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More finger toys than you can…shake your finger at

With its Tech Deck skateboards, X Concepts paved the way for the finger toy craze, helping to make the category into a US$15-million to US$20-million business. The company also offers licensed Tech Deck hand-held snowboarding games from Playmates. Now, two toycos...
December 1, 1999

With its Tech Deck skateboards, X Concepts paved the way for the finger toy craze, helping to make the category into a US$15-million to US$20-million business. The company also offers licensed Tech Deck hand-held snowboarding games from Playmates. Now, two toycos are betting kids can ride miniature bikes into an even higher sales stratosphere.

This month, Jakks Pacific and Spin Master Toys will go head-to-head, as both start to roll out their lines of die-cast collectible finger Bikes in wide distribution to retailers across the U.S. and Canada. Early indications suggest that they may have a toy hit on their hands.

In late October, Spin Master tested 500,000 of its Flix Trix finger bikes at select KB Toys stores in the U.S. and Wal-Mart locations in Canada. Within four days, all the product had sold through, causing the company to quadruple its production, says Adam Beder, director of marketing at Spin Master.

‘We didn’t expect there to be this much excitement so soon,’ says Beder. ‘We’ve received calls from all five major chains asking to take everything off our hands and air-freight it immediately at their expense,’ an offer, he adds, that stores don’t ordinarily make to vendors.

‘Right now, the finger bikes are really hot, and [in terms of sales], they seem to be trending very similar to the Tech Deck boards,’ says John Reilly, manager of communications for Pittsfield, Massachusetts-based KB Toys.

Jakks Pacific is even more bullish on the prospects for the category and its line, Road Champs BXS (Bike Extreme Sports).

‘We think sales for finger bikes could double that of skateboards, [and] I’d say we can own 70% of that market-at a minimum,’ says Jamie Wood, senior VP of the wheels division at Malibu-based Jakks Pacific. In part, Wood bases her lofty projections on the growing popularity of televised extreme sports, like the X-Games and Gravity Games, where BMXing assumes center stage, and on the fact that more kids ride bikes than skateboards.

Though Jakks and Spin Master’s finger bikes essentially follow the same concept (both toys purport to be miniature die-cast replicas of popular BMX and freestyle bike brands that kids can take apart and perform tricks with), each has selling features that the companies insist make them more authentic and, therefore, more desirable in the eyes of the BMX kid cognoscente.

Spin Master’s Flick Trix bikes, for example, come with front- and back-brakes and a Unilock Bike lock that doubles as a kick stand, which kids can also attach to their knapsacks.

Although Jakks’ Road Champs boast none of these features, they do use all die-cast metal parts. (The wheels and handlebars on Flick Trix bikes are made of plastic.) JP’s bikes also sport a trick stick, a metal tool that enables kids to do a lot of the same stunts that real BMX riders perform.

Another potential point of distinction is that both companies inked licensing deals with BMX bike manufacturers and teams. Jakks has signed deals with Haro, GT and Schwinn and many of the athletes who ride these bikes. Spin Master, meanwhile, has inked deals with 17 different bikecos, including Hoffman, Redline and Mongoose.

Both Flick Trix and Road Champs retail at US$7.99 each. On selection, Spin Master trumps Jakks, at least in the short term. The Toronto-based toyco’s bike line, which it began shipping to all of its mass, toy and bike shop accounts in early November, includes 28 SKUs to Jakks’ six.

Jakks’ Road Champs bikes and accessories (including park playsets and vehicles) hit first at KB Stores on December 15. Other mass, toy and bike retailers are scheduled to get the bikes and related merch for January 1. Retailers will be stocking the product along-

side the finger

boards, as well as in special merchandisers that Jakks and Spin Master have created.

Spin Master’s Beder says Flick Trix will likely appeal to boys in the 10 to 14 age range, which is younger than Road Champs target demo of teen males ages 14 to 17.

To shore up that younger demo, Spin Master is currently negotiating separate deals to cross-license two popular kids show characters with BMX brands. Jakks Pacific’s Wood grouses at such a move. ‘We won’t do Pokémon or Disney licenses because we don’t want to offend our target customer-the cool bike guy. To start out, the correct thing for us is stay true to our target demographic, and that’s by going with cool BMX licenses.

Eventually finger bikes is going to skew younger, so we’ll do the baby licenses when it’s hitting rock bottom and we want to get rid of product,’ says Wood. Let the race begin.

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