Beanie boom and bust
One man’s toy is another man’s investment
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Beanie Mania, a new documentary on HBO Max, revisits the Beanie Baby craze of the mid-1990s. Ty Warner, the cute stuffed animals’ inventor, didn’t set out to create a market bubble with his toys reselling for thousands of dollars, but a few suburban moms became obsessed with his product. And that obsession spread to the entire nation.
Don’t expect to see an interview with the notoriously private Warner, but plenty of other people from those early days explain how the mania began. Interest in Beanie Babies grew when collectors went to extremes to buy one of each, and Warner’s company pioneered internet marketing, which also unexpectedly drove interest. But Warner came to realize he could provoke even more interest by introducing perceived scarcity by “retiring” certain models. As prices for retired Beanie Babies soared, so did the toy company’s sales. In one year, Beanie Baby purchases jumped 1,000 percent.
The family-friendly Beanie Mania is a nostalgia-laden look at the popular toy, but the documentary also offers a cautionary tale about what can happen when people become greedy. Speculators jumped into the market, buying up all the stock, hoping to resell the toys for a quick profit, which increased the scarcity, causing more buyers to jump in because they were afraid of missing out on a sure investment. People spent their life savings on Beanie Babies, and then, just as quickly as it began, the craze was over, and many people were left holding the bean bag, so to speak, to “death.”
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