Yoyo Rant

Yoyo Contests - Where is the Fun?

Why isn’t yoyo more fun?

As far as I’m concerned 42=Fun

     The purpose of life, the universe and everything is to have fun.  The reason we have an internet full of cat videos instead of more ‘important’ things is because having fun, laughing and sharing joy is what humans are for.  It doesn’t need to go any deeper than that.  You want the scientific basis for my assertion?  Um.  Yeah.  Don’t have that, but I have confidence! 

     Ok, seriously though,I have really been considering this lately.  Yoyo clubs, contests, online groups.  So much if it is too serious.  Was this always the way?  I don’t see it.  One piece of evidence is the begleri community.  It’s a rather young community, and really happy-go-lucky.  I think yoyo used to be more fun, back before the ball bearings and the aircraft aluminum and the world championships.  At this point when I go to contests (Including worlds) I barely watch any of the competition, I spend my time with people, talking, teaching, learning and trying to squeeze some fun into the event.

     When I run contests in Vancouver, I regularly invite the crew from Terra Kendama to come and run an event.  They usually split it into 2 events, beginner and advanced.  The advanced is the usual boring to watch “Everyone do this trick…do the next one” with the only excitement being the elimination process.  It’s the way yoyo contests used to be run before freestyles took over.

     The beginner events are where the fun happens.  Sometimes through the course of the day I have them do filler activities between yoyo sets and it’s always a blast.  Instead of just “Who can land it in the big cup, now the little cup” they do things like the “unicorn” trick, where you balance the Ken (the body) on your forehead pointing outward like a unicorn horn with the Tama (Ball) balanced behind your head holding it in place.  Everyone looks ridiculous, but everyone who wants to is able to at least make the attempt and they spend the whole time laughing.  Inclusion makes for a better party.  There is something fantastic about 8 year olds kids and 40 year old kids being ridiculous together and just have FUN.

     The 2017 World Yoyo contest in Reykjavik, like every other year, got some things right, some things wrong, and a fair bit in between.  What they did better than any contest I’ve ever been to is figure out how to bring some of the FUN back into yoyo contests. I’m sure the Mountain Dew Cup was something silly they threw in to give value to a sponsor, but it turned out to be the most important thing they did at the contest.  They took the serious, intense competition out of the yoyo and replaced it with “Go screw around and have fun”.  They gave the prize to the person that went the furthest into the realm of ridiculous and it was Magnificent.

     Don’t get me wrong, contests are enjoyable for what they are, and if you are a serious competitor they are an integral part of the yoyo experience for you.  Likewise they have huge value as community gatherings and as a place for novice throwers to be inspired.

     I want to run a contest.  I’m going to call it the “Stupid Yoyo Contest”.  It’ll be an all day event full of things like walk the dog races, rock the baby battles and anything else I can think of that keeps it from getting serious.  I want to make an entrance requirement that each person brings crafting materials, and we set up a table where people experiment with making weird and unusual yoyos out of everything from bottle caps to old shoes.  I want to have an “alternative freestyle” event where you aren’t allowed to do any of the standard styles, you have to do one of the alternatives, from Möbius, to Double Dragon to 7a. 

It’s time to mix it up.

     Of course this is all a pipe dream because at the end of the day for yoyo contests to happen people need to be willing to travel to them and spend a little bit of money.  Who is going to pay for a day of silliness and fun when they could go spend $75 to be serious and spend 1 minute on stage to rank 37th in a contest.


     I guess the counter argument that resonates most strongly is a simple one.  Contests aren’t supposed to be for that kind of fun.  Fun is what you do elsewhere in the yoyo world at your yoyo club, with your friends or occasionally online.  Contests are for competition, they are the place for the serious players to be serious.  You don’t expect a ‘fun’ event for the amature footballers when you go watch the superbowl. Likewise it would be ridiculous to expect to see ‘fun’ events as part of the Olympics.  We are after all trying to turn yoyo into a serious sport to be recognized.

     I guess where I’m hung up is this; Why?  Why do we want yoyo to be considered a serious sport? I can’t see us ever getting to the point where we are pulling in serious sponsor money for events (although a little more would be nice). For sure our elite players should be recognized for the tens of thousands of hours they put in.  At this point contests are the best way to do that (and I don’t have an alternative suggestion at this time). 

