recent Webkinz shortage lasted long enough for kids’ mercurial interests to shift.

The Webkinz shortage also caused serious friction between specialty retailers and Ganz, especially when the hard-to-get toys started popping up in larger chains such as Hallmark and were even rumored to be hanging out at the local Pathmark and 7-Eleven. Many toy-store owners have threatened to sever their relationship with the company once the Webkinz craze dies down. (Read Webkinz: Boom, Bust or Both? and TDmonthly’s Forums pages)

WEBKINZ STILL AHEAD

Nonetheless, of the 63 retailers who spoke with TDmonthly last month about their hottest toys, 15 said Webkinz are it.

“Teens actually buy [Webkinz] for themselves,” said Monica Beasley, owner of Doodles in Tupelo, Miss. And if teens are buying, adults may not be far behind … which could start a whole new feverish buying frenzy, a la Beanie Babies.

As for the challengers, two retailers predicted that Kookeys will be a big Christmas hit, two others mentioned Ty Girlz, and only one projected hot sales for Shining Stars. None of the toy-store owners mentioned Tomorrow Inc.’s Jellybeanies, which add scent to the mix.

CONFUSING CHRISTMAS

With so many plush/computer toys to choose from, parents may be a little befuddled about what Junior really wants. And since some Webkinz fans are barely out of diapers themselves, they might not know either, which is a perfect opportunity for specialty toy-store owners to indulge in a little product edification. (Read Turn a Mass-Market Fiend into a Specialty Lover, in the next issue of TDmonthly.)

Here are the contenders:




MSRP: $7.75
Age Range: 3 and up
Gender: Boys And Girls
Category: Plush



This adorable Webkinz pup is the life of the party, as long as you bring along some of his favorite five-alarm chili from the W Shop. As with the entire Webkinz line, the Dalmatian comes with a special code that allows a child to interact with it on the Web. His "special item" includes the Ganz Rapid Rescue Fire Truck.
— "We just got the relatively new Dalmatian. Their new stuff is great," said Chris Walsh, owner of The Whiz Store in Westborough, Mass., about Ganz. "The demand for Webkinz is going down, supply is up and prices are coming down. Yet, it's still selling quite strongly.”
— Almost 25 percent of the 58 retailers TDmonthly spoke with expect strong holiday sales of Webkinz.
— Although many specialty retailers have complained about how Ganz has handled Webkinz’ sudden popularity, they haven’t quibbled at all about the thousands of dollars these little plush toys have added to their cash registers. The extra publicity the toys have generated hasn’t hurt either, which makes Webkinz a shoo-in for the TDmonthly Top Seller 2007 award.
ToyDirectory Product ID#: 15298      (added 9/20/2007)
.


MSRP: $10.99
Age Range: 6 and up
Gender: Boys And Girls
Category: Plush
Interactive



This black horse is gentle, mysterious and beautiful — the perfect pal to share secrets and stories with. In the online Webkinz World, the Black Stallion loves to cook. Its special item is the hay bale sofa and its special food is the horseshoe huckleberry hotcakes.
— Lynn Robillard, owner of Toys in the Attic in Manchester, Vt., told TDmonthly that when they’re available, Webkinz are one of her top-10 best-selling product lines.
— These computer-savvy plush pals take fourth place for best-selling toys at Red Wagon Toy Co. in Woodstock, Vt., according to Owner Kim Smith, who spoke with TDmonthly in summer 2007.
ToyDirectory Product ID#: 14379      (added 7/27/2007)
.


MSRP: $14.99
Gender: Boys And Girls
Category: Plush
Computers



This cuddly kitty holds the key to an online world filled with games and rewards.
ToyDirectory Product ID#: 15588      (added 10/3/2007)
.


MSRP: $14.99
Gender: Boys And Girls
Category: Plush
Computers



This fierce cuddler has an online counterpart that lets kids access a virtual world full of games, contests and rewards.
— During TDmonthly's Homeschool Roundtable review of Kookeys, 8-year-old Joe Ledford expressed excitement for the online entertainment the plush animals afford. "Can I play the arcade games?" he asked his mom. "They are really fun!"
ToyDirectory Product ID#: 15589      (added 10/3/2007)
.


MSRP: $18.95
Gender: Boys And Girls
Category: Collectibles



The White Snowy Owl is a cute and precious addition to Russ Berrie's Shining Stars lineup of collectible plush dolls. When kids purchase a Shining Stars friend, they can log onto the Shining Stars website and use the secret code inside the plush’s hangtag to register and name a star with the International Star Registry. Children can print a star certificate that gives the exact location of the star. The site also offers fun games and activities.
― When the Webkinz crunch hit and retailers were left Cheeky-Dog-less for Easter, savvy store-owners picked up the slack by turning their little Webkinz fanatics into Shining Stars lovers. Steady sales since have earned Shining Stars a TDmonthly Top Seller 2007 award.
— Three Sisters sold 400 Shining Stars dolls between April and July of 2007. The toys also did well during Easter 2007 for The Treasured Child in La Grange, Ky. Other retailers have reported more lukewarm sales.
— "Unlike some other Web-play plush, only Shining Stars comes with a secret code that opens up a world of Web adventure, allows collectors to get their very own star in the constellation of their choice, and helps the Starlight Starbright Children's Foundation through the donation of 'glow points,'" said Stephanie Araujo, marketing coordinator for Russ Berrie.
ToyDirectory Product ID#: 14762      (added 8/20/2007)
.


