Trade article: Kidult Products Take Toys to New Arenas

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Grown-up Kid Stuff: Kidult Products Take Toys to New Arenas

By Leslie Birdwell

Mom uses her Blackberry, Dad has a portable DVD player and everyone’s walking around and talking on the phone. Naturally, kids want their very own electronic gizmos that really work. Maybe it’s time to say goodbye to the toy tea set and the toy workbench — and say hello to the juvenilization of consumer products.

What drives this trend? It’s really pretty simple. Consider that much of children’s play is imitative, says Sean McGowan, a toy industry analyst with Harris Nesbitt. Children play what they see.

So, to respond to modern play patterns, manufacturers have created a bright array of glittery, smooth, stepped-down “toys” for today’s kids, a trend probably enhanced by the ever smaller nature of electronic components and a perpetually competitive market for the next biggest — or next smallest — thing.

“The kids are smart enough to know what’s good,” said McGowan.

Hasbro has entered the electronics market with its “Now” line which includes the ChatNow phone, the VideoNow XP Personal video player, the VCAMNOW Personal Video Recorder and the PLAYITNOW Personal Digital Music Recorder plus all the accessories. Some accessories enhance functionality, like the VIDEONOW Media Wizard software. The Fisher-Price subsidiary even has junior “Now” products.

Toys “R” Us carries Craig electronics for kids — pink or blue portable CD players, boom boxes, MP3 players and the Snap Mini Digital Camera. The latter is the size of a large pendant and can be kept on a chain around the neck.

At least three companies offer cell phones for younger kids: Firefly Mobile, Wherify’s Wherifone and Enfora’s TicTalk. The Firefly Mobile and the TicTalk share the same feature of heavy parental control. There’s no keypad for text messaging and parents can program the phones to approved phone numbers and to reject unknowns. The Wherifone is unique in that it has GPS technology so parents can track their children when they’re not at home. They are all very smooth, round phones that fit nicely into a kid’s hand

McGowan says the peril he sees ahead for toy companies is the very competitive nature of consumer electronics, which he calls “the most competitive market on the planet.” Why should parents spend $89.99 on a pink Teen Tech portable DVD player at Toys “R” Us when they can get a consumer-grade product with all the bells and whistles at Best Buy for $119.99?

The electronics stores, suggests McGowan, might become the new toy stores. Prices will go down and functionality will become more affordable. It’s a weird trend, adds McGowan, as toy companies try to compete with electronics companies.

Trade article: Outdoor Fun with Oomph

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Outdoor Fun with Oomph: Outdoor Toys Keep Kids’ Motors Running

By: Leslie Birdwell

Electronic and motorized toys provide outdoor fun with a little extra zing. The big trend is stuff that kids (big and small) can fire at each other safely, from marshmallow-tipped bow-and-arrow sets to old favorites like disc shooters, according to retailers that spoke with TDmonthly Magazine.

Kathy Bultman of The Rocking Horse Toy Company of Charlevoix, Harbor Springs, Mackinaw City and Petoskey, Mich., agrees that anything kids can shoot at each other (“Even though they’re not supposed to”) is a winning item. She said that Wild Planet’s Dodge Disks fit the bill, shooting foam disks using AA batteries. She added that the company’s “Mission: Impossible”-style gizmos, such as its Spy Agent Walkie Talkies, sell well. Set to release this year and expected to sell well is the company’s souped-up remote control Spy Video Car.

My Little Red Wagon in Stow, Ohio, is selling a lot of marshmallow guns by The Marshmallow Fun Company, according to Joyce Stephens, one of the store’s managers. They come in two sizes: The Blaster shoots standard size treats and The Blower puffs out the minis.

The Marshmallow Fun Company is getting ready to release two new products, The Bow and Mallow and The Executive Blaster. The Bow and Mallow will shoot marshmallow-tipped arrows and The Executive Blaster will be chrome and black, shoot marshmallows about 80 feet, and be geared more toward adults. No word yet on the suggested retail price for these items.

Other popular items include the safe flying disc Beamo, by Stuff Design Inc., the Surefire Compound Bow, by Monkey Business Sports (new for 2006) and the quick-to-recharge Backyard Flyer,by Kid Galaxy Inc., according to Kyle Buckley, a cashier at My Little Red Wagon.

And for those kids that get a little overzealous in battling their siblings, there’s always Take-Out-Time-Out by TOTO Products. This thin, flexible, waterproof mat can fit into a purse or bag and be toted to the pool, playground or simply the back yard. “During outdoor play, TOTO allows for parents to continue the consistency in teaching children proper social skills,” noted Lisa Bogart Carvajal, founder and president of TOTO Products.

Funrise Toys is staying in the “extreme sports” market with the Nylint Rock Crawler, a safe way for kids to participate in the X-game phenomenon without the physical dangers that go along with the real thing, says designer/inventor David Neal. More than a remote control truck, it fills the void between off-the-shelf monster trucks and the modified productions of remote control hobbyists.

But things that shoot aren’t doing so well for some folks, according to R.C., at on-line retailer Store4Knowledge in Stephenville, Texas. Instead, these retailers are doing well with the kinds of things grandma and grandpa buy for their grandchildren come spring — pint-sized garden tools that run on dirt and muscle power, like the Kid’s Tools by ToySmith.