Friday December 10 5:31 PM ET

Furby Still Among the Hottest Toys

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By DAVE CARPENTER AP Business Writer

CHICAGO (AP) - Furby, a toy sensation some had written off as yesterday's news, is proving to be a formidable critter competitor for the holidays.

While Pokemon may be the craze of the season, last year's top item is still a strong seller this year, industry figures show.

``Furby's been one of the biggest surprises of the year,'' says Clifford Annicelli, managing editor of Playthings magazine. ``Many people in the industry had predicted a rapid falloff in Furby sales after Christmas of 1998, but that didn't happen.''

Tiger Electronics, a subsidiary of Hasbro Inc (NYSE:HAS - news)., says it sold 500,000 Furbies in the United States last week alone and projects more than 10 million for the year. That's up from 4 million last year when the dolls were sold only in the latter part of the year and were in short supply due to surprisingly high demand.

The toy maker buttressed Furby sales this year by adding Furby Babies, a smaller, smarter version of the original animatronic toy.

The critters that yak away in ``Furbish'' and eventually in English also have become polyglots, adding languages that make Furby the top-selling toy in France, Germany, Italy, Japan and Mexico, according to Vernon Hills, Ill.-based Tiger.

Tiger also spurred sales with a hugely successful promotion at McDonald's and a tie-in with Hi-C drinks as well.

``They've done a lot to get the product on the radar screen of kids,'' said toy industry consultant Chris Byrne. ``All that it is meaningless if the product stinks. But the product's fun.''

Girls in particular seem to be latching onto Furby this year, sometimes getting two or three. ``It's become a collectible, even at 30 bucks,'' the toy expert says.

Still, sales of Furby come nowhere close to Pokemon cards, action figures, plush dolls and other products.

Projected U.S. sales for all the various Pokemon toys, not including video games, totaled $555 million for the first 10 months of this year, more than double Furby's $247 million, says Ed Roth of The NPD Group, an industry researcher.

Whether Furby can endure more than a couple of years remains to be seen.

Tickle Me Elmo went from ``must-own'' in 1996 to ``Tickle Who?'' two years later. Sales were 1.4 million the year it was introduced and 4 million the second year, then fell off the chart.

``I would have a hard time believing this (Furby) is going to be a classic toy,'' Roth says. ``I would say it's got a year or two left, max.''

Tiger officials say the furry creatures have plenty of life yet.

``It's critical that we keep up the innovation. But we think it's absolutely sustainable,'' says Marc Rosenberg, Tiger's vice president of corporate communications, noting international potential as well as the possibility of a Furby TV show next year. 

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Article is quoted from Yahoo News and is not edited in any way.
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