The Beanie Babies Boom

The Beanie Babies Boom

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The Beanie Babies Boom

"Pounce, Prance, Zip, Canyon, and Snip," came, without hesitation, from the mouth of my daughter when I presented her with five randomly selected Beanie Babies from the one hundred or so that are in her bedroom. She hardly had to think about her response as she named them for me. She knows them all by name. I was intrigued. My daughter, and my wife, are generally very selective in their interests and pursuits. There are no Tickle Me Elmos or Furbys in our house. We have never fallen prey to the lure of pet rocks or Cabbage Patch dolls, but the sheer number of Beanie Babies we possess has made me very curious about these cute little things. The current Beanie Babies phenomenon is somewhat baffling to me, as most popular crazes are. What makes these things so special that my daughter knows them all by name, or that people wait in line at six in the morning to buy them? Who exactly is buying them, and who are they being bought for? These are questions I felt I needed some answers to. Over half of the Beanie Babies that we own are now retired, which means nothing more than the fact that if we wanted to buy the same ones now, they would cost three or four times what they did when we bought them the first time. The maker of Beanie Babies, the Ty Company, retires certain models each month which drives the price of the retirees up, in secondary markets, immediately. Is this simply a statement that no more are being made, or is it just a marketing ploy to drive sales? Either way, I feel that anything that has cost my family over seven hundred dollars deserves to be looked in to.

When I inquired about what made these particular animals so "unique," I thought I would go right to the closest, most reliable sources that I had. I first asked my daughter, who is seven years old. Her response was that they were "cute" and that they had "cute names." When I asked my wife, she told me that they were "cute," and that they were "soft and cuddly."

Now I know what one might think, but one thing needs to be made clear.

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My wife is an extremely intelligent, highly educated professional. She takes matters of money very seriously, and does not spend one penny on anything without much thought and scrutiny. When I pressed her on the issue, she told me that she never had any stuffed animals like this when she was a child. She had other stuffed animals of course, but she eluded to the fact that these animals were pliable and could be molded and shaped however you wanted them to be. A similar story was told by Sherry, a registered nurse who owns three complete sets of Beanie Babies. Her response was, "they look more like real animals than any other stuffed toy." I admit I found very little concrete evidence that separates Ty Beanies from other stuffed animals on the market. One prevailing word kept coming up as I paged through web site after web site. That little four letter word, "cute." One personal web site, called "Beanie Babies-Our Addiction," has this word at the top of their home page in bold letters. This, of course, applies only to "Ty" Beanie Babies.

The Ty Company makes the official Beanie Babies. Based in Chicago, Ty Company products are distinguished by the little red and white heart that has the name, birthday, and a brief "bio" of the animal that you are getting on the inside. These are the ones that the current craze is all about. Many companies have quickly tried to put imitations out in the market, but they have had little success.

All any of us can do is wonder how a frenzy like this gets started. I envision a couple of employees of the Ty Company saying over cups of coffee, "All we have to do is get a rumor started that Beanie Babies are the newest thing to collect, and we are going to make a mint." I am sure that it was not quite that simple, but someone had to buy the first Beanie, the first Tickle Me Elmo, or the first Furby. Whether or not the Ty Company played any part in the development of this craze, they certainly are doing nothing but adding fuel to the fire with their system of retirement for the animals.

A typical scene at gift shops, locally and nationally, is as follows. A batch of Beanie Babies, new and retired, is due to arrive at the store. Collectors know in advance when they are going to arrive because the many publications that deal with the collection of these animals make sure that release dates and availability information is out there in advance of the arrivals. A line forms at the door before dawn, and the inevitable tensions start to mount when grown men and women in the back of the line start to cut in and inch their way towards the front. To my wife's credit, it took only one incident like that one to sicken her, and keep her from ever participating in a scene like that again. She was appalled at how the adults, not the children, behaved in that situation. This is apparently quite common. A shop owner in the Dallas area said that on three separate occasions, customers have resorted to fisticuffs, and the police had to be called.