     I have only been in the yoyo scene for 8 years and outside of the research I’ve done for my book I lack memory of contests before that time, so it might be that yoyo contests have always been this serious, intense thing.  It might also be a result of the internet, the fact the loudest discussions tend to be driven by the angriest people so even when I have a good time at a contest I come home to the internet being mad about it.

     Anyhow, that’s my contest rant.  Absolutely feel free to argue with me in the comments, I’d like to hear a few different perspectives.  This is definitely not a well researched piece of writing.

The Crowd at the Pacific Northwest Regional yoyo Contest Photo Credit: Pacific Northwest Regional Yoyo Contest Facebook Page  https://goo.gl/images/U2KLvJ  

The Crowd at the Pacific Northwest Regional yoyo Contest
Photo Credit: Pacific Northwest Regional Yoyo Contest Facebook Page https://goo.gl/images/U2KLvJ 

The Future of Online Retail

I’ve had a few conversations lately with different online skill toy retailers. What I’ve been hearing is something I’ve been experiencing as well. It’s becoming harder to make an online skill toy retail store work. There are a number of challenges, old and new that are faced by online retailers.
Inventory choices are the biggest challenge. It’s very difficult to decide what to stock. 

1. Competition: Do I only stock major brands that have brand recognition? If I do, then I’m competing directly with every other online retailer to sell a product that doesn’t have limited availability. Or do I focus on smaller hard to find products? Then I’m in the position of doing the leg work to help a new or small brand get recognition that they can’t do themselves on the off chance their stuff will sell. It’s hard because I want to support start up brands, but have limited funds to tie up in products.

2. Unpredictability of sales: I have had products from one supplier sell out in a weekend, only to have their next release sit on the shelf for months. No idea why.

3. Shipping and volume: Generally the markup for retail is 40% in the yoyo world. Which is less than half of what you are seeing if you go buy a pair of shoes at a retail store.
What doesn’t get taken into account with that number is overhead.
-cost of freight to the online store
-taxes, duties, paypal fees
-cost of running the website
-shipping costs (very few yoyo retailers actually charge what it costs to ship including labour and packaging)
-promotional costs

4. Dead stock: When I order skill toys for the store, I have to do the mental math of “If I buy 10, at a 40% markup minus shipping and taxes I need to sell 6 or 7 to break even”. If I only sell 4 initially then I’m sitting on funds that could have gone elsewhere, and often are sitting on my credit card accruing interest.

5. Employees: Do I do it all myself or hire help? I don’t have any actual Employees, but I occasionally hire one of the kids from the local club to come in and help with small jobs. I have paid graphic designers for imagery and support for promotional strategies. The bonus packs that go into every box that ships out have a cost that varies. The concrete costs of the bags, stickers and candy are easy, but the time it takes me to package them together is harder. It’s tricky to work all of that into the cost of yoyos, but it is yet another chip away at the 40%.

I think the biggest challenge going forward is that it is so much easier to sell products online than it was even 5 years ago. I recently switched the store over to Shopify because of how complex yet simple it is. All of the finances, inventory control and shipping are in the Same place.
This means that manufacturers large and small are more likely to sell direct. Their fans are (quite reasonably) more likely to buy direct rather than through a retailer because they want to support the creative end. But it makes choosing what to stock a challenge. I happily stock MonkeyfingeR design begleri because their initial releases include retailers. Aroundsquare releases direct first then sells to online retailers, which makes it harder to move their products. Both brands have solid followings that will buy direct first before they look to Return Top Shop. This is pretty consistent across the board.

So where to next? I’m finding myself in a position of having a few brands I know can sell, a few products that I am willing to spend time promoting and sticking to those. I know I can sell yoyos that retail for under $30. Over that, brand recognition is required, and a scarcity market (sells out quickly elsewhere) helps.
Do I put money into bringing more brands in to draw customers? Or do I put that money into creating original products with Rain City Skills? Do I switch tracks and put more time and energy into building the local yoyo scene through school demos and public workshops? Or do I need to put some money and time into advertising?
Either way, it’s a learning experience that I’m really enjoying!
Feel free to let me know what you think in the comments.
-Jeremy “Mr Yoyothrower” McKay