The Secret Life of Beanies

Of tie-dyed bats, rabbi bears, and the elusive "7th generation" tag

"But what's even more important to us at Ty," the letter continued, "[is that] the fun is taken out of the announcement when pictures and tags are shown before they become official. It's exciting for everyone to learn of the new Beanies, visit their favorite authorized Ty retailer, and then begin the hunt! And isn't the anticipation and the 'thrill of the find' what it's all about?"

Ty Inc. has a few other policies. From the start Warner stipulated that he would not sell to the big stores--Kmart, Wal-Mart, or Toys"R"Us. Only specialty retailers, from Hallmark and Cracker Barrel franchises to florists and gas stations, may sell his creations. For some of those small dealers, Beanie Babies mean nothing short of salvation, says Fenick. "My mom had a store, and she sold [stuffed animals], but it was what we call 'pre-Beanie,' and the store didn't survive. Stores like hers now--they mark up the price by $1 each, and with many stores that could be $30,000 a year. Beanies alone pay their rent."

Fenick says the Mall of America has 46 stores selling Beanies; she recently counted them for the members of a Beanie listserv run by a woman in Massachusetts. Some 50 of her listserv buddies--one from nearly every state--are scheduled to visit the Twin Cities in June, and they plan to spend an entire day at the Mall, prepped by Fenick's detailed notes on "good" and "bad" retailers. Good vendors, she explains, don't mark up Beanies too far beyond the suggested price, and they actually sell Beanies to the public rather than reserving them for an inside network or employees and friends.

To keep the precious creatures in mint condition, Charleen Fenick stores her Beanies under glass
Diana Watters
To keep the precious creatures in mint condition, Charleen Fenick stores her Beanies under glass

Resisting the temptation of insider trading is hard, Fenick acknowledges, at a time when collectors line up to snag newly released Beanies before they can hit store shelves. A retailer who used to be a good Beanie source for her now tells her that his staff will inevitably buy up the first shipment of any new creations. Even the UPS guy who delivers to that store has started collecting, she says, and won't drop off a box until he gets one of each new Beanie.

But Ty keeps all of them guessing. Often a retailer won't know what the day's shipment will contain until he opens the box; orders may be placed for limited quantities of each Beanie, but there's no guarantee those will be fulfilled. Some store owners, Fenick says, jack up the prices to $100 for a new release. Ty strongly disapproves of this, and his wrath can be fearsome: Recently a retailer told Fenick that a disgruntled shopper was spreading rumors that he was selling Beanies out the back door. "And the retailer said to me: 'If Ty heard the rumors--which aren't true--he'd cut me off without a trial.'" The Ty Web site has asked Beanie fans to turn in names of disreputable dealers.

Not every Beanie is caught up in the price inflation, however. "Bears--no matter what type--are always snatched up right away," Fenick muses. "But see Early the Robin? You can find her easily. I don't know why--I thought she was cute. But she was sort of a dud. She and Mel [the koala] and Scoop [the pelican]. They're shelf sitters."

Fenick herself is not much of a fan of the secondary market; most of her Beanies were acquired the honest, old-fashioned way, in the hunt from retail store to retail store. But proud as she is of her authentic Tys, she's not above letting the Beijing counterfeits fill in the gaps. Her jungle-creature shelf holds a fake Peanut the Royal Blue Elephant for which she paid $3 rather than the $4,600 the real thing fetches at auctions. The swing tag is marked with an "F"--"so that my husband knows that it's fake when he sells them...If I die. I told him that I wanted to be cremated with them, and he said no, he was going to sell them. But this is my collection until they are pried out of my cold, dead hands."

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