The latest buzz in the toy world is the sound of a fleet of electric-powered racing bikes heating up the track. Revolutionizing the ride-on product category, this new breed of kids vehicles is sleeker, faster (reaching speeds of 10 mph) and definitely not for the Power Wheels set.
No stranger to starting a transportation phenomenon, Cerritos, California’s Razor hit another home run with the release of its US$229 Pocket Rocket electric mini-bike this May. According to VP of marketing Katherine Mahoney, the bike surpassed all of the company’s expectations, ranking as the second best-selling toy at Wal-Mart in its first week at market. Mahoney says the line is largely responsible for increasing Razor’s year-to-date sales by 300% over 2003. ‘It’s been phenomenal,’ she says. ‘It’s really the fantasy play pattern – the fun and freedom of getting on an exact scale replica of a race bike. And this is the first time anything like this has been available for older kids because the technology has always made it too expensive.’
Josh Weichbrodt, associate marketing manager at L.A.-based Toy Quest, says his company has had a similar experience with its licensed Honda and Honda Racing Minimoto line for eight- to 12-year-olds, which launched in February. Demand has been much higher than anticipated; Toy Quest’s biggest retail partner, Toys ‘R’ Us, has sold through its current stock of Minimoto Sportracer bikes (US$199) way ahead of schedule and has reordered for the holiday season. The Sportracer was originally supposed to be a fall item, but TRU decided to try it out for spring and summer, which in turn pushed the fall 2005 release of three new vehicles ahead by an entire year.
Both companies are moving their products through the usual mass-market channels, but they’ve also found a home in the after-market auto parts world, dominated by chains like Pep Boys and Kragen. Razor, for one, has done 25% of its business this year in the after-market channel. ‘Rather than Mom going to Toys ‘R’ Us, it’s Dad going into the auto parts store. There’s a definite male appeal to this, and we’re finding that boys of all ages are buying in,’ says Razor’s Mahoney.
Toy Quest is upping the ante this month with new Minimoto SKUs that target the upper 14-year-old end of the kids demo and include the Honda-licensed US$299 Maxii Sport Bike (a larger model that can go as fast as 18 mph), the Honda Gokart (US$499) and a US$149 non-licensed Minimoto hybrid bike that runs on both electric and pedal power. Toy Quest has two or three more SKUs on the books for spring, and the same again for fall.
Razor is also counting on Q4 to deliver a big holiday-driven sales boom, unusual for ride-ons, which are seasonally sensitive and typically sell through more briskly in spring and summer. The company released two new items last month – the US$299 Mini Electric Chopper motorcycle (which may play into the popularity of Discovery Network’s American Chopper franchise) and the Ground Force electric go-kart (US$299). Showing no signs of slowing down, the company plans to roll out two new SKUs in January, and at least four more throughout 2005.
Weichbrodt says the inspiration for the line came from the gas-powered mini racing bikes that have been popular in Europe and Asia for some time, but are just now starting to hit the North American market. ‘It’s really bizarre to see full grown men on these little tiny bikes,’ he says. ‘But we saw it as a great way to target tweens and early teens. We wanted to get back some of those 10- to 11-year-olds who are leaving toys behind.’ Unlike their gas-powered counterparts, however, the electric bikes are quieter and nowhere near as speedy – the gas ones can hit speeds as high as 40 mph.