Zing Toys, a Portland-based toymaker, took aim at a simple goal: Get kids to turn off the TV, get up off the couch, and go outside to play with kid-powered toys that don’t require batteries.
Now the force of a pop-culture phenomenon is helping Zing land its biggest opportunity to date. The resurgence in the popularity of archery, which has been driven to a fever pitch by “The Hunger Games” trilogy and Pixar’s “Brave,” as well as this summer’s Olympic Games, has sparked demand for its toy bow-and-arrow sets.
“I wish we could say that we predicted this,” said Josh Loerzel, national director of sales for Zing Toys. Sales of Zing’s Z-Curve Bow surged more than 90 percent from last year, surprising even Zing with its tremendous popularity. “We were in the very right place at the right time,” he said.
Last year, when the Z-Curve Bow debuted, it took home several toy industry awards largely because of its design, which uses a sling-shot style rubber band to hold the arrows in place. Arrows fired with the bow can fly more than 125 feet, propelled by a motion that more closely mimics actual archery sets. The bands also help to hold arrows in place, while making it difficult for kids to use the bow to launch other objects — a quality parents appreciate.
Despite the recognition, the product was largely sold by solely by specialty toy retailers such as Learning Express. But with the interest in archery surging, Zing has caught the eye of a new audience.
For the first time, Wal-Mart Storesplans to sell the bow during the holiday season, and a new product is in the works for the spring, the Air Huntress Z-Curve Bow. Amazon.com and Toys ‘R Us are also getting behind the product for the Christmas holiday, Loerzel said.
Both developments are significant.
First, bow-and-arrow toys are usually thought of by retailers as a seasonal product for the warm-weather spring and summer months. It is rare for them to be sold during the holidays. But Wal-Mart and other retailers are anticipating that the movies will continue to stoke demand into the holiday season.
Meanwhile, the Air Huntress, Zing’s first pink-colored bow and arrow, is a nod to where much of the interest in archery is coming from — girls, who have been inspired by the bow-brandishing heroines Katniss Everdeen of “Hunger Games” and Merida, the spunky Scottish princess in “Brave.”
“We listened to our customers,” said Loerzel, who added the company was getting lots of emails requesting a version of the toy that would be more appealing to girls.
This isn’t the first time movies have spurred newfound interest in archery. The sport gained new fans when Academy Award-winning actress Geena Davis tried to make the 2000 U.S. Olympic team, and again when Russell Crowe’s version of “Robin Hood” came out in 2010. This time, the level of interest is particularly intense, which probably speaks to the powerful combination of both the Olympics and “The Hunger Games.”
During this year’s Games, one NBC executive called archery “the new curling,” referring to the sudden surge in interest in the arcane sport. Cable ratings for the archery events were huge, and it didn’t hurt that Team USA took a silver medal in the competition. (CNBC and CNBC.com are units of NBC Universal, which is majority-owned by Comcast.)
Meanwhile, Lions Gate Enterntainment’s “Hunger Games” movie, which just came out on DVD, has grossed more than $408 million at the domestic box office.
In its wake, there are numerous media reports that chronicle the long waiting lists at beginners’ archery classes around the country, and the rush to add more classes to keep up with the demand, which began to gain momentum in March and April of this year.
“I can’t put a number on it because the memberships are coming in so fast,” said Bruce Cull, president of the National Field Archery Association, of the surge in people joining his organization. “It’s happening so quickly and it’s so new.”
Zing feels lucky that, as a small company, it was able to react right away to surge in interest.
“We don’t have the internal red tape or a long approval process,” Loerzel said.
-By Christina Cheddar Berk, CNBC.com News Editor