Let’s Hear It For the Toys
What do we know about sloths? They’re cute, for one thing. They’re the slowest-moving mammals on earth, for another. And, according to scientists who study such things, there are only two major types in the world: those with two toes and those with three toes.
But these scientists are wrong.
People tasked with shopping for plush — the stuffed prizes given away to game players at an amusement park — know there are approximately 347 different sloth types on the planet. Big ones and small ones. Green ones and pink ones. Well-groomed ones and those that look like they’ve just woken up after a night of boozing at Stubborn Brothers beach bar.
Mike Weimar, senior games manager at Morey’s Piers, has navigated this oversaturated sloth market many times. He’s also shopped for unicorns, gorillas and toddler-sized avocados. In charge of purchasing the 250,000 prizes Morey’s gives away per season, his job is to predict what the next most appealing plush will be, and to make sure its quality is up to Morey’s standards.
“There’s a big misconception that all amusement-park plush is cheap,” Mike says. “People assume we spend $1 or $2 per piece, but it’s actually $7, $8 or $9 each. Our selection is retail quality.”
In total, we invest about $1 million per year into our plush -- it’s part of the reason we recently took home the industry’s coveted Brass Ring Award, recognizing excellence in game operation. And it’s also the reason there’s a lot of pressure on Mike to get his selections right.
“You may be buying as many as 10,000 of one item at a time,” he explains. “You don’t want it to flop.”
So… what does this process look like?
Throughout the offseason, in order to see what’s new, Mike attends trade shows like the massive IAAPA expoheld in Orlando last month. While other Morey’s employees peruse new roller-coaster tech or test out virtual-reality arenas, Mike immerses himself in a colorful sea of fluff. Walking several miles of showroom floor per day, he swaps intel with other buyers and connects with vendors from around the world. Then, he compares the various textures (shaggy versus dimpled versus smooth) as well as colors, stitching, stuffing and fur types on display.
“I had never heard of Korean fur until recently,” he says, pointing to a row of happy hamsters. “It’s definitely piqued my interest. It’s incredibly soft.”
Sometimes, Mike is drawn to a trade-show display item because he’s done enough pop-culture research to know it’s going to be a hot ticket. (Kirsten Bell’s 2012 meltdown over a sloth did much to kick start our current cultural obsession.) Mike also pays close mind to what movies or television programs are coming down the pike, and the characters and trends to which the children of fellow Morey’s team members gravitate.
“There’s a lot to be learned simply by observing people,” he says.
Other times, a plush purchase all comes down to gut.
“We bought this orangutan on instinct,” he says, gesturing toward a portly, five-foot ape on the showroom floor. “On the boardwalk, size matters. Our guests are drawn to larger, high-quality prizes, so this guy was a no brainer.”
In shopping for games — as with playing them — there’s a fair amount of gambling involved.
“Minions were the ugliest thing in the world,” Mike says. “We had no idea what they were or what they were going to be. But we decided to trust the advice of our vendor, and it all worked out.” Poop-emoji hats were also a surprising smash success, he adds. Who knew?!
Of course, not every gamble can be a win. Our purchase of the Marvel Daredevil was a bit of a bust. (No worries! Mike doesn’t now have to store 10,000 stuffed crime-fighting vigilantes inside his house… we have warehouses for this sort of thing.)
As for next summer, he’s predicting the most popular prizes will be any of our new, rainbow-colored plush toys, our new Pokémon characters and — get this — our new Bob Ross plush and wig. Oh, and — how could we forget? —any of our stuffed sloths.
While the major purchasing phase for these items and more will largely be completed by March, the best part of the year for Mike won’t happen until next summer.
“It’s the joy of putting smiles on the faces of children and their families when they’re playing and winning,” he says. “Witnessing that energy and excitement? That’s the best part of my job.”