Thursday, July 31, 2008

Toy Safety Bill overwhelmingly passed by US House

The bill on Toy Safety passed in the US House by an overwhelming margin yesterday. The final vote was 424-1.

The bill would limit lead in products for children aged 12 and under to minute levels - making it the toughest lead standards in the world. The bill also bans children's products containing six different types of phthalates (a chemical used to soften plastics). The bill also requires third-party testing for many children's products before they are sold in the United States and gives a hefty raise in the budget for the Consumer Products Safety Commission (CPSC). Check out this article in the New York Times (registration required). Ron Paul of Texas was the only Congressperson to vote against this bill.

The bill moves on the Senate, where, in the immortal words of 'Bill:'

"I'm just a bill
Yes, I'm only a bill
And if they vote for me on Capitol Hill
Well, then I'm off to the White House
Where I'll wait in a line
With a lot of other bills
For the president to sign
And if he signs me, then I'll be a law.
How I hope and pray that he will,
But today I am still just a bill."

My take: As I've stated since this became an issue, we need a Federal law that legislates what can and cannot be in a toy. Passing state laws seem to be silly, in that each state will inevitably be different and it would make it near impossible for toy manufacturers to make toys that comply with each and every state's laws. It seems very likely that this will pass the Senate and that President Bush will sign it.

Tuesday, July 29, 2008

Thomas the Tank angling to become Hall-of-Famer

The National Toy Hall of Fame at Strong Museum of Play in Rochester New York announces it's 2008 class of inductees on November 6th. You can nominate your favorite classic toy for the Hall of Fame until September 8th.
Apparently there's a move afoot to get your favorite little blue engine included in this year's class. According to this article in the San Lorenzo Valley Press Banner, there is 'Day Out With Thomas' event going on in Felton, California this week and there will be a petition at the event for people to sign to endorse Mr. Tank Engine's candidacy for the Hall of Fame.
No comment was given by Mr. Tank Engine on his reported use of 'iron supplements' to enhance his performance as a toy icon.

Breaking News! Congress agrees on toy safety bill

Members of the US House of Representatives and the US Senate have come to agreement on a bill that would severely limit the amount of lead and phthalates that can be in children's toys. The bill now goes on to vote on the floor of the House, then the Senate, then to the President. What's not clear (to me at least) is how this would affect the existing laws on the books for individual states. It seems that this law should supersede any state laws including the laws passed in Michigan and Washington state. Regardless, we need a uniform law to make it feasible for manufacturers to be able to sell their products throughout the United States. Me? I'm all for new laws on lead and phthalates, I just want them to be uniform. I'm familiar with the argument that all this talk about lead and phthalates in toys is much ado about nothing, but I don't buy it. Regardless of how much lead or phthalates are in a toy, there's plenty of proof that these things are very bad things to ingest, so why on earth would we want our kids playing with toys with these in them if we could prevent it?

Check out this article in the New York Times (registration required)

Tuesday, July 22, 2008

Take a look inside the LEGO factory

Ever wonder how they make all those LEGO sets? Wonder no more. In the latest part of a cool series of articles at Gizmodo, they show us three videos from inside the LEGO factory where 19 billion LEGO bricks are made each year. It's got granules vacuum suckers, it's got robots, it's got people with funny accents. It's LEGO-Reffic! Check it out here

Saturday, July 19, 2008

Barbie beats Bratz in the ultimate no-motions-barred event

Despite Bratz starting off the match with a near submission through a triangle choke, Barbie pulled a complete reversal and put Bratz into a neck crank, allowing the ref to end the match in Barbie's favor.

The jury came back in the Mattel lawsuit against Bratz, finding that the creator of the Bratz dolls, Carter Bryant, created the Bratz dolls while he was under contract as an employee of Mattel. Bryant shopped his designs to Bratz, ultimately creating a hit toy that, according to Mattel, has hurt Barbie sales over the past couple years.
They jury will come back with damages starting Wednesday. Mattel seeks an injunction against Bratz producing the dolls as well as $1 billion in damages.
An interesting verdict. From my point of view, I'm not a fan of either product. Barbie herself seems fine, it's more the fact that Mattel is generally unobtainable for a realistic price to small retailers. And Bratz, ugh. Now there's a positive role model for girls.
Read more about it in the New York Times.

