Minneapolis man's Rubba Ducks could be next Beanie Babies

Sunday, April 22nd 2001, 12:00 am
By: News On 6

MINNEAPOLIS (AP) _ Mark Boldt didn't set out to create the next toy collecting craze.

But judging by the reception his Rubba Ducks received at the February American International Toy Fair in New York and the orders for hundreds of thousands of the personified, 4 1/2-inch-tall rubber icons, he just might have done that.

``Rubba Ducks was the talk of the Toy Fair,'' said Lee Schneider, president of Commonwealth Toy and Novelty Co., which is distributing the ducks. ``We believe it's going to be the greatest thing since ... Beanie Babies.''

The ducks got more exposure when 15,000 SlamDucks (orange, dimpled ducks resembling a basketball) were given away to those attending the National Collegiate Athletic Association Final Four basketball games at the Metrodome.

SlamDuck and 11 other uniquely designed ducks, retailing for about $6 each, are now available at Toys ``R'' Us stores and other retailers.

The batch includes Sitting, who's painted like a bull's-eye and is always in the wrong place. And there's P.King, their crowned leader.

Since Boldt hatched the idea for the ducks three years ago with his then-4-year-old daughter, Savannah, he has come to realize that many people of all ages just love rubber ducks.

``I don't completely understand it, but it's kind of crazy,'' said Boldt, 34, of Minneapolis.

``I guess it brings the innocence back. We're taking the traditional toy and presenting it back in a new way with characters that have more depth,'' Boldt said.

Schneider recognized the ducks' appeal when Boldt brought them to a licensing show last year.

``Everyone remembers their rubber ducks from growing up. But even more so, the various personalities that Rubba Ducks have, people can identify with them,'' Schneider said. ``Nostalgic toys, toys that everyone can identify with, are very fashionable now. We saw great collectible aspects to the line, Mark's creativity in coming up with it, and the fact that it has such a wide age appeal, so we rushed to make a deal with him.''

``I wasn't thinking of it being a Beanie Baby type of thing,'' said Boldt, an entrepreneur who started Boldt Entertainment nine years ago. His company, which publishes U-DO Books and Surprises magazine, focuses on products that build and enhance self-esteem in children.

``The reason I created the ducks was to help kids deal with issues they may be facing; helping them look at themselves in a healthy way so they feel good about who they are,'' Boldt said. ``We're all different in some way, but that's what makes you unique and special. We're all different ducks, and we're in the same pond.''

While that message is downplayed in the ducks' packaging, it's on the CD of Rubba Ducks songs, ``Good Good Good Sounds.''

One of the ideas Boldt emphasizes is that parents should listen to their children. Which is what he did when searching for a new character for his magazine, and his daughter suggested a rubber duck. From there the idea took flight, and Boldt began creating different ducks. His son, Brett, 4, helps name them.

Boldt contracted with a manufacturer to make about 50,000 ducks, most of which he sold at outlets in the Twin Cities. National retailer Spencer's scooped up Boldt's 10,000 Gray Ducks (the nonconformist who has an earring in his bill) and sold them in two weeks.

That helped Boldt land a deal with Commonwealth, which initially was hesitant because Boldt insisted on full creative control. That included a unique design for each duck, rather than using the same mold, and a weighted bottom so the ducks wouldn't tip over in water like the mass-produced ones already on the market.

The next set of 12 ducks, including Lucky and Cold, is scheduled for release in August. And if the ducks prove to be a success, the next step is a television show in which the ducks turn into Rubba Heroes, Boldt said.

Meanwhile, he's also working on a few sports-team promotions, including a helmeted duck for National Football League teams and a jerseyed DuckSkin for the Michigan State football team.

Schneider said he believes Rubba Ducks have the potential to be Commonwealth's most successful toy ever. Commonwealth, based in New York City, also makes Target's seasonal stuffed animals, such as the Snowden snowman.

The company already has taken orders for the ducks from several countries.

``Originally we thought there might be translation issues, but (the duck phenomenon) goes beyond translation. People identify it and understand it from a visual standpoint,'' Schneider said. ``And they understand the message that's being conveyed _ 'They're a lot like you and a lot like me.'''