"People said this was going to be toy of the year," said Anton Rabie. "But there's a difference between toy of the year and the biggest phenom in decades."
If you don't know Rabie's name, you probably know the product his company created—Hatchimals, the smash hit toy of the 2016 holiday season. Rabie, 45, is the co-founder and co-CEO of Spin Master, the company behind previous hit toys like Meccano and Air Hogs, and now, Hatchimals, the interactive furry toy that comes packaged in an egg and eventually hatches, sings, and plays.
And he's had a pretty crazy 10 weeks. Hatchimals have been mostly sold out in stores around the globe since November. The wide gap between supply and demand has led to huge lines outside stores that announce new Hatchimal arrivals, as well as a crazy resale market with toys selling on sites like eBay for three or four times their original $50-$60 retail prices.
"People always talk about the Cabbage Patch moment, the Tickle Me Elmo moment," Rabie said of previous holiday toy crazes. "According to industry data and veterans, this thing is taking on a life way beyond any of those."
Here are some more excerpts from our interview with Rabie, which has been edited for the sake of clarity and brevity.
When did you get the sense that you had something really, really special with Hatchimals?
Anton Rabie: The team externally and internally thought it was going to be toy of the year. But no one knew it was going to be a phenom. We did something we've never done before. In 23 years of our history, we've never launched a toy on one day like a movie release. But we did that with Hatchimals. We had an official unboxing event, and then it really started to gather phenom status about mid-October, when all these YouTube and unboxing videos launched.
Right out of the gate, there was so much excitement, and energy, and fever. Mid-October, late October, we're like wow, this thing is going to be big. November, that's when it started that no one could find it. People are telling us, "You guys are tracking ahead of the original Furby."
Four weeks ago, we're like: This thing can't get any bigger. All of a sudden, we're on Jimmy Kimmel, and he doesn't just mention Hatchimals but features them for an entire segment. I'm having a conversation with my mom one day, and my mom starts screeching. I'm like, "Mom what's wrong?" "Well, Hatchimals is on 'The View' again." You cannot open a newspaper, you cannot turn on a TV show, you can't do anything without seeing Hatchimals.
Q: At some point did the company go into overdrive trying to figure out how to manufacture more and more of these?
AR: We increased production by hundreds of thousands of units right, I would say, in the middle of October. There's lots of product hitting the stores, and more will keep arriving. The thing is, there's just such a huge gap between the demand and the supply.
The retailers we’re talking to have a massive conundrum. Customers have been camping out in front of stores when they announce more Hatchimals are arriving, which can cause problems. So some stores are deciding they're not going to tell staff when more Hatchimals are supposed to come in. It's a very senior-level question. Are you going to upset customers? Are you going to make a press release telling customers there's a shipment arriving tomorrow? Do you announce it on social media, on Twitter or anything, Facebook, or do you not tell anyone?
I had a conversation with the owner of a retail chain in Canada. He's like, "Listen, we're not telling our staff. We're not releasing it on social media. We don't want to upset anyone." They wouldn't even let store managers know that new shipments were coming in. When the truck arrives with Hatchimals, every single store sells out anyway.
What has the atmosphere been like inside the company?
AR: You have these two levels of intensity. One is excitement, and two is everyone is working around the clock. There's a bunch of us who for the last 10 weeks have worked every single day straight including weekends, just trying to respond to customers and increase production. People are so tired and so happy, you're like in a different zone. No one's got enough sleep, everyone's working around the clock, and every time you try, you look at your emails and you can't get ahead of them. The workload and the pace have been unbelievable.
Everyone is just holding on right now. It's like being on a horse, and you feel like one leg just fell out of the one stirrup, and you're using other muscles to stay on.
What does it feel like, personally and professionally, to be at the center of this phenomenon?
AR: We had a town hall staff meeting last week, and I said we need to make a book of the stories. I get emails everyday from store managers telling me about strangers hugging strangers who hand them the final Hatchimal, about a group of women who show up every day looking for Hatchimals and who are ecstatic to finally see the store overflowing with them. There are endless stories. You spend your whole career hearing stories about an effect a toy had on a child's life and to their Christmas holidays, and it hits you so hard. It's been very emotional. You have such a sense of gratefulness and accomplishment.
We're very fortunate because the people working at Spin Master and the loyalty—everyone's been unbelievable about putting in the extra hours and going to the extra distance. My final words to the staff were, in the future, ten years from now or whenever it is, I said people are going to look at you and say, "We're you at Spin Master in 2016 when Hatchimals happened? When arguably the biggest phenom in the industry happened?"
Finally, the question on everyone's mind: How does someone actually get a Hatchimal during the final week before Christmas? What's the best strategy?
AR: [Long pause.] Does anyone on the phone have a good answer to that?
[Another long pause. Then, one of the public relations staffers on the call explained how it's been impossible it is to have predicted this level of demand, and that Spin Master has increased production and expedited shipment of Hatchimals, and that Hatchimals.com has added new interactive online games that might be a fun substitute for kids who can't get the toy. But the gist is: There is no secret tactic guaranteed to net you a Hatchimal by December 25. Check out our previous advice for buying Hatchimals (as well as hot sold-out gifts like the Nintendo NES and Apple Airpods), and cross your fingers.]