Meet the Hatchimal: The hot new toy most likely to cause store stampedes this year

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It’s unclear what makes a particular toy the must-have gift of any holiday season, but what is clear this year is Hatchimals are THE toy of 2016.

There are some classic elements to the Hatchimal: a furry creature that interacts with users while speaking in a strange gibberish language. But one thing that makes them unique is they arrive as a large speckled egg. After up to 25 minutes of rubbing and otherwise “encouraging” the creature, they peck their way out of the egg (or more likely are helped out by impatient kids). So it’s like a gift-within-a-gift.

Once they’re hatched, Hatchimals advance through different life stages as kids play with them and care from them. So it’s burping and patting while they’re a baby, “teaching” them to walk and talk as a toddler, and then playing games with them when they grow into kids. No word on if they’ll roll out a teenager or “adult child” mode in the future.

Unfortunately, if you’re just learning about Hatchimals, or if you haven’t bought one yet, it’s unlikely you’ll find one in stores in time for the holidays. It will probably cost you extra to get one.

Anyone visiting the Hatchimals website is greeted with this message from the company:

The consumer response to Hatchimals has been extraordinary, exceeding all expectations. Some of our first shipments have already sold out. While additional product will hit retail shelves in November, we anticipate this inventory will also sell out quickly. We have increased production and a whole new batch of Hatchimals will be ready to hatch in early 2017. This is a special season and we don’t want anyone to be disappointed, nor do we support inflated prices from non-authorized resellers. We are working on creative solutions to help kids and their parents withstand the wait. In the interim, some retailers are developing pre-sale and/or rain-check programs for redemption in January. We will continue to update with program details as they become available.

So, long story short, they probably won’t be on store shelves in time for the holiday season, and if they are, swarms of people are likely to descend upon the toy aisle when they come in stock. Wal-Mart has advertised one of their Black Friday deals will be Hatchimals for $50, which is cheaper than the typical $60 pricetag. But given how scarce the supply is, it’s going to be a struggle to get one.

Hatchimals are already popping up on secondary markets like eBay for more than $150, and prices are only going to go up from there. It’s probably cheaper to just buy an old furbee and stick it in a paper mache egg.

Making a killing

New York brothers Mike and Stan Zappa have made a killing this year on Hatchimals. Mike Zappa’s 10-year-old daughter told him about Hatchimals in early October after toymaker Spin Master unveiled its latest innovation to the public.

“She told me she really wanted one for Christmas,” said Zappa, who works in sales with a real estate firm in Phoenix, Arizona. He did a Google search and saw the buzz around Hatchimals. “I had a hunch it would be a big hit for the holidays,” he said.

The next day, Zappa and his brother Stan drove to six nearby Barnes & Noble stores, spent $5,000 (put on a credit card) and bought every Hatchimal toy in each store. (They stockpiled 100 of them.)

Fast forward to November and retailers are already selling out of Hatchimals a month before Christmas.

“We took a big risk with our money and we were right,” said Mike. So far, they’ve sold 30 from their Hatchimals stash on eBay and have recouped their entire investment.

They list the start price on eBay at $60 (the toy’s actual price) and let the market take over. “People are bidding as high as $190 to $200 for these,” said Mike. “The market value will only go up closer to Christmas.”

This all could have gone horribly wrong, too. “At the end of the day, $5,000 is a lot of money,” said Mike, who’s a single father of two. “We were hoping and praying that this was going to be the next big toy.”

Their family and friends tried to dissuade them initially.

“Three weeks ago there wasn’t one person we knew who thought this was a great idea,” said Stan, who runs his own pest control business in Phoenix. “Even our father called us idiots. Now they can’t believe it.”

They’ve been spreading the word about their stash on social media. The brothers unsurprisingly have gotten backlash from frustrated parents having a hard time scoring a Hatchimal in stores.

“We were expecting this,” said Mike. “But we also took a risk. We didn’t break any laws. And we aren’t dictating how the market is pricing the toys on eBay. What we are doing is capitalism at its best.”

While Stan has already used some of the money to invest in a new sofa, Mike said the extra money gives him breathing room over the holidays

“This is going to help my kids have a good Christmas,” he said. Will they try this again next year?

“Chances are slim to none,” said Mike. “You don’t see something like this happen often.”