In the world of toys, as in fashion, what goes around often comes around. To see proof of this axiom at work, you need look no further than the yo-yo. Created in ancient Greece sometime between 400 and 500 BC, the yo-yo has shown remarkable staying power for a trinket made of two small wooden disks, an axle and some string. And although it has suffered its share of popularity spirals-most recently during the five-year stretch from 1991 to 1995-yo-yos are currently enjoying a recent resurgence in sales that is still on the upswing, and they’re doing so at a time when other traditional toy categories are floundering. According to the NPD Group, unit sales soared 300% for the first quarter in `99 over the same time period last year.
In part, the reason for the upsurge is due to demographics. The target age group for yo-yos, eight- to 14-year-olds, is larger than ever before. Yo-yo manufacturers are capitalizing on this by aggressively courting Generation Yers, says Brad Countryman, owner and president of What’s Next Manufacturing. Based in Arcade, New York, WNM creates mostly mid- to high-end yo-yos for the specialty market, including the million unit-selling SB2.
Andrew Ardesen, director of marketing and promotions coordinator at the Ohio-based Duncan Toys (which has been making yo-yos for over 70 years) attributes kids increased interest in the toy in part as a response to the ubiquity of video games. ‘I think the current craze is based on the desire of kids to do something real instead of virtual. Another factor has been the transformation of yo-yoing from being a fad aimed at eight-year-olds to an extreme sport you can carry in your pocket,’ says Ardesen.
Yo-yoing-an extreme sport? Ardesen says he’s comfortable attaching that marketing catch-all because of the recent crop of high-performance yo-yos that manufacturers have been churning out over the last five years-they demand the same kind of speed and coordination from users that skateboarding and BMX racing require.
Manufacturers use aluminum and fortified woods as well as adjustable axles that allow performers to do more tricks over a longer period of time. There are even yo-yos for people who can’t, like Yomega’s X-Brain and X-Brain Wing, which feature an automatic return function guaranteeing a perfect throw every time. Kids have taken a shine to these models (US$9.99), making both the top-selling yo-yos for Bandai, which distributes Yomega to mass market retailers in the U.S.
Aggressive vendor-driven retail promotions have also given momentum to the latest yo-yo revolution and are sustaining the trend. Most companies maintain a team of demonstrators that they send out to key accounts to spread the yo-yo gospel. In June, Bandai unleashed its yo-yoers to 200 KB stores, along with its Yomega Pro Shop, a new self-contained merchandiser featuring an array of Yomega product. Every two weeks, the Bandai pros re-visit participating KB stores to teach kids how to do tricks and to award merit cards and prizes to those kids who have mastered them. Duncan is currently planning for most of its retail promotions to hit in the fall, when kids are back in school and more predisposed to playing with the toys, says Ardesen.
Because of their size, high margins and generally low price points, yo-yos make for an ideal impulse item for retailers of all stripes. It’s because of their size, too, that most retailers position them on counters or in POP displays near the front of the cash, since ‘pilferage is a problem for a product that can fit in your pocket,’ says Ardesen.
With related yo-yo books and videos (like Simitar Entertainment’s how-to video Enter the Yo Zone: Extreme Yo-Yo) flooding the marketplace-not to mention the myriad yo-yo clubs and competitions that keep cropping up-Ardesen doesn’t envision the yo-yo biz sliding back into sleep mode any time soon.
‘Yo-yoing is one of the few sports/activities where you’re not set up to fail if you’re not the right body type. The kid who is picked last on a football team can be an ace yo-yoer.’