The lessons of fidget spin­ners

Spot­ting the next big fad.

Vocable (All English) - - Édito | Sommaire -

It is al­most im­pos­si­ble not to have no­ticed the fidget spin­ner ma­nia this year. The gad­get is ev­ery­where, notably in play­grounds and schools. The sud­den craze has caught toy re­tail­ers by sur­prise, which has re­sulted in a lack of stock in shops. For next Christ­mas, their chal­lenge is to search the In­ter­net and pre­dict the next big trend in good time.

You can spin them on your nose, chin, fin­ger or tongue. Some in­clude LED lights; oth­ers re­sem­ble a ship’s wheel, or even a skull and cross­bones. The fidget spin­ner has three pad­dle-shaped blades at­tached to a cen­tral, weighted disc con­tain­ing ball bear­ings. Flick a blade and it spins—for as long as 12 min­utes, if it’s an ad­vanced model from Ja­pan. Orig­i­nally de­signed to help calm chil­dren with at­ten­tion-deficit hy­per­ac­tiv­ity dis­or­der or autism, it swept the world ear­lier this year as a toy that ev­ery­one could play with.

2. Re­tail sales have un­doubt­edly slowed re­cently, says Mark Austin of ToyWorld, a trade pub­li­ca­tion—good news for the schools that have banned the toys as too dis­tract­ing for pupils. But the spin­ner has cre­ated a new “fidget” cat­e­gory of play­things. And the global toy in­dus­try has learned lessons from its sur­pris­ing suc­cess.

3. The fad started in Amer­ica in Fe­bru­ary. By May, all 20 of the top-sell­ing toys on Ama­zon, an on­line re­tailer, were ei­ther fidget spin­ners or fidget cubes, a close re­la­tion. There have been

many such crazes—who can for­get the great loom-band ma­nia of 2014?—but none that spread as fast.

4. Frédérique Tutt, an an­a­lyst of the global toy mar­ket for NPD, a data com­pany, says the spin­ner took just three weeks to cross the At­lantic and go global. No one knows ex­actly how many have been sold but NPD es­ti­mates that at least 19m were sold in the 12 rich-world coun­tries that it tracks (in­clud­ing Amer­ica and the big­gest Euro­pean mar­kets) dur­ing the first six months of this year. Oth­ers put the fig­ure at over 50m.

ON­LINE FRENZY

5. Big toy re­tail­ers, the usual ar­biters of what sells, were ini­tially caught flat-footed. Fidget spin­ners were a play­thing that chil­dren them­selves dis­cov­ered and shared on so­cial me­dia, par­tic­u­larly on YouTube and In­sta­gram. No per­son or firm had a patent on spin­ners, so with no li­cens­ing fees to pay, any­one could make them. They are pro­duced in huge quan­ti­ties in China, of­ten by firms that pre­vi­ously man­u­fac­tured smart­phone ac­ces­sories. Oth­ers were made us­ing 3D print­ing. That has been a boon for small shops, which have been able to stock these un­branded goods from wher­ever they can find them.

SPOT­TING NEW FADS

6. An­drew Moul­sher, man­ag­ing di­rec­tor of Peterkin, a firm that im­ports toys into Bri­tain, calls it a “wa­ter­shed mo­ment” for the busi­ness. Big re­tail­ers usu­ally plan their in­ven­tory as much as 18 months ahead of peak sea­sons such as sum­mer or Christ­mas; sched­ules are of­ten tied to toy­filled films such as the “Star Wars” and “Cars” fran­chises. This is where most of their at­ten­tion, as well as their mar­ket­ing and ad­ver­tis­ing bud­gets, goes. So it was easy for big re­tail­ers to miss the erup­tion of fidget spin­ners on­line. (Sub­se­quently they re­acted as well as they could, says Mr Austin, or­der­ing spin­ners in by air freight.) 7. De­vel­op­ing and man­u­fac­tur­ing a toy can take even longer than in­ven­tory plan­ning— up to three years. But now there is pres­sure to spot new fads and bring prod­ucts to mar­ket far more quickly. Af­ter the fidget spin­ner, both man­u­fac­tur­ers and re­tail­ers know they must re­spond faster to sig­nals from so­cial me­dia.

8. A Cal­i­for­nian com­pany, MGA, which was founded in 1979, spot­ted that chil­dren were watch­ing YouTube videos of other young­sters open­ing presents; to take ad­van­tage of this “un­box­ing” trend, it man­aged to pro­duce the L.O. L. Sur­prise! doll, which con­tains sev­eral lay­ers of gifts, in just nine months. It has be­come an­other best-seller.

9. The spin­ner’s suc­ces­sor may be the roller, an ob­long ob­ject weighted at ei­ther end. Mr Moul­sher started im­port­ing Ja­panese Mokuru rollers into Bri­tain in July and has sold about 40,000. Learn­ing from the fidget fad, he hopes the new school term and a smart so­cial-me­dia strat­egy will see sales rocket. Teach­ers, be warned.

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