MINI SCOOTER CRAZE HITS MASS RETAIL FLOORS FOR HOLIDAYS

The mini scooter craze, which emerged last fall on the West Coast and then hit New York City streets this summer, is expected to be a sellout Christmas item on the sales floors of supermarkets and other mass market retailers this holiday, said retailers and industry observers.Kids and adults across the country are hopping onto light-weight aluminum scooters sporting names such as Micro (Huffy), Razor

The mini scooter craze, which emerged last fall on the West Coast and then hit New York City streets this summer, is expected to be a sellout Christmas item on the sales floors of supermarkets and other mass market retailers this holiday, said retailers and industry observers.

Kids and adults across the country are hopping onto light-weight aluminum scooters sporting names such as Micro (Huffy), Razor (DLJ International), Kickboard (K2), Xootr (Nova Cruz Products), Know-Ped (Go-Ped) and Kick (Zapworld). They are paying $100 and up for these foldable-portable devices that combine retro and high-tech styling with neon wheels. Dayton, Ohio-based Huffy Corp's "it's just too cool" motto for its Micro, which became the top selling sporting goods item in July, according to Sportstrend.Info, West Palm Beach, Fla., captures the feeling consumers have for these devices.

Ray Wallace, the director of nonfood at Cub Foods, Lithia Springs, Ga., told SN the scooter's popularity stems from the "extreme sports" craze, their easy portability for both adults and children, and their value as a functional toy. Wallace expected the inline two-wheeled vehicles to be sold on Cub store floors this week.

The chain will sell an aluminum version for approximately $40, while a model that has "more bells and whistles, such as better wheels and braking system" will sell for $59. "The scooters will probably be the highest moving items in the high-end ticket range for the fourth quarter," Wallace said.

Indeed, those prices are comparatively cheap to the $139 price tag for a Know-Ped push scooter at California Speed Sports' store and Web site, www.speed-sports.com, in Livermore, Calif. Even still, sales for them have gone up 400% from last year, according to operations manager Joe Nelson.

With supermarkets as well as mass merchandisers and specialty toy stores now carrying scooters analysts expect prices to drop, according to a Wall Street Journal article. American Direct president, Neil Khubani, said his Fairfield, N.J.-based distribution company started selling the mini scooters to small independent retailers in January. Since then, the novelty item's popularity has sky-rocketed. "We are sold out through the end of September," said Khubani.

Cloy Johnson, director of general merchandise at Ream's Food Stores in Salt Lake City said, "It's just one of those great little vehicles." Johnson said that nothing like this has been geared towards kids since the skateboard or rollerblades. "Scooters were just waiting in the wings," said Johnson.

He has showcased the mini scooters in a prominent display for the past three weeks, keeping all of them boxed except for one in-store model. At $54.99, they come with a carrying case enhanced by a vinyl window.

"Every child has one," said Louise Chambers, general merchandise director at Sherman's ThunderBird Markets in Medford, Ore. "Kids think that everyone's got one, so they have to have one too -- you know how kids are." While Thunderbird Markets' four stores sell them in only aluminum, the scooters also come in bright neon colors, such as red, blue, yellow, and green.

One health and beauty-care clerk at a Midwest-based retailer, who wished to remain anonymous, pinned mini scooters' prevalence on nostalgia. "It's the newest thing," the retailer said. "They reformed something that's been old and updated it." The "updated" versions include smaller wheels, vivid color accents, and adjustable handles.

The invention of the scooter came out of Germany in 1816, according to the Bicycle Museum of America, New Bremen, Ohio. Reports say the current popularity with scooters also started in Germany several years ago and then caught on in Japan and Australia before hitting the U.S.

Diane Cardinale, a spokesperson for Toy Manufacturers of America, headquartered in New York, said the current trend is too new to track specific figures. She quoted a Newsweek article that reported "industry experts" projecting sales this year at 2 to 5 million units. Razor, with its sleek chrome design, is the most popular these days, said Cardinale.

Since last fall, more than 200,000 Razors carrying a price tag of $100 to $130 have been sold, according to Joseph De La Jara, vice president of DLJ, Santa Ana, Calif., and demand remains high with the company's Hong Kong factory making 6,000 scooters a day.

Zapworld.com's revenue rose 51% from last year, according to Alex Campbell, a spokesperson for the electric bicycle and scooter manufacturer/distributor based in Sebastopol, Calif. Figures from the Web site estimate the company's revenue increased from approximately $1.5 million in 1999 to $2.3 million in 2000. Campbell said scooters were mainly responsible for the increase, since they make up 80% of zapworld.com's business.

More expensive electric and motorized versions of the scooter have also moved steadily, although Wallace said his supermarket chain will not be selling them because of their expensive sticker price. Zapworld.com charges $599 for their Zappy electric scooters, according to Campbell.

Retailers and distributors know one thing about a fad though: they are usually short-lived. "The [demand] for them will probably die down after Christmas," said Khubani.