Thursday, July 10, 2008

Class-Action lawsuit filed against Ganz, maker of Webkinz

Ganz, the folks who bring you the ├╝ber popular Webkinz line of plush, was sued by a California retailer, who claims the company is in violation of the Sherman Antitrust Act and the Clayton Antitrust Act. Allegedly, Ganz has required retailers to order non Webkinz items in order to be eligible to purchase the Webkinz themselves. Check out this article on

They strong armed us, 'suggesting' we order non Webkinz stuff to keep Webkinz coming in. Our sales rep said it was all stuff that would sell anyway. Famous last words. We still have 90% of the Halloween 'stuff' they sold us. And it's stuff I never would have stocked if it wasn't 'suggested' to us.

Funny stuff, reminiscent of the way the Beanie Baby folks treated customers back when they were all the rage. Check out this old post to see my thoughts on them. I'm not sure exactly who writes the book on dropping customer service when your product is hot, but it seems to me that you might want to keep customers interested in your products, due to the inevitable day coming when your 'fad' items pass into history.

Tuesday, July 8, 2008

Congratulations, you're our 10,000th shoplifter!

This Danish store turns the tables on the traditional way of greeting a shoplifter in your store. Instead of showing up with handcuffs and law enforcement, they showed up with flowers, cake and a marching band. Oddly, the 'customer' wanted none of it. Perhaps it's my cynicism showing, but what are the odds that in the US, she wouldn't have sued the store?
Check out the dramatic video.

The 10,000th Shoplifter Award - video powered by Metacafe

Saturday, July 5, 2008

If loving these is illegal...

...throw me in jail. I'm guilty. These are Kinder Eggs. If you're never heard of them, you probably live in the United States. Why? Because they're illegal in the United States.
What they are is a chocolate egg with a large capsule inside them (I'd say about two inches). The capsule has a toy inside it, usually requiring construction. They are aimed at kids (Kinder is German for 'child).
About ten years ago, I was lucky enough to go to the International Toy Fair in Nuremberg, Germany. One of the things I remember best about this trip was that these Kinder Eggs were everywhere. At grocery stores, at convenience stores, train stations, everywhere!
The eggs, made by Italian candy manufacturer Ferrero, are delicious. The toys are usually ingenious in their design and are often quite quirky.
I remember thinking that, despite the thousands of toys I ran across at the Nuremberg toy fair, my big discovery was the Kinder Eggs and how we would sell them at our store, especially around Easter. They were a sure-fire hit. Except for that whole illegal thing.
I found out that thanks to a 1938 F.D.A. law specifically prohibits embedding "non-nutritive items" in confections. The Consumer Product Safety Commission have frequently warned consumers about this product and have stressed how 'dangerous' they are. They issued a recall in 1997 for some that made their way into the United States.
It just seems ironic that here is a candy/toy product that has no lead, no phlatates, no issue at all regarding what's in the product, except that it contains a capsule that could produce a 'choking hazard.'
I'm usually all for enhanced safety with toys and children, but this seems a bit ridiculous. The capsule is so big that I can't imaging a child aged three and over could possibly accidentally swallow it. The parts of the toy can be small, but certainly no smaller than millions of other toys that are legally sold to kids in the US. I dunno, maybe it's just me.

Steiff learns lesson, is moving production back to Germany

Steiff, who claim they develop the first plush bear with movable arms and legs, decided
to move about one fifth of it's production to China about five years ago. They wanted to try to bring down the cost of the traditionally very expensive plush toys. The cost-cutting moves worked, pushing the price of $31-$47 range. But, as explained in this article in the London Financial Times, they've recently decided to bring production back to Germany, where they can exercise better control over their products and how they get them.

“We have learnt our products are better if we make them ourselves,” says Martin Frechen, co-chief executive of the firm in Giengen, Baden-W├╝rttemberg.

“The things we wanted to be done were not the things the Chinese were used to doing.” He stresses that Steiff never had the problems with safety standards that some US importers have struggled with. “Things were also fine in terms of quality,” he says. “But when we looked at whether this was sustainable, big question marks arose.”