Bend your mind around this: a nonviolent action figure

Family Matters

July 30, 2000|By Darryl E. Owens | Darryl E. Owens,Knight Ridder/ Tribune

Move over, Gumby. There's a new bendable kid on the block.

They're called Bendos, and the flexible figurines are quietly poised to become the latest toy / collectible to launch children into a tizzy.

What are Bendos?

Think Gumby with a Y2K 'tude and a better makeup job.

Bendos stand 5 1/2 inches tall and are fashioned from flexible, plastic-coated wire that allows them to bend and pose.

They are action figures that hardly fit the archetype. You won't find any washboard abs or heavy artillery on these guys. So wholesome and nonviolent is the collection that the company removed from the line the robbers that once paired with the cops.

The collection features quirky characters, which range from aliens to superheroes, construction workers to cops, and includes such notables as Slapshot the hockey player, Rainbow the flower child and Sparky the fire chief.

Bendos are suggested for ages 3 and up, and individual characters sell for $4.99. Bendos Action Sets fill the child's need for speed, pairing rugged vehicles -- a jet plane, submarine, speedboat and spaceship -- with Bendos and accessories. The sets range from $9.99 to $39.99.

With apologies to Sylvester Stallone, Bendos demonstrate "you don't have to be an over-bulky, steroid-driven person to be a hero," says Kathleen P. Alonzo, director of retail marketing for Kid Galaxy, the company in Manchester, N.H., behind the characters.

Each Bendo comes with accessories -- Ben Dough the chef, for instance, comes with a bubbly pepperoni pizza -- and possesses hands made to hold, hang and connect. Weights in their clunky feet provide balance during their outrageous adventures.

If this marks the first you've heard of Bendos, it's not because you've missed the boat. Bendos are a craze on silent running.

Although the characters have yet to enjoy TV advertising or fast-food tie-ins, Kid Galaxy has sold almost 2 million through specialty stores such as Imaginarium and Learning Express as well as e- tailers such as Amazon.com and eToys. The toys are available locally at stores including Greetings & Readings in Towson and the Toy Chest in Pikesville.

Yet, those venues hardly have made Bendos household names.

Not that Bendos have been incognito. Recently, Bendos were featured on Kellogg's cereal boxes.

Bendos have been regularly listed in the top 10 of Playthings magazine's monthly survey of best-selling toys at independent retailers, climbing to No. 2 in October. Bendos were also named to Parents magazine's list of best toys and won a gold award from the Oppenheim Toy Portfolio, sort of the Consumer Reports for children's products.

Such praise belies Bendos' humble beginnings. Kid Galaxy, formerly known as Just Pretend, was once a cataloguer specializing in dolls and dress-up clothing. Bendos were once nameless props used in the company's Just Pretend catalog until company officials realized child models were absconding with the props. That parents tried to order the props from the catalog turned on the retailing light bulb.

Just Pretend became Kid Galaxy in April 1999, and the pliable props that became Bendos made their debut last year. One million sold in the first six months.

"Parents love it because it's nonviolent and can bring life to the imagination," says Pam Colaianni, who owns Kidz Quest, a Winter Park, Fla., toy store that sells Bendos.

Tracey Perry, a mother of three sons, is inclined to agree. You won't find Nintendo games in her house, or stuff that dings, whistles or buzzes. Perry favors old-fashioned toys, and the decidedly low-tech Bendos that her Ohio stepmother gave her boys a year ago fit the bill.

"Not the most attractive people in the world," she thought when she first saw them -- "they're like stick people almost with personality." But Perry loved their diversity.

"They're not just white," she says. "There are some Asians, blacks and women included in the line."

For more information:

Check out the Bendos Web site -- www.bendos.com -- or call 800-816-1135.

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