- The Washington Times - Wednesday, December 11, 2002

Parents who haven't found FurReal Friends or Bratz accessories for their children this holiday season might have to rethink their shopping lists.
These toys, as well as several other popular items, including Chicken Dance Elmo, Kasey the Kinderbot, Yu-Gi-Oh trading cards and Beyblades, a line of spinning tops, already are hard to find, retailers say.
Parents are having a difficult time locating the toys because stores were conservative in their holiday merchandise orders, hoping to avoid piles of leftovers Dec. 26. Aggressive discounting during the Thanksgiving weekend also helped deplete inventories.
Still, while some toys are in high demand and in short supply, there's no runaway best seller this season, and that has parents in a calmer frame of mind than has been the case in the past.
"You are not seeing parents camping out by the stores, or fighting in the aisles, because there is no one toy that people feel they must have in order to have a good Christmas," said Chris Byrne, an independent toy consultant.
The one big surprise hit that has generated the most hype although not nearly at the same level as Furby or Tickle Me Elmo had in past years is Hasbro's FurReal robotic cat, which is priced at $34.99 and is almost sold out in toy stores nationwide.
Some parents are forced to look for the fake felines on Internet auction sites. EBay Inc. had 8,450 FurReal listings as of Monday afternoon, some selling for as much as $80.
"We blew through them," said Alan Marcus, a spokesman at FAO Schwarz. The toy retailer also sold out its small inventory of Bratz dolls, made by MGA Entertainment.
KB Toys Inc. said that it should have ordered more of Fisher-Price's Chicken Dance Elmos and the FurReal cats.
"We're in the race to get more product," said John Reilly, a spokesman at KB.
Even Toys R Us Inc., which made an effort to be well stocked with the season's top toys, is now sold out of Kasey the Kinderbot, another Fisher-Price product. The retailer said that it is getting more shipments of other popular items, such as FurReal cats, though they will be hard to buy.
Clearly, these shortfalls could have been much worse had the 10-day shutdown of 29 West Coast ports earlier in the fall been prolonged and had consumer demand been more robust, according to Marshal Cohen, president of NPD Inc., a marketing research firm.
In anticipation of any disruptions, many retailers flew in toys from Asia earlier in the season that they expected would be popular, but the industry still experienced distribution problems.
Even without the must-haves, parents still feel the holiday pressure to find the toys their children want.
"I will do whatever it takes," said Sherri Pfefer, the mother of two boys, who last year waited in line for several hours to buy Microsoft's Xbox. This year, her focus was getting ZipZap's $19 tiny radio-controlled cars, which have spawned a number of knockoffs.
She finally bought them, after searching for 3 weeks.
Meanwhile, toy makers are trying to do their best to meet demand.
Brian Goldner, president of Hasbro's U.S. toy division, accelerated the delivery of FurReal's new entry a $20 kitten to satisfy customers this season. The kitten is being shipped to stores this month, instead of January or February.
It also had hastened production of the FurReal cat, but it won't be in time for Dec. 25.
Neil Friedman, president of Fisher-Price, said that the company increased production of Chicken Dance Elmo more than two months ago to respond to the early robust sales, which outpaced that of the original Tickle Me Elmo.
Meanwhile, MGA Entertainment decided last week to air freight 100,000 units of Bratz dolls, which cater to the preteen set, for various retailers.
"We planned well, but demand is much higher than we expected," said Isaac Larian, president and chief executive.
Consequently, MGA Entertainment has more than doubled production of the Bratz dolls for next year. It also has pushed up the introduction of Li'l Bratz, an offshoot, aimed at the 5-year-olds, to be in stores at the end of this month, instead of spring 2003.

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