KISS & Tell

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This story appears in the June 1997 issue of Entrepreneur. Subscribe »

Who are these masked men? Although you might be hard pressed to identify all the members of the 1970s rock group KISS by name, we'd be willing to bet that their heavily made-up features strike a chord of recognition--or is it fear?--within you. If not, prepare for a refresher course: Hot on the heels of its triumphant reunion tour, KISS is blazing a trail into retail stores in the form of action figures.

Produced by McFarlane Toys in Plymouth, Michigan, the 6-and-a-half-inch-tall figures of Peter Criss, Ace Frehley, Gene Simmons and Paul Stanley don't even remotely resemble action figure stalwarts such as G.I. Joe. Instead, these extravagantly detailed likenesses come complete with missile-firing guitars and spear-launching drums. Would you expect anything less from the group that wanted to "rock and roll all night and party every day"?

We thought not. At any rate, KISS' re-emergence speaks volumes about the continuing appeal of 1970s showmanship. Just go easy on the pyrotechnics, fellas.

Strawberry Fields

Can you spin gold from strawberries? That's a question we can't answer--at least, not conclusively. But as Gifts & Decorative Accessories magazine recently reported, strawberries seem to be packing a powerful punch in the gift industry of late. Could it be because of the nation's fascination with gardening? Or is it a reflection of the continuing popularity of the color red? Possibly it's a reaction to the somewhat romantic aura of strawberries themselves.

It could be any--or all--of these things. We are quite certain of this, however: Strawberry shortcake sure sounds good right now.

Most Likely To Succeed

So many kids; so many kid products. With such a vast array of merchandise directed toward youngsters, it's not easy to predict which licensed characters will attain fame and fortune à la Barney. We've chalked up our own list of three hot children's properties--and there's nary a purple dinosaur in the bunch.

Something Scarry

It's getting awfully hectic in The Busy World of Richard Scarry. The popular children's licensing property that's been charming youngsters for more than 30 years is winning over a new generation of tykes with its animated series airing on Showtime and Nickelodeon. In addition, Busytown inhabitants such as Huckle, Lowly and Sgt. Murphy (a cat, a worm and a canine police officer, respectively) are featured in books, software, videos, watches, puzzles, apparel and the like. There's even a live show that's set to tour shopping malls later this year.

"People use the word `brand' fairly loosely [in this industry]," says Debbi Petrasek of Viacom Consumer Products in Hollywood, the licensing division for Paramount Pictures. "But `The Busy World of Richard Scarry' is definitely a brand--and it's been firmly established."

With 40 book titles planned for release over the next four years, Richard Scarry's Busytown shows no signs of a decrease in traffic. What's more, Petrasek is mapping out still more Richard Scarry projects for the near future. We'll keep you posted.

Turtle Talk

Will kids shell out more of their hard-earned cash (or their parents') for Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles products? They just might--especially considering the most famous turtles in the land are on the comeback trail.

Yes, we know: It's been a while since these turtles were the most sought-after toys in the land. But if a new live-action series (to air on Fox this fall) isn't enough to get you seeing green, how about the fact the turtles are no longer an all-male team? That's right, a fifth Turtle is suiting up. Grandly named Venus de Milo, this female boasts martial arts skills--which will come in handy when wrestling pizza away from the other four hard-shell heroes.

And speaking of the Fab Four of Turtledom, expect to see Raphael, Leonardo, Donatello and Michaelangelo sporting an "edgier" look for "Ninja Turtles: The Next Mutation." Don't accuse us of spreading rumors, however: We hear no cosmetic surgery was involved.

Wendy City

The spell has yet to be cast--but we suspect it's only a matter of time before today's kids become bewitched with Wendy the Witch. Encouraged by the successful revival of Casper, the Friendly Ghost, Los Angeles-based The Harvey Entertainment Co. is now redeveloping its Wendy character. Hocus, pocus: Wendy is getting her own animated series for the fall of 1998.

"Like Casper, she's a superhero for children,' says Jeffrey Montgomery of Harvey Entertainment. "She's also an outsider because she's a little girl witch trying to fit in and just be a normal little girl. So she's got to overcome [a lot].'

Although it may seem hard to believe, Wendy debuted in the world of cartoon characters more than four decades ago. The interest that's brewing in her new TV series and direct-to-video feature with Casper (also set for release next year) is anything but outdated, however. And, yes, even more broom-flying is planned. "We will be launching a merchandising program around Wendy to coincide with the release of the TV series and movie,' Montgomery confirms.

Well, it's only supernatural.

Tennis Anyone?

Game, set, match . . . applause. After enduring waves of fan disinterest and media proclamations of its unfortunate demise, the sport of tennis is rallying to enjoy renewed popularity among adults and kids alike.

Not that tennis's comeback is more awe-inspiring than, say, the bullet serves of Pete Sampras. But if 1996 sales increases of tennis racquets and balls seem less than smashing (8 percent and 2 percent, respectively), consider this: These are the first increases in four years.

"We think tennis is well-positioned for the rest of this decade,' says Brad Patterson of the Tennis Industry Association (TIA). Patterson, who counts nationwide tennis participants at approximately 20 million, credits professional players with helping to rejuvenate America's love for tennis. "There are some very appealing personalities [in the sport],' he observes.

Tennis is also benefiting from marketing campaigns like the one teaming the TIA with the Cartoon Network. "We're trying to get kids at the same time Little League gets them,' says Patterson. Characters the likes of Scooby Doo are being enlisted in commercials and live events. Anyone for a Scooby match?

Swing Set

Don't be a square, Daddy-O. Get hip to the far-out world of the swinging space-age bachelor. Oh sure, you may think the market for lava lamps, Hawaiian shirts and Perry Como records is as cold as yesterday's toast--but, to the contrary, such retro-bachelor paraphernalia is really dug by members of the so-called "cocktail nation."

"Young people are looking for something they've never [encountered] before--something that seems exotic," explains Steven Guarnaccia, co-author with Bob Sloan of the recently published Hi-Fi's & Hi-Balls: The Golden Age of the American Bachelor (Chronicle Books). "For those of us who remember [the era firsthand], it's kind of cheesy."

And yet, it's kind of a gas, too. As Guarnaccia points out, the 1950s boast at least the appearance of a simpler, less angst-ridden time--with the possible exception, of course, of the days of the bongo-playing, stream-of-consciousness, swaying Beatniks. Even these cats, however, knew how to play it cool.

Speaking of cool, movies such as "Swingers," lounge-music collections, and clubs featuring the tunes of Percy Faith, Julie London and Bobby Darin continue to be what's shakin' in the cocktail nation. But when space-age bachelor mania stops cookin' with gas, Guarnaccia speculates there will still be interest left in at least one group from that era. "I think we've yet to really see the full flowering of the Beat and hipster angle of it," he surmises. "That may be yet to come."

Fine with us. We're ready to go on the road again.

Contact Sources

Chronicle Books, 85 Second St., 6th Fl., San Francisco, CA 94105, (415) 537-3730;

Gifts & Decorative Accessories, 51 Madison Ave., New York, NY 10010;

The Harvey Entertainment Co., 1999 Ave. of the Stars, 20th Fl., Los Angeles, CA 90067, (310) 789-1990;

McFarlane Toys, 15155 Fog St., Plymouth, MI 48170, (313) 414-3500;

Paramount Pictures, 5555 Melrose Ave., Hollywood, CA 90038, (213) 956-5183;

Tennis Industry Association, 200 Castlewood Dr., North Palm Beach, FL 33408, (561) 848-1026.

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