F.A.O Schwartz closed last Wednesday here in Manhattan. I hadn’t been inside in ~23+ years. The last time I went as a boy with my great childhood friend Alexander. As kids, Alexander had all the coolest toys and “stuff” at his house — a pool with a waterslide, a trampoline, a pool table, a refrigerator stocked with Cokes (and you could drink the whole can if you wanted) and the movie Willow on VHS, which I made him watch with me each time I visited. So when his Mom took us to the greatest toy store in the world on a trip into NYC it made sense.
The key thing I remember about that visit is that we both bought these really simple-looking, small, styrofoam airplane things. But despite their humble construction, these guys were special. Though decades have passed the thing I remember most about the first visit was some guy casually tossing these little planes up in the air and seeing them loop around and come right back to him perfectly every time. It was magical. I remember he was looping them around this large pillar in the store perfectly. He let Alexander and me try ’em out. It was easy. It looped back on my first throw and I was mesmerized by these things. We both bought a small envelope containing a few of the planes and had great fun with them when we got back to the ‘burbs.
Fast forward to two Sundays ago: I am enjoying a beautiful walk around Central Park and somehow end up being pulled towards F.A.O. Schwatrz with this faint idea that I had heard or read it was closing soon. I walk in and pass the $1200 stuffed animals — massive lions and tiger and bears — and see the iconic man-sized piano on the floor made famous by Tommy Hanks in Big, almost break my neck tripping over some kid going wild in one of the hallways with a remote-controlled car. Then I turn a corner and there it is: The Dip-er-do-II.” An oldish gentleman is tossing it in the air in the same casual fashion and kids and their parents have gathered around to watch.
I approach. “Amazing it’s still here,” I thought. After watching the demos for a few minutes and trying it out again myself I tell the guy demoing it, “You know, this is great because I was here probably 23+ years ago and some guy was demoing these that day and I thought they were the coolest and bought a set.” This man replied: “That man who sold you that set was me.”
“What?!” That absolutely blew my mind. Apparently this guy has been at this store looping these airplanes around pillars since 1985. He’s Howard Stone, the son of the founder of the Dip-er-do, Mike Stone. “I may have had more hair back then, but that was me,” he said.
A few things:
1) I found it amazing that this guy has been throwing airplanes around F.A.O. Schwartz full time for decades. That said, when you see how every kid (and adult, for that matter) is taken by this simple toy in the same way that I was all those years ago, you think about how it must be nice to be able to produce that reaction in people every minute of every day that you’re “on the job.” It’s hard to imagine that creating a little magic in the lives of little kids gets old even if the vehicle for it remains unchanged.
2) What a great son to carry on his father’s invention, business and legacy in this way.
3) Speaking of business: My adult mind started thinking — like it does — about what the business of this product is like. Do these sell a lot online? Do they have distribution outside F.A.O. and what will happen when the store closes in a few days? The answers from Howard: Apparently F.A.O. is a big account. They want to sell more online and he said he did hire some people to go to trade shows but they didn’t demo them. “They don’t sell if you don’t demo them,” he said. And that’s probably true. They’re only $11.95 or something so it’s an easy buy in a store where the alternative is a $1100, 70-pound stuffed giraffe. But you do have to be there showing people how cool they other to make the sale. It’s an important point for all entrepreneurs. He said he’s looking for some young people to help him with social media if you want to send him a note!
Anyway, I bought a new set of planes from Howard and went on my way. But I wanted to share this story. You can buy a plane at diperdo.com and see video instructions. (That’s a cool domain name too.)
Howard was proud to note that they are made in the United States, right in their production facility in New Jersey. They make great gifts. But be prepared to demo the product if you really want to sell the gift recipient on how special this simple toy is!
Here’s Howard Stone demoing “The Amazing Dip-er-do II”: