Ah, Beanie Babies. Your retirement plan. Your elementary school pension. Your guaranteed lottery winnings! For some, they were their first taste of financial investing. For others, they were a wonderful gateway into childhood hoarding.
Whatever the case may be, Beanie Babies were a behemoth of a fad in the 90’s.
In 1993, businessman H. Ty Warner wanted to bring a new product to toy stores. He’d seen enough of these overstuffed or regularly stuffed toys, so he defied convention and deliberately under-stuffed his. He wanted these animals to look real, and be somewhat posable.
The result gave us the first edition of Beanie Babies. Nine of them, in fact.
The toys didn’t exactly thunder out of the gate. Like most new products, it was a relatively slow start. It wasn’t until 1994 that major production began, and even by early 1995 they were still struggling to get the toys placed in stores. They had been receiving complaints that the under-stuffed toys looked and felt too cheap. Coincidentally, all of these complaints were from bad tippers who routinely asked to speak to the manager.
Anyway, if they only knew the consumer demand that was about to kick down their door…
The toys first gained momentum locally in Chicago, and soon after became a nationwide craze across North America.
The company used the clever strategy to create scarcity among the toys, deliberately producing limited quantities and even retiring certain designs.
When the Beanie Baby buying public caught wind of this they began throwing wadded up balls of money at anyone behind a Hallmark cash register.
The collectors were out in full force, the fans were out in full force, and the children were out in full force. Gift shop lines were full of every demographic planning for their financial future. Grandmothers who were there to browse for porcelain figurines were livid by the traffic.
The toys were now valuable entities that could be worth a fortune down the road.
Each beanie would come with a heart shaped tag attached to its ear. The tags would carry different messages, birth dates and poems, and sometimes the toys would be shipped with tags that had incorrect information or spelling mistakes, driving up the price of the valuable toy even more.
Ty was a very forward thinking company. Those same tags would eventually have a URL printed on them, encouraging the owner to visit the website to learn more about that specific toy. People flocked to the website, and droves of collectors were visiting daily to find out more about where they could get more toys. Big deal, right? Well, the significance here is that it was 1995, back when the internet wasn’t really a thing yet. Only 1.4% of Americans were using the web at that point, and most of them probably had no idea what they were doing. The point is, Beanie Babies were the very first internet sensation.
They were such a popular product that people were insuring their Beanie Babies, and others were selling them for 10x their worth on eBay.
Remember how the internet wasn’t really a thing? Well, eBay was also in its infancy in the late 90’s, and Beanie Babies made up 10% of their sales. These toys essentially made eBay the success it is today.
In 1999 the company considered discontinuing the toy and calling it quits. The Beanie fan base went ballistic and they were voted back into existence by 2000.
The toys are still going strong today, and there are a few Beanie Babies out there that could legitimately make you a lot of money if you find the right buyer.
The demand today, however, is nowhere near what it used to be, as market saturation kicked in and the interest among consumers dwindled.
There are few products that have matched the hysteria these toys created. Tickle Me Elmo gave them a good run, Furby’s created some chaos, and more recently Fidget Spinners were all the rage, but nothing has attracted the wave of hungry consumers like Beanie Babies.
They will go down as one of the biggest 90’s toys ever created.