MSRP: $15.00
Age Range: 4 and up
SKU or Item #: 34424
Gender: Boys And Girls
Category: Plush



This plush beagle is one in a collection of 24 stuffed animals produced by Russ Berrie in partnership with the International Star Registry® and AGE® Inc. With every RUSS Shining Stars friend comes the opportunity to register and name a star with the International Star Registry. Each plush piece is cis identifiable by the star icon and embroidered Shining Stars logo on its paw pad. Each pet  also comes with a tag that contains an online code, giving kids access to the Shining Stars site, where they can play games, enter into safe chats with other Shining Star owners, and build a virtual world for their plush pets.
ToyDirectory Product ID#: 13050      (added 5/23/2007)
.


Wholesale Price: (Log in to view)
MSRP: $12.00
Age Range: 6 and up
Launch Date: July 2007
Gender: Girls
Category: Dolls
Plush
Interactive



This 14” soft-sculpt doll is dressed in the latest trend-setting fashions that can be mixed and matched, and each Ty Girlz outfit comes with complementary accessories. The dolls have soft, realistic hair that can be easily combed and styled in numerous ways. Their clothes, hair and makeup are coordinated in monochromatic hues for a distinctive look, and the dolls are accompanied by a 3-D interactive virtual world. Launch date: July 2007.
ToyDirectory Product ID#: 14566      (added 8/9/2007)
.


Wholesale Price: (Log in to view)
MSRP: $12.00
Age Range: 6 and up
Launch Date: July 2007
Gender: Girls
Category: Dolls
Plush
Interactive



This 14” soft-sculpt doll is dressed in the latest trend-setting fashions that can be mixed and matched, and each Ty Girlz outfit comes with complementary accessories. The dolls have soft, realistic hair that can be easily combed and styled in numerous ways. Their clothes, hair and makeup are coordinated in monochromatic hues for a distinctive look, and the dolls are accompanied by a 3-D interactive virtual world. “Our patent-pending design, quality, price, fashions, detail and virtual Girlz world, set us apart from the rest,” Marketing Manager Dana Scott-Turkovich for Ty Inc. told TDmonthly. Launch date: July 2007.
ToyDirectory Product ID#: 14563      (added 8/9/2007)
.


Wholesale Price: (Log in to view)
MSRP: $13.00
Age Range: 3 and up
SKU or Item #: 895928001013
Launch Date: July 2007
Gender: Boys And Girls
Category: Plush
Interactive



 Strawberry Bear is one of eight candy-colored plush animals with a patent-pending scent release feature. The fragrance is designed to last up to 24 months. Each character includes a unique story and a special alphanumeric code to access a customized online environment where children can interact with their toy and make new friends. “It’s a consumer promoted, advertised line that’s sold exclusively outside of Top 3 Mass Customers,” Chief Marketing Officer Jim Huntley of Tomorrow Incorporated told TDmonthly. He also said that scent “rose to the top” of the preferred list in a study of 10 features among 500 6- to 12-year-old girls. Launch date: July 1, 2007.
ToyDirectory Product ID#: 13324      (added 6/8/2007)
.


MSRP: $14.99
Gender: Boys And Girls
Category: Fashion & Accessories



This soft violet backpack is a perfect way for Webkinz lovers to take along their favorite furry friends. It adds function and style to the Webkinz universe that has captivated collectors everywhere.
— "Webkinz by Ganz is our hottest selling item right now. ... With Webkinz, girls start at about 6 to 7 years old," said Amy Oliver, owner of Giggles in Hamilton, Mass.
— "The Webkinz are coming up with a whole slew for Halloween and Christmas. They're the most popular right now," the manager of Fun Among Us in Ipswich, Mass., told TDmonthly.
— Eleven of 54 retailers believe the Webkinz craze will also carry through for tween girls during the 2007 holiday season.
ToyDirectory Product ID#: 15303      (added 9/20/2007)
.


MSRP: $12.99
Gender: Girls
Category: Plush
Interactive
Collectibles



This 6" cuddly horse comes with an activation certificate that introduces the consumer to the magical world of Bella Sara online, where girls can play games, meet other horses and care for their virtual friend. The gift set also includes one Ancient Lights seven-card pack. Jewel, Nike and Fiona horses are also available.
ToyDirectory Product ID#: 16398      (added 12/4/2007)
.


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Alison MarekWriter's Bio: ALISON MAREK is an award-winning writer, director and cartoonist whose work has been published by Fairchild Publications and DC Comics (Piranha Press), broadcast on Showtime and other cable networks, and viewed worldwide in film festivals. See her short films and print work on www.alisonmarek.com. Watch her nefarious villains in the web series www.MuggsMovers.com. Get inspired by her cartoons "Daily ARFFirmations to Unleash Your Inner Fido" at www.ARFFirmations.com. Phew! And then ...  Read more articles by this author

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