Toymaker's weapons wouldn't hurt a fly GLEN BURNIE

March 17, 1993|By Andrea F. Siegel | Andrea F. Siegel,Staff Writer

Don Hutcheson keeps hundreds of weapons in his Glen Burnie apartment -- nunchucks, swords, stars.

They're all made of resilient soft foam that wouldn't hurt a baby.

The former Navy weapons-designer-turned-toy-designer is starting this week to contact toy retailers around the country with dreams that his Kid Ninja and other toys soon will pack their shelves.

His own are filled. So is a self-storage unit he rents in Millersville.

Mr. Hutcheson, 37, has designed six toys for his young company, Liftoph Products International Inc., in the past two years. There are brightly colored four-pronged Ninja throwing stars, FunChucks, black sai swords, black batwings, neon-colored bow ties and a Skyhook.

And, he says, "I have a million ideas sitting up in my head."

Liftoph Products is based in Mr. Hutcheson's bedroom. He designs the toys on a computer on a drawing table. His girlfriend, who works for a pharmacy company in Dundalk, is Liftoph's financial officer.

Mr. Hutcheson hopes to capitalize on youngsters' fascination with Teen-age Mutant Ninja Turtles, though his products are in no way connected with the four turtles, made famous by comic books, feature films, cartoons and toys. With David Carradine returning to television in "Kung Fu: The Legend Continues" and a movie about martial arts master Bruce Lee in the offing, Mr. Hutcheson thinks the market is ripe for his versions of Ninja weapons.

He also hopes that Batman mania, though declining, will give the S-shaped batwing and Skyhook he designed last year a boost.

The foam bow ties he started recently at the suggestion of an Arlington, Va., tuxedo renter, who advised they'll sell big for proms and reunions.

So far, Mr. Hutcheson's invested about $30,000, with just a few thousand of that in mold-making.

"There has been no profit, but it's been a lot of fun," he says.

"I love the stars," he says of the 100,000 Ninja-weapon toys that have been produced. "And actually, the hook has been a lot of fun, too. The day I got the prototype, I went right outside and shot them up in trees," he says.

The Skyhook was designed to be used with Kenner's Nerf launcher and bow and arrow.

With a Skyhook mold running about $30,000, Mr. Hutcheson has only the prototypes.

All the items are made of squishy lightweight foam, similar to the material popularized by Nerf balls. The Kid Ninja items are produced by Quality Foam Designs Inc. of Nappanee, Ind., which is leaving distribution and marketing to Mr. Hutcheson.

With only a few places selling any of his toys, Mr. Hutcheson is far from quitting his day job as a computer data base manager for XDB Systems Inc. in Laurel.

There, the 4-inch wide throwing stars are a big hit, especially Friday afternoons, he says.

"Foam is just too much fun," Mr. Hutcheson says. "You can't hurt anybody."

Because they are so lightweight, the stars fly better when wet, he notes.

At Chimar Academy in Columbia, a martial arts school that is the only place nearby to stock the stars, the kids "went wild," said Chimar co-owner and master instructor Cheryl Whitman. She sells individual stars for just under a dollar.

The other items are geared to be priced at less than $5, and Mr. Hutcheson says he makes just a few pennies from the sale of each star.

"How many do I have to sell to pay for that house by the water? Millions and millions," he says.

He took his wares to last month's toy fair in New York City, sponsored by the Toy Manufacturers of America, where he tried to get a nunchuck in the door of toy retailers.

"It's a good place to be seen. Everyone comes here," said Marisa Cascio, association spokeswoman.

But getting picked up by a major toymaker, such as Kenner, or retailer, such as Toys R Us, which has about one-third of the market, is a big leap.

About 22,200 buyers and 1,526 exhibitors attended the fair.

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