Recently in a gift shop in Northwest Arkansas, my wife and I purchased a new Beanie for our daughter for Valentines day. We witnessed three elderly couples buying the entire batch of newly retired animals that arrived earlier in the day. When
questioned, they unanimously said that these were being purchased for their grandchildren. Once alone, an older gentleman winked at me and said, "I don't know who likes them more, my grand kids or my wife."

The Ty Company retires on the average of ten to fifteen Beanie Babies a month. Of course this drives the price of these animals up almost immediately. Some of the prices go up drastically. One night I happened to see on the "Home Shopping Network," a set of three bears that was selling for six hundred and ninety-five dollars. When I asked my wife if we had that set, she nonchalantly replied "yes." The retirement of these Beanies is not unlike the Disney Corporation does with the release of their videos. They limit the availability of their movies on home video so that people will have more of a sense of having something special or unattainable. The most successful musicians and entertainers have practiced this concept for years. The way to make someone desire a product, is to keep enough mystery about it so people will stay interested. From a marketing and sales point of view, the Ty Company is to be applauded.

In fairness to the Ty Company, their official home page states that they want Beanie Babies to be for children to collect, and they want the price to remain around the five dollar range. They state that they will discontinue dealers that do not honor this policy. Although I have rarely seen a Beanie Babie for under six dollars and fifty cents, all evidence points to the fact that what they claim is true. There have been local vendors in the Northwest Arkansas Area that are no longer allowed to sell Beanie Babies because of a policy of greed. Their web site also contains a stock watch that I don't think very many children even care about or understand.

Although The Ty Company says that they want Beanies to be collectibles for children, a quick look on-line presents a different picture of who is actually collecting these animals. As the older gentleman in the store suggested, who is really collecting Beanie Babies? The web site called "Vipbeanies," posts a list of forty-six reasons why some women say that Beanie Babies are better than men. Some of the reasons are, "Beanie Babies love just as much the morning after," or "Beanie Babies never transmit nasty diseases." I don't know about anyone else, but that doesn't sound much like a page for children to me. Another example of this is the Garcia Bear. This is one of the biggest selling Beanies ever made, and he was a tie-dyed bear named after Grateful Dead singer Jerry Garcia who, like it or not, was a self-proclaimed heroin addict. When I asked my daughter if she knew who Jerry Garcia was, she laughed and said "who?" According to a psychologist in Plano, Texas, parents are buying Beanies out of feelings of guilt over not being able to spend enough time with their children due to hectic lifestyles. The same goes for other crazes like the Furbys. Some adults obviously buy Beanies to try and make a quick buck in the open market. According to Mary Beth's Beanie World Magazine, the value of the Beanie Babies in my daughters bedroom is over two thousand dollars in the secondary markets. I have found that there are also women and children like my wife and daughter, who collect Beanies because they have fun doing it together. Their criteria for buying a Beanie is simple. If my daughter likes it, and thinks it's cute, they buy it. Many a popular Beanie has been passed over by my daughter because she didn't like the way it looked. For whatever reasons people are buying Beanie Babies, the fact remains that adults, and children, are buying them in huge numbers.

Lets face it, there are many more pressing issues that should be dealt with in society today than the Beanie Babie craze. We all know that it is basically harmless fun for a large number of people. It does, however, present a picture of our society. From the auctioning off of Tickle Me Elmos for thousands of dollars, to the three hundred dollar price tag for the Garcia and Erin bear, this is a phenomenon that is unique to our society. For strictly personal reasons, I wondered what could make educated, intelligent people like my wife take part is this craze. There are many reasons why people are buying Beanie Babies, from investments to guilt over parenting issues. There are also people who do it just because they like them and they have fun doing it, as is the case with my wife and daughter. Whatever the case may be, the Ty Company is making a killing by the shrewd marketing tactic of retiring animals each month. Each time that someone goes out and buys a Beanie Babie because it is retired, they are following a plan that was set up by the marketing department at the Ty Company. How many people actually realize this? More people probably know this than one might think, but they hurry out and buy them anyway. If that is the case, then it's OK. After all, they are only animals stuffed with beans. If history has shown us anything though, there is no need to hurry that much. In a couple of years, there will be more Beanie Babies available at cheap prices than we would have ever dreamed.
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