The real story behind the Beanie Baby revolution and the burst

The Beanie Bubble," premiering July 28, 2023 on Apple TV+.
The Beanie Bubble," premiering July 28, 2023 on Apple TV+. /

Kristen Gore wrote and directed The Beanie Bubble alongside Damian Kulash. The film is based on Zac Bissonnette’s nonfiction book, The Great Beanie Baby Bubble: Mass Delusion and the Dark Side of Cute. The story revolves around Ty Warner, a peculiar and possibly magical, yet insecure, man who starts a toy company called Ty Inc. with his friend Robbie.

Ty funds their business venture by selling all of his late father’s antiques, creating a successful stuffed animal toy line, Beanie Babies. The company’s product line eventually became a worldwide sensation. The revolution made Warner over $700 million within the first two years.

That’s the film’s synopsis, but what’s the real story behind the Beanie Baby revolution and burst? We have the answers to all of your questions below!

The Beanie Baby revolution: Who is Ty Warner?

H. Ty. Warner is an American businessman, toy manufacturer, and convicted felon (more on that below). Warner is the CEO and sole owner/founder of Ty Inc., a company known for manufacturing and distributing their signature “understaffed” toys. Warner made his fortune by manufacturing and selling the popular Beanie Babies.

Warner took advantage of something called “the internet” in the 90s and utilized secondary markets, like eBay, to help keep track of sales and potential sales by running limited runs of individual characters of Beanie Babies. For instance, one called “Spooky” was the company’s best seller.

Ty Warner was convicted of tax evasion in 2014. According to reports, Warner avoided paying over $5.6 million in federal taxes. However, the sentence was reduced to two years of probation, community service, and a substantial $53 million fine. Notably, the case revealed intriguing details about Warner’s secret Switzerland bank account, where he concealed a staggering sum of over $24 million—the most ever found in an offshore account.

Despite The Beanie Bubble bursting and the felony conviction, as of 2020, Warner still ranked in the esteemed Forbes 400 list of the wealthiest individuals in America. His net worth is reportedly over $6 billion.

The Beanie Baby revolution: Who is Patricia Roche?

The character of Robbie (played by Elizabeth Banks) is based on Patricia Roche. According to the New York Post, Roche had a direct hand in the operations of Ty, Inc. and ran the United Kingdom’s division for years.

According to Banks, per an interview with Entertainment Weekly, the Robbie character is an “amalgamation” of Patricia Roche. “It’s almost like, in the writing of it at least, that Ty is somebody who actually doesn’t really want anyone to succeed or get credit unless it’s him, but in reality, so many people made money off Beanie Babies, and the toy business and Robbie recognizes she should be one of those people.”

The Beanie Baby revolution: Who is Faith McGowan?

The character of Sheila (played by Succession’s Sarah Snook) is based on Faith McGowan, a woman Warner dated while working for him. McGowan reportedly had a hand in operations.

In the film, Warner’s children played a role in developing various types of Beanie Babies. According to Zac Bissonnette’s nonfiction book, her two daughters played a vital role in developing some of the most popular brands, including a prototype of Legs the Frog. (Spooky was credited as Sheila’s daughter in the film.) Also, McGowan claimed the design of some of the Beanie Babies was a group effort and not Warner’s alone.

After being engaged, Sheila and her daughters moved into Warner’s home in 1993, but by 1999, Warner had begun to sour on the relationship. The speculation was due to his financial wealth increasing because of The Beanie Baby revolution, and he didn’t want to share the wealth. According to alleged reports, Sheila was never paid for her time at Warner’s company.

The Beanie Baby revolution: Who is Lina Trivedi?

The character of Maya (Geraldine Viswanathan) is based on a woman named Lina Trivedi, a college student planning on attending law school and earning around minimum wage at Ty Inc. According to Zac Bissonnette’s nonfiction book The Great Beanie Bubble, Triveti was chiefly responsible for running the company’s website when the internet was in its infancy.

Lina quit after requesting a raise to her worth, the low end of six figures, and Warner rejected the proposal. Trivedi created her own website business, Enai, Inc., and reportedly has a net worth over $5 million.

The Beanie Baby revolution: Why did The Beanie Bubble burst?

According to the Wall Street Journal, The Beanie Baby craze follows a pattern of business bubbles of fertile ground, getting onboard, ignoring warnings, greed taking over, and the after-party.

The collapse happened because Ty. Inc. overproduced the product lines to meet popular demand. When the secondary market crashed via eBay, the demand for Beanie Babies died. The crash also could be determined as internet related, as the dot-com bubble burst around the same time.

However, according to Zac Bissonnette via The Financial Times, Ty Warner was savvy enough to see the burst coming and strengthened his entire company because of this.

"“Ty’s sales reps started demanding orders for the company’s much less popular lines as a condition of receiving large shipments of Beanie Babies. Ty had seen a lot of companies become too dependent on one product — he was really well-versed in the rise and fall of Coleco, which went bankrupt after the end of the Cabbage Patch craze — and he was really trying to use the demand for Beanie Babies to transition himself into being the leader in traditional stuffed animals.”"

According to the same article, even though Ty Warner did manage to make money getting into the licensing craze with Garfield, Hello Kitty, and others, these sales still only represent 5% of Ty, Inc.’s total sales.

The real victims in The Beanie Bubble burst were the fans and consumers, who paid thousands of dollars for the toys only to have them devalued by over 95% overnight. For people who dismiss this as nothing, the highest-selling Beanie Baby sold on a secondary market was Princess Bear for $500,000.

The moral of the story? Try to sell before the investment reaches its peak because you’ve already fallen off before you realize it.

What did you think of The Beanie Bubble? Do you still own any Beanie Babies? Let us know in the comments below! 

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