The hit toy that spun out of nowhere
Desperate parents on the prowl for fidget spinners
NEW YORK — Stores can’t keep them in stock. Parents are scrambling to find them. And some schools have banned them.
The mania for fidget spinners — the tiny twirling gadgets taking over classrooms and cubicles — is unlike many other toy crazes. They’re not made by a major company, timed for the holiday season, or promoted in TV commercials. They’re more easily found at gas stations or 7-Eleven than at big toy chains.
“It just took off,” says Richard Gottlieb, a consultant at Global Toy Experts in New York.
Fidget spinners have been around for years, mostly used by kids with autism or attention disorders to help them concentrate. But they exploded in popularity this spring.
Shannan Rowell, a sixth-grade special education teacher, says that after a weeklong break in late April more than half of her 25 students suddenly had one.
“They seem to be taking over classrooms,” says Rowell, who lives in North Grafton, Massachusetts.
Helen Holden heard about fidget spinners last month when her seven-year-old twins demanded she stop at a 7-Eleven to buy them. “I thought it was a drink,” says the bank vice-president and blogger from Los Angeles.
That store was sold out, and so were several other 7-Eleven locations that she called. The chain says spinners have “been flying off the shelves” since they went on sale in March.
At Funky Monkey Toys, owner Tom Jones says he got a phone call about the fidget spinners in April. About 30 minutes later, another person called. “I said, ‘Whatever they are, I need to get them.”’
Now, the phone has been ringing 20 to 30 times a day with people checking if they’re in stock and his Michigan shop sells up to 150 a day. On Amazon.com, 18 of the top 20 bestselling toys and games were fidget spinners, ranging from ones that cost just a few dollars to $12 versions touting stainless steel bearings.
Five Below, which sells items for $5 or less, says on its website that customers can only buy two fidget spinners at time.
Toys R Us flew fidget spinners in this month from China, rather than wait for ship transport. It says Rubik’s Cubes, yo-yos and other toys to occupy restless hands have been hot sellers since the beginning of the year. It started selling $12.99 fidget cubes — the items that made up the rest of the Amazon bestsellers — which fit in the palm of a hand and have clickers, wheels and switches on the sides.
Unlike hot toys at the holiday season, which are often made by one company, manufacturers — mostly in China — are making the fidget spinners as fast as they can. Jim Silver, the CEO and editor-in-chief of toy review website TTPM, expects the fad to last into the summer and then fade as more of them flood into the market.
“Demand starts to waver,” he says.
Engineer Catherine Hettinger says she came up with a toy that was similar but not exactly the same in the early 1990s, but a patent expired more than a decade ago after she stopped paying the maintenance fees. Hettinger, who lives in the Orlando suburb of Winter Park, Florida, says she is not making any money from the craze.
“No one has contacted me. Nobody has sent me a check,” she says. “But once a patent expires, it’s public, so I wouldn’t expect anything at this point.”
Despite being marketed as a concentration aid, some teachers say fidget spinners have become a distraction.
Some schools have banned them as a result.
It’s not just kids spinning them. Gottlieb thinks adults are reaching for spinners because they are more stressed out. “People don’t smoke as much, so they have to figure out a way to work out their stress,” he says.
Kim Juszczak, a lawyer from New York, whirls her red-andblack spinner on the subway or while she’s thinking up legal arguments for a case.
“I’m naturally kind of fidgety,” says Juszczak, who used to bend paper clips in her hand.
She first saw a spinner on Instagram, and got hers for about $6 on Amazon. Then she bought six more for friends and relatives.
“They’re addictive,” she says.
Penelope Daversa, 4, plays with a fidget spinner at the Funky Monkey Toys store, in Oxford, Mich. Stores can’t keep them in stock and parents are going crazy trying to find them.