Sunday, September 05, 1999

Can we feather our nests with Beanie Babies?




BY LAURA PULFER
The Cincinnati Enquirer

        Am I sitting on a gold mine? Will Loosy the Canadian Goose buy me a ticket to a classy retirement home? As you know, unless you were sequestered in Barbie's Dream House, the manufacturer of Beanie Babies announced its existing Beanies would be retired at the end of the year.

        A Beanie buying and selling frenzy ensued.

        Ty Inc., a suburban Chicago company, posted a terse notice on its Web page, then clammed up. Everybody else has been doing the talking. Somebody wonders, “What will we tell the kids?” My guess is that the kids won't be asking any questions. Most of them have moved on to Pokemon, something adult collectors haven't yet ruined.

Grubby little hands
        The kid at my house hasn't been allowed to touch our Beanies since she ripped the tag off Bongo the Monkey and trimmed Roary the Lion's mane with manicure scissors. Not that I'm a fanatic collector, but I had been reading the stories about these $5 plush bags selling for thousands of dollars.

        Not to mention the stories of what people will do to get them.

        Customers nearly mugged each other at McDonald's when they came out with the first round of Teenie Beanies. Some people threw away the Happy Meals and kept the toys. A Georgia teacher was suspended without pay for offering students extra credit if they gave her their Teenie Beanie Babies.

Beanie crime wave
        Major League Baseball clubs all over the country declared Beanie Baby Days to lure patrons, and the police department in Kankakee, Ill., sponsored a successful guns for Beanie Babies promotion. Meanwhile, like the diamond cartel, Ty was manipulating the supply, manufacturing and then “retiring” the toys.

        The Associated Press reports that for a while, the Customs Service, acting on a request from Ty, limited travelers entering the country to one Beanie Baby per family. The limit was later raised to 30.

        Is this a great country or what? Even the U.S. government worked to ensure a healthy Beanie market.

        Ty, a privately owned corporation, doesn't have to tell us beans about its business, but industry analysts estimated a revenue surge of $250 million within three years of the Beanie introduction in 1993. And the money swirling around the Beanies is there for everybody to see. Books, furniture, an auction site and clothing.

        Www.ty.com is the official home of the Beanies, where I was the 3,035,628,225th visitor. “If you have any information on products that are substantially similar to any of our designs,” was the opening message, “please help us by BRINGING IT TO OUR ATTENTION” (underlined and in red letters).

        It does not tell what we get if we squeal. Maybe a plush Rat.

        The Web page includes a site for Cyrk, the publicly traded marketing company that has been working with Ty to develop the Beanie Babies Official Club. This does not sound to me like a company getting out of the Beanie business.

        Nathan Bachrach, my investment adviser and CEO of Financial Network Group, says probably the only one who will be able to use Beanie Babies to fund his retirement is Ty Warner, who owns the company.

        “Don't sell your P&G stock yet, kid,” he says. “If you want to know whether your Beanie collection is worth anything, just take it to a banker and see if you can use it as collateral for a loan.”

        Meanwhile, on a Web page with Snort the Bull and Teddy the Bear, above the greeting “Have a Beanieful Day” is a note from Ty: “We are providing the stock ticker quote (for Cyrk) because it might be fun to chart and watch a stock and its rate of exchange.”

        Yup. Fun is what it's all about, all right. Kids' stuff. And if you believe that, I have a bald Beanie lion I'd be willing to trade for a condo on the beach.

        Laura Pulfer's column appears in the Enquirer on Sundays, Tuesdays and Thursdays. Call 768-8393 or fax 768-8340. She can be heard Monday mornings on WVXU radio (91.7 FM), and as a regular commentator on National Public Radio's Morning Edition. E-mail her at laurapulfer@enquirer.com

PULFER ARCHIVE