Fidget Fad Spinning Out of Control

Flipo“They are the hottest toy I’ve seen in my 26 years of business,” says Jerry Phlippeau of Flipo Group, a wholesaler and retailer who specializes in innovative product sourcing and development. “They’re hotter than Beanie Babies.” The fidget spinners are everywhere. The New Yorker wrote an article deeming the spinners “The Perfect Toy for the Trump Presidency.” The Atlantic penned an article titled “The Fidget Spinner Explains the World.” The devices have permeated public schools and pop culture all in a few short months. But why are they popular? Where did they come from?

The story begins with Catherine Hettinger, who is credited as the inventor of the original spinner prototype. Hettinger filed a patent for her finger-spinning toy in 1993 and took it to Hasbro in 1997. She created them as a calming mechanism for children. The spinners are supposed to relieve anxiety, nervous energy, or stress through the soothing whirling motion. The original spinner, a simplified version of the ones marketed today, was presented to Hasbro in the midst of the Tamogachi and Tickle Me Elmo craze. The spinners were rejected and Hettinger let her “spinning toy” patent lapse in 2005. If maintained, it would have expired in 2014.

The fidget spinner of today is a more elaborate version of the original invention. In fact, they primarily resemble their predecessor conceptually. In December, Forbes dubbed today’s spinners as the “must-have office toy of 2017.” Around the same time, the fidget cube entered the mainstream and quickly gained popularity. The toys are touted an effective tool for relieving anxiety and aiding focus. As a result, they started cropping up all over schools as a study aide. The fidget spinners soon became rampant in schools, resulting in many districts banning them altogether, as they were seen as a distraction more than a helpful tool. Like any other toy or fad, being banned from school only added to the spinner’s cool factor. Kids are now building collections “like Pokémon cards,” says Phlippeau and showing off tricks on YouTube.Flipo

Phlippeau says his company is trying to stay ahead of the trend. “These items started in the market as just a plastic spinner,” he explains. “We’ve done a lot of changes. We’ve added LED lights, a blue-tooth version with music, and some really high-end brass spinners. We have good, stable quality. A lot of guys are bringing in the cheapest product to try and cash in on the trend. But we keep the quality and you can feel the difference.” Phlippeau tells Independent Retailer that he’s actually spoken with a lot of teachers and parents at retail shows about the spinners. “Some teachers and parents are really embracing them. If you use it properly, students perform better. It’s the difference between using it as a toy and using it as a tool.” Phlippeau himself has a son who embraces the spinners. He says the average kid has between seven and ten spinners and spends $10 – $50 per spinner for quality models.

04June2017_MB-IR-adults_150It’s rare for original inventors to profit from their ideas. Catherine Hettinger is no exception. Due to her expired patent, she is currently not making money from any spinner sales. Phlippeau says, “I’ve seen this story so many times in my career; someone with a good idea either doesn’t have the money or knowledge to bring their concept to market, so someone else with more resources does and makes a fortune. I hate seeing little guys squeezed out by ‘the man.’” To credit Hettinger, Phlippeau will give her a percentage of the profit from each fidget spinner he sells, starting with Flipo Group’s sales on the QVC network. Phlippeau hopes to personally present Hettinger with a check.

Flipo Group’s fidget spinners are available for wholesale purchase through with a minimum order of one case.