| “With the exception of fashion, I cannot think of an industry where the trends change more quickly. It doesn't matter how successful the past has been, the next season always judges you on your latest innovation.” — Bill Hones, Fascinations
Scientific expertise and superior marketing skills led to success for Bill Hones, a physicist and entrepreneur with a winning plan of action. Fascinations
, a manufacturer of high-tech novelty gifts and toys, has adapted to a constantly changing industry. Its trademarked novelty items are made to inspire awe in the observer, much like a magic act. Kinetics, patented magnetic-field technology and "persistence of vision" provide sophistication that appeals to executives as well as children.
When Hones founded the company in 1985, he was based in Fairbanks, Alaska. As the business grew he needed larger facilities and better access to ports, so in 1987 he moved to Seattle, the current site of the company’s main office and warehouse.
"With the exception of fashion, I cannot think of an industry where the trends change more quickly," he said. "It doesn't matter how successful the past has been, the next season always judges you on your latest innovation."
Inventors often present a concept, but more than 90 percent don't have what it takes for a commercial market. The remaining 10 percent are based on existing products, such as the Rubik's Cube. Recognizing uniqueness in the occasional "real gem" is the key.
"If we have a litmus test for a potential new item, it would be the 'wow' factor," Hones explained, "something that causes people to not be just amused or entertained but inspired and intrigued."
The company's inventors include a renowned astrophysicist and an aeronautical engineer who works on projects for the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency. Applying these innovative technologies to marketing is essential. Fascinations sells to specialty retailers able to present items appropriately through display or demonstration.
"While there are many elements required to operating a successful business, creativity and being able to go from rough concept to commercial product are primary in the toy and gift industry," he remarked. "There is so much cross-over in the two markets that the blending is natural for us."
The company's most popular items include its best-selling AntWorks, a space-age habitat for ants that requires no food or water. The translucent gel provides their nutrients as they create 3-D tunnels.
The energy of motion, or kinetics, is used in Fascinations' Dynamo Flashlight. "As the handle is squeezed, a magnet inside rotates, creating electricity to light the lamp," Hones explained. "This provides a great demonstration of the relationship between magnetism and electricity."
The company's Ultra XP3 Clock "writes" messages in the air using persistence-of-vision technology. An LED wand moves back and forth, flashing rapidly. "The flashes of light are 'etched' into the viewer's brain, enabling images to be created."
Hones and his father, a retired Los Alamos physicist, developed the Levitron Anti-Gravity Top in 1994. Using gyroscopic stability, the magnetic top spins and levitates above a magnetic base for several minutes. It uses no electricity. Explanation …? One permanent magnet will repel another.
At the Toy Fair in 2006 Fascinations released artwork created by ants and a habitat to raise a praying mantis. "Our goal is to create products that inspire a sense of wonder about the world around us. You are never too young or too old to cultivate a love of science and learning."
What follows is more information on three of Fascinations’ products.
This unique flashlight uses a magnetic field and kinetic energy to create an electric current. The casing is transparent, revealing its inner mechanism, and it comes in clear, red, green, purple and blue. A spare bulb is included along with a scientific explanation. No batteries are required.
This eye-catching clock uses persistence-of-vision technology to create an image that appears to hover in mid-air. Four custom messages of up to 200 characters each can be programmed. No batteries are required.
Using gyroscopic stability, this space-age top "floats" above a magnetic base. It comes with a clear plastic lifter cover, adjustable base leveling legs, an assortment of weights, a physics guide and an instruction sheet.