That's So '80s

Entrepreneurs revive hit products of the past.
Magazine Contributor
3 min read

This story appears in the September 2006 issue of Entrepreneur. Subscribe »

Remember MS-DOS and Madonna gloves? As the '80s passes into nostalgia heaven, some entrepreneurs are bringing back products that defined the era for a second chance.

A Bear Market
Once upon a time in the mid-1980s, a plush teddy bear with an audiocassette in his back caused a frenzy in toy stores. Teddy Ruxpin was the first interactive child's toy: His lips moved in time with stories that played on cassette. "He was a unique toy with a lot of play value," says Ed Hames, 45, president and founder of
BackPack Toys Inc. in Peterborough, New Hampshire. Unfortunately, Ruxpin's play value couldn't outlast the plummeting stock value of toy company Worlds of Wonder.

BackPack Toys is intent on bringing Teddy into the digital age, with a small, 1-by-2-inch cartridge and a sleeker physique for Teddy.

Packaged with a cartridge and storybooks, Teddy Ruxpin returned to toy store shelves in August. Hames estimates sales will exceed $10 million during the first year on the market. "Don't always go for the home run," Hames says. "A good solid hit to second or third base is a winner, too."

Pac-Man is Back
The world became one huge joystick when Atari brought Pong, Space Invaders and Pac-Man to video gamers in the 1980s. But by the early 1990s, Atari had lost its edge to upstarts Nintendo and Sega.

"The Atari 2600 became a dinosaur pretty quickly," acknowledges Stephen Berman, 41, president and co-founder of Jakks Pacific Inc. The Malibu, California-based company licenses a host of '80s luminaries, including such famous products as Atari, Cabbage Patch Kids and Strawberry Shortcake.

Jakks Pacific has painstakingly ported over the old game codes to new sets for play on TV and made sure the games and joysticks play true to the originals. The attention to period detail has paid off: Jakks Pacific has sold more than 40 million Atari game sets to date. "Classic games are timeless," says Berman. "By adding simple innovation and technology, we make them relevant for kids today."

Cool 'Block, Dude
Zinka Inc.'s fluorescent-colored nosecoat debuted in 1986, the Rancho Dominguez, California, company exploded. "It went from three employees to 60 in just three months," says president Tracey Freebury, 27, whose father co-founded the business. Zinka's products quickly became must-have summer gear for '80s hipsters.

Zinka fell fast when the grunge movement sucked the color out of '80s style, but the creators hung on. "They felt someday we could bring it back," Freebury explains.

Two years ago, Zinka reps began cold-calling old customers and convincing them the time was right for a relaunch. The product retains its cachet by being available only in surf shops and independent retailers. By the end of this year, Zinka's sales will hit $400,000, and a new generation of surfers, skiers and beach-lovers will be sporting the zany colors of Zinka.


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