Toy industry grapples with shortages this holdiay year

By Anne D’Innocenzio, The Associated Press
Friday November 30, 2001

NEW YORK — The holiday shopping rush has just begun and there is already a shortage of hot toys, particularly those inspired by “Harry Potter & the Sorcerer’s Stone.” 

Even worse, major retailers — including Toys R Us, Wal-Mart, Kmart and KB Toys — warn that within the next week or so, consumers won’t be able to find many popular playthings in time for Christmas. 

“I went to Target the day after Thanksgiving to get one of those Babbling Boo dolls, and they were all gone,” said Debbie Wade of Burbank, Calif. “I had to get a rain check.” 

Greg Szczepanek scoured stores near his Wyncote, Pa., home for several weeks, looking for one of those Harry Potter toys. 

“I’m kind of kicking myself. I saw the Hogwart’s Castle more than a month ago in the stores,” he said. “Now, there seems to be nothing left.” 

The shortages are coming about 10 days earlier than in years past and in a wider variety of categories, said Jim Silver, publisher of The Toy Book, an industry monthly. 

The drop in consumer spending this year prompted merchants to be extremely cautious in placing orders. 

“A lot of retailers were skeptical, and now they are caught short,” Silver said, noting that many stores also cut back on reorders following the Sept. 11 attacks. 

Other hard-to-find Harry Potter products include Lego’s Hogwart’s Express train and Mattel’s Snape Potion Lab and Levitating Challenge Game. From “Monsters Inc.,” toys going fast include the Babbling Boo dolls and the Glowing Bedtime Sully from Hasbro. 

Still other toys in short supply are LeapFrog’s LeapPad, an interactive educational game; Spin Master’s Shrinky Dink oven; Lego’s Bionicles, and Hasbro’s e-Kara, a karaoke set. 

There’s also low supply of two hot new video game consoles — Microsoft’s Xbox, and Nintendo’s GameCube — whose holiday shipments were expected to fall below demand because of production shortfalls. 

Consultant Chris Byrne doesn’t expect there to be one really hot toy this season. 

“Our culture has awakened to the fact that many of these so-called fads are driven by the media,” he said. “There isn’t the same level of desperation because there are a lot of good products out there.” 

Byrne and others remain cautious about holiday toy sales in spite of the demand for Harry Potter and other products. He expects overall business to be little changed from last year. 

He also predicted parents will buy fewer toys, simply because they believe their kids just have too much. 

Szczepanek tried to put the whole thing in perspective. 

“There is more than enough other Harry Potter merchandise,” he said. “I can get a broom, a game ... If I can’t get the Lego set, my daughters will be OK.”