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A bunch of yo-yos from Columbus.

A Bunch of Yo-yos From Columbus

The yo-yo business would seem to mirror the activity of the yo-yo itself: What goes down will come back up.

Just a few years ago, the business was down. Fewer than a half-million of the toys were sold in 1985. Sales seemed stuck at the bottom like yo-yo that was "sleeping' or "walking the dog." That yo-yo has now traveled up the string. About 12 million of the toys were sold last year in North America, as many as 10 million of which were made at a factory in Columbus.

Duncan Toy Co. controls roughly 85 percent of the U.S. yo-yo market. Though its sales office is located in Middlefield, Ohio, Duncan brought all of its yo-yo production to the Bartholomew County seat two years ago.

Now, thousands of the toys are molded, assembled and strung by hand every day at the plant, probably the largest yo-yo plant in the world. The manufacturing process has changed little in the six decades since Donald F. Duncan Sr. introduced Americans to the novelty he discovered in the Philippines.

The technology behind yo-yos has not changed for many years. True, they used to be made of wood and now are made of a shatter-proof resin, but the care that goes into the manufactures has been a constant.

The important thing is that it has got to be balanced. The two shells have got to be perfect. If the balance is off, the yo-yo won't "sleep," or spin for an extended period of time. The zinc-plated axle must be smooth to keep the string from ripping, and the shells must have no sharp edges that could cut the player.

Duncan colors its yo-yos to keep up with the fads and fashions. The newest products, appropriately called Neo Yo-yos, come in today's popular fluorescent colors, such as hot pink, neon orange, chartreuse and watermelon.

Besides the trendy colors, kids really want yo-yos in part because they provide cheap entertainment. A yo-yo sells for less than $3, a pittance compared with many of today's hightech toys. And they practically sell themselves, says Peter Tertinek, operations manager at the Columbus plant. "I have never seen a man or woman - even in their older ages - not pick it up and play with it. If you get end-shelf or checkout-end-shelf counter position in any store, they sell automatically." Peer pressure helps as well, he says." If one kid will buy one, then it seems all his buddies will buy one, too."

In an effort to rejuvenate the fad in the mid-'80s, former Duncan marketing whiz Clyde Mortensen was brought out of retirement. Advertising was a must, he thought, but prices on the big networks were prohibitive. He discovered cable television, where time could be purchased much more inexpensively and the target market could be reached more efficiently.

As the number of 30-second spots Duncan bought ran into the thousands, the number of toys it sold soared into the millions again. Though sales are nowhere near the record 33 million yo-yos Duncan sold in 1963, 1990's sales of roughly a third of that figure are nothing to feel bad about. Look for that number to grow: The 70-year-old Mortensen says he has submitted a new worldwide marketing plan, his last major project for Duncan before he returns to retirement in Arizona. Don't think that life at the plant in Columbus is all fun and games, however. Besides Duncan yo-yos, the 120 employees also produce items people use at work, such as plastic tool-boxes and parts cabinets as well as plastic mailboxes. The products are marketed by Duncan's parent company, Flambeau Products Corp., also of Ohio. But the workers are probably proudest of their yo-yos. As Tertinek proclaims, "Duncan has the biggest market share. The word Duncan sells by itself."
COPYRIGHT 1991 Curtis Magazine Group, Inc.
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Copyright 1991 Gale, Cengage Learning. All rights reserved.

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Publication:Indiana Business Magazine
Date:Jul 1, 1991
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