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Russell Hornsby and the Zhu Zhu Mania

Suzanne Kapner’s article which was published in CNNMoney.com, Behind the Zhu Zhu Mania, discusses the events surrounding the success of Zhu Zhu, which is a motorized replica of a hamster that has become one of the fastest-selling toys of yuletide in 2009. Here, it is made apparent by the writer that its success cannot be solely based on luck, but is in fact a product of long decades of combining the inventor’s experiences in different fields and finally coming up with “inexplicably cute robotic hamsters” (Kapner, 2009, p.1) that was able to gain a significant foothold in the toy industry. It is clear that the article has given several proofs of Zhu Zhu’s popularity, such as the statement that details running out of stocks at both the Times Square’ Toys R’ Us and Target, wherein its absence on the shelves of these stores testifies of its brisk sales. Likewise, it has become so popular that “Zhu Zhus are even showing up on eBay, priced $60 to $100” (Kapner, 2009, p. 1).

Indeed, its sales were so successful that during its initial stages, all that were distributed in Phoenix were sold in just two weeks, making the CEO of Toys R’ Us,

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Gerald Storch, exclaim, “It was so hot, we couldn’t believe it…We immediately bought as much as we could” (Kapner, 2009, p. 1). Russell Hornsby, the founder of Cepia which manufactures Zhu Zhu, takes much of the credit for its success. His career started with Mattel 35 years ago as a designer for the company’s toys. After his stint in this company he worked for Hyman Products, which sells novelty items including pieces of the Berlin Wall.

Soon after in 1981, he established Trendmasters, which was “a toy company that held the license to make toys under the Star Wars and Godzilla names…and sold it to larger rival, Jakks Pacific, in 2001” (Kapner, 2009, p. 1). In 2002, Hornsby founded Cepia to specialize in the manufacture of garden products such as automated garden sprayers. It is stated in the article that Hornsby employed several of the techniques in this field to produce Zhu Zhu, which enables it to acquire life-like characteristics. All his experiences and hard work led to a prototype of Zhu Zhu in the later part of 2008 while he was with a factory in Shenzhen, China.

The end result is a toy that is quite different from others in the market, especially with several innovations such as the bump codes in the underbelly of each hamster that makes it highly unlikely to repeat the same movements over a period of time. Natalie Hornsby, Russell’s daughter and the head of Cepia’s Marketing Department, has been accurate in her description, “What makes them so great is that they are unpredictable” (Kapner, 2009, p. 1). Cepia is optimistic to increase their Zhu Zhu sales in the coming year.

With sixteen employees, they estimate to reach 10 million sales and make Zhu Zhu a 10 million dollar item by the year 2010. It truly looks feasible, especially when taking into consideration that their product’s success was attained with the least advertisements compared to other competitors who needed celebrity endorsements before they were patronized by the buying public, such as Rosie O’Donnell’s feature on Fisher-Price’s Elmo. Sean McGowan himself, a Needham & Company analyst, seems to agree on this prediction, as he states referring to Russell’s success, “It’s the single biggest hit he’s had” (Kapner, 2009, p. 1).

Natalie, when inquired on the possibility of her dad ever deciding to sell their company to the highest bidder as he has before, offered a story of her father’s remark to a friend in Las Vegas: “I don’t need to gamble in Vegas…I gamble everyday of my life” (Kapner, 2009, p. 1). Based on this statement alone, it seems that Russell Hornsby has finally found his niche.

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