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Are parents pushing the Zhu Zhu Pets craze?

Continuing in the tradition of Tickle Me Elmo and Cabbage Patch Kids, the robotic hamsters might be generating more excitement among grown-ups than children.

December 22, 2009|By Sandra Pedicini
  • Zhu Zhu Pets sell for $8 or $9 at stores (but are marked up considerably on EBay).
Zhu Zhu Pets sell for $8 or $9 at stores (but are marked up considerably on… (Joe Raedle / Getty Images )

Parents across the country have lined up to buy this year's hot toy, Zhu Zhu Pets. But do the children even care?

Continuing in the tradition of Tickle Me Elmo and Cabbage Patch Kids, the Zhu Zhu might be generating more excitement among grown-ups than kids.

"Mothers and parents, that's all I hear it from -- but the kids, I haven't heard much from them," said Tanya Serrano, 26, who waited at the front of the line to snag one Monday morning at a Wal-Mart Supercenter in Ocoee, Fla.

Serrano's 5-year-old daughter, Sofia, has not asked for the Zhu Zhu robotic hamster. "She wants the real thing," Serrano explained. "Mom's not buying the real thing."

So instead Sofia will get a robotic rodent that coos, purrs, squeaks and explores its surroundings.

"It is hype. It is the fact it's so hard to get," said Laurie Schacht, co-publisher of the annual holiday shopping guide the Toy Insider. "If it was easy to get, would it still be as hot? I don't know."

The humble Zhu Zhu is a toy for our times. Selling for $8 or $9 at stores (but marked up considerably on EBay), "it's a toy you can buy without breaking the bank," said Natalie Hornsby, vice president of marketing at toy creator Cepia LLC, which is based in St. Louis.

The idea was to create a toy that offers the fun of a hamster without the mess, Hornsby said.

"How many little kids do you know who are dying to have a hamster, and how many parents do you know that just really don't want to buy it?" she said. The Zhu Zhu is "a present kids and parents can agree on."

Cepia advertised its creatures on TV but also generated buzz through in-home hamster parties, mom blogs and Twitter giveaways. Cepia said up to 10 million Zhu Zhu Pets could sell this Christmas season. That figure does not include accessories, which include pet carriers, wheels and tunnels.

Many stores have run out of Zhu Zhus, increasing the urgency that parents feel.

After her 6-year-old daughter, Jordan, asked for a Zhu Zhu, "I tried to tell her there's a problem; they didn't make enough," said Tracey Oliver of Orlando. Her daughter didn't buy that. "She said the elves make them."

On Monday, a groggy Oliver joined what she deemed "the crazy parent line" at Wal-Mart, which was about 20 people deep shortly before 7 a.m. She was on the prowl for a key accessory -- the hamster fun house.

An employee warned Oliver that Wal-Mart had only a few accessories in stock and would likely run out by the time she got to the front. He was right.

Oliver planned to continue her quest. "Target opens at 8," she said.

Pedicini writes for the Orlando Sentinel.

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