Toys that mimic the sensation of popping bubble wrap are a hit. Here’s why.


On a recent Saturday, 11-year-old Madison O’Keefe went on a hunt. According to a TikTok video, The Learning Express and The Teaching Room, a toy store in Morristown, N.J., carried dozens of varieties of Pop Its, fidget toys that mimic the sensation of popping bubble wrap and come in strawberry, avocado and unicorn shapes.

Madison already owned 145 fidget toys, which are tools often used by therapists. To grow her collection and find ones that her friends didn’t have, she dragged her mom almost 30 minutes from her home in Succasunna, N.J., to the store where displays stacked with fidgets ranged from 99 cents to $30. She bought two $5 surprise bags filled with an assortment of Pop Its and other fidget toys such as sticky elastic string called Monkey Noodles; squishy Nee Doh Balls, and squeezable Edamame Pods.

“They’re really entertaining and satisfying to play with,” she said. With her new haul, she planned to create videos for her private TikTok account and then trade them with friends. “They’re really popular,” she said. Plus, she added, “it helps release stress.”

Pop Its have exploded in popularity over the past year, driven by a combination of pandemic stress and viral TikTok videos. Clips of Pop Its are proliferating across the platform, with #fidgettoys driving 12.5 billion views as of the middle of August, turning what their makers and sellers thought would be a fleeting trend into a social-media fueled obsession that seems to be sticking.

“Nothing has ever lasted this long,” said Jamie Glassberg, a co-owner of Top Trenz, a toy company based out of Ronkonkoma, N.Y., that produces a variety of such poppable fidgets called OMG! Pop Fidgety! “You would think that it would slow down but it’s not at all.”

Fidget spinners trended briefly in 2017, but the current cohort of fidget toys have expanded far beyond those in shape, color and usability.
“The last trend was the spinners. They were spinners and that was it,” said Rob Kracinovich, senior buyer of toys at Learning Express Toys and co-owner of a store in Westborough, Mass. “There wasn’t any TikTok back then.” (TikTok launched in the U.S. in 2017; but didn’t take off until later.)
FoxMind, the original maker of Pop Its, says the idea for the toy came to its creator in a dream and started as a game where players popped back and forth until no more bubbles were left unpopped. The company says that it sold more than 7 million units in North America between 2020 and 2021; it sold 700,000 units in 2019.

“It was just a nuclear explosion,” said David Capon, president of FoxMind, a private toy company based in Montreal.
Shoppers from younger children to parents are picking up fidgets. “It is rare for something to work across all demographics,” says Mark Thoma, the vice president of design and marketing at Buffalo Games, and a former director of merchandise buying for toys at Target.
Fer De Leon, 20, and Mau De Leon, 16, a brother and sister from Houston, have amassed 3.3 million followers on a TikTok account they started in March 2020 to highlight their fidget toys and other interests. “Whatever is super trending, we add fidgets to it,” says Ms. De Leon.
The siblings have made a video tossing heart-shaped Pop Its in their pool and diving for them. In another, they count them all in a box—they are up to 61. Tapping into the #fidgethunting trend, they filmed themselves shopping for Pop Its at a Learning Express in Houston, where they found extra large Pop Its and phone case versions.

Fidget hunting inspires children to descend on toy stores across the country to find the best and newest versions of the toys, and has buoyed local toy shops. “It has gotten people back into the store,” said Lindsay Dodson, owner of Serendipity Kids Boutique in Van Buren, Ark. “It has been good advertising for us.”

Learning Express, which has 90 toy stores across the U.S., is working to finalize its holiday catalog product selection, which is normally completed in the spring. For the first time, Mr. Kracinovich says they waited until the last moment to select the newest fidgets so it has the freshest versions for holiday shopping.

Sage Selander, who found out about fidgets from YouTube, uses her toys during school, where she is allowed to have quiet versions to play with at her desk. “I use them to help me focus,” said the 11-year-old from Chadds Ford, Pa., who lists the Simple Dimple, a silicone bubble that users pop back and forth, among her favorites.

Before the pandemic, The Learning Express and The Teaching Room in Morristown saw about 100 new customers a month, according to owners Diane and Amanda Bowser. Now, they say they are averaging around triple that because of Pop Its.
Liz Parsons visited the store in June when her 8-year-old daughter Lina found the store online after visiting other Learning Express stores in the area. Lina mapped it from her home in Rockaway, N.J., and convinced her mom to take her and her 10-year-old brother, Ryder. The siblings grabbed Pop Its, Pop Tubes, cherry slime and more.

“She watches YouTube all the time and [one of Lina’s favorites] comes to Learning Express and does videos of all the different stuff,” she said. “She was dying to come.” They left with two full shopping bags.

Source: Wall Street Journal August 19, 2021 | By Haley Velasco