By Devlin Smith
Thousands of years ago, children gathered in the streets and in front of houses to play a game called Tabas, which involved throwing and bouncing bones. Today, kids are getting together in schools, churches and after-school clubs to play games with Crazy Bones, the small, plastic figurines inspired by classic games like Tabas, jacks and marbles, and developed by Toy Craze Inc. (No. 15) in Cleveland.
Kids can use Crazy Bones, which come in a variety of shapes and colors, to play almost any game, from counting games to bowling. They can also get stickers, magazines and handbooks based on the different characters and games.
CEO and co-founder Scott Harris, 37, was inspired to launch Crazy Bones after seeing the success of GoGo's, which was introduced in 1996 to Europe and South America, selling more than 350 million packs by 1997. To bring Crazy Bones to the United States, Harris formed Toy Craze in December 1997 with partners Bill Flaherty, 43, and Peter Gantner, 34. Gartner is no longer with the company.
Prior to the product's U.S. release, the founders asked their families to evaluate the toys-and were encouraged by what they found. "My 91-year-old grandmother was visiting, and there really isn't too much she can do with my kids except read to them and hang out," says Harris, father of 6- and 8-year-old daughters. "We were sitting there with the Crazy Bones, and she got some and started showing them games that she remembered playing when she was a little girl 80 years ago. When I saw my grandmother playing with a toy with my kids, I knew we had a winner."
Harris isn't the only one who thinks so. After more than a year of aggressively marketing its product to McDonald's, Toy Craze got the news every toy company wants to hear-in the fourth quarter of 2000, its product will be packaged inside Happy Meals, and about 840 different Crazy Bones toys will be offered through McDonald's.
"In the toy business, this is one of the biggest things that can happen to you," says Harris, who points out that McDonald's usually teams up with large corporations and movie studios for Happy Meal promotions. "For them to do something with a small entrepreneurial company is a very significant event."
This year, the company expects to nearly double sales to $30 million. With the McDonald's deal and fans joining Crazy Bones clubs and visiting the company's Web site (www.crazybones.com) to share new game and character ideas with each other and the company, it seems this craze is just getting started.
"There's nothing complicated about [Crazy Bones]," Harris explains, "and you don't need to spend a lot of money-you can buy a pack of Crazy Bones for $2 and you're in the game."