Given Cepia's runaway success with its Zhu Zhu Pets last year, it should come as no surprise that there was no shortage of hamsters at this year's American International Toy Fair.
Reyne Rice, a spokesperson for the Toy Industry Association, says they are Zhu Zhu's "litter."
Scattered throughout the trade show booths were hamsters of all kinds. There were battery-powered ones rolling around on tracks and in balls, plush hamsters and even hamster board games.
But if any of these companies think that all it takes to score a blockbuster hit is to don a hamster suit, they are missing the point.
"There's a lot more depth to what makes Zhu Zhu popular than being a hamster," said Laura Kurzu, vice president of marketing for Cepia. Kurzu says the key to Zhu Zhu's popularity is the personalities and unpredictable nature of the company's furry little critters.
Zhu Zhu will be incorporating those qualities as it extends its products beyond the original hamsters to other pets.
The company also is attempting to break the gender barrier. They found that once boys reached around six years old, they started to lose interest with Zhu Zhu. To win them over, the company is planning to introduce two lines for boys, "Kung Zhu," with a ninja warrior motif, and "Special Forces", with a military theme.
The company also has begun licensing the Zhu Zhu brand. This means these hamsters will be coming to T-shirts, partyware, and other products soon.
As for the knock-offs, it hasn't hurt Zhu Zhu. According to Cepia Vice President Bruce Katz, the company has sold more products in early 2010 than it did in late 2009.
"Girls want to collect them all," Katz said. Retailers are firmly behind the brand, he said. According to Katz, many stores have been boosting the amount of shelf space dedicated to the category.
And with each hamster selling for less than $10, the toys are likely to be tucked into their share of Easter baskets.
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