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How I Scored 2017’s Hottest Toy for Grandkids — And You Can, Too

Finding the elusive Fingerlings makes this grandmother a holiday hero


I didn’t even know what a Fingerling was until two weeks before Christmas, when news headlines and television networks proclaimed the colorful robotic animal that wraps around your finger as the hottest toy of 2017.

And when I heard how coveted Fingerlings were this holiday season, I had to have one. Not for myself — what would I do with a toy that makes more than 40 sounds, including fart noises? But I knew a five-year-old who would consider it his dream toy: my grandson.

Trouble was, Fingerlings were all sold out online. No surprise, since news accounts blamed the shortage on cyber bots buying them en masse — and akin to ticket scalpers, reselling them at hefty markups. The odds of finding one at a brick-and-mortar store were equally dim; they were reportedly snatched up immediately after arrival.

So I turned to one of last year’s hot gifts — Alexa — an electronic device that searches the Internet for information. “Alexa, where can I find a Fingerling?” I asked.

Alexa disappointed me by rambling on about stubby potatoes.

Now, the chase was on for me to become a holiday hero, through this four-stage hunt:

1. Research
When you’re competing, in this case against other buyers, it helps to have a plan. My research taught me to be wary of third-party online sellers because counterfeit Fingerlings were abundant and shoddy. So I abandoned my computer and hit the street. Walmart was the retailer credited with helping toy manufacturer Wow Wee launch Fingerlings to greatness by urging the company to price them at $14.99. I decided to concentrate my efforts there. Predictably, the Walmart shelves were empty.

2. Insider Information
To look like a loyal Walmart customer, I loaded my cart with produce, holiday snacks and Play Doh before approaching a store employee. “Hello, can you tell me where you keep the Fingerlings?” I asked. Explaining that they were likely sold out, she led me back to the empty toy shelf as sad proof.

Here’s where my Minnesota Nice demeanor came in handy. Instead of throwing a shopping tantrum, I remained pleasant. “Darn. I was really hoping to get one for my grandson. Do you think you’ll be getting any more before Christmas?”

She shook her head, but pulled a small computer from her belt and pressed some buttons. “Hey, it looks like we might be getting four of them in tonight,” she said, quietly.

“Really? That’s amazing!”

Here’s where details matter: “What time does the truck usually arrive?” I asked.

I soon learned that the overnight team would restock the Fingerlings sometime after the store closed.

“So if I was here when you opened tomorrow, I could get them?” I asked. She shrugged, making no guarantee. I thanked her and headed to the cash register, thinking to myself: In 14 hours, the Fingerlings will be mine.

3. Stake Out
It was 6:35 a.m. in the Walmart parking lot. The temperature was 26 degrees. A lot could go wrong with my plan. The truck could break down. The Fingerlings might still be in the back room with other merchandise. Employees might have purchased them for themselves (maybe even at a discount.) But my biggest fear was that other shoppers would get there first.

Several cars sat in the dark, engines running. Were the drivers waiting to race to the door when it opened at 7 a.m.? I couldn’t take the chance.

Walmart employees seemed to be going in and out of the main entrance. I’d brought my husband along to cover a second door, explaining to him the location of the toy section and the Fingerling aisle. We stood outside at our respective stations, first in line.

“Happy holidays,” I chatted up a departing employee. “Sure is cold.”  The store would be opening in four minutes. He told me to wait inside, then walked to a car with the engine running.

I paced in the area between the outside and inside doors. Suddenly, the only door that mattered opened before me at 6:57 a.m. I took it as a sign of Christmas magic and entered, heading to the Fingerlings aisle at the back of the store.

My first thought was that the mission had failed. There was so much empty space on the shelf! But as I looked closer, I noticed a small box on the far side, back from the edge.

Four Fingerlings (two for grandsons, one for a granddaughter and one for a great niece). I scooped them up in my arms. The store wouldn’t officially open for another two minutes. I worried about being accused of trespassing, booted out, my Fingerlings confiscated. It seemed like I held my breath for the next two minutes, until someone came from behind me.

It was my husband. “Oh, you got them. Good work.”

We did some soul searching in the toy section, debating whether it was right to buy all four. Had there been anyone else vying for the same Fingerlings, I would have shared. But we knew four people we could make happy, so we bought them — along with a cart of other items including broccoli and Jello, so we’d look like loyal shoppers and not opportunists.

4. Spread the Word
This plan worked! But, as I learned, sometimes it takes a village to land a hot toy. So tell your family and friends of your search. Several years ago, I was much more frantic to snare a Playstation 3 than Fingerlings. The stakes were higher; it was the only thing on my teenage sons’ gift list. But a Christmas miracle came on December 23 when my brother-in-law happened to be shopping in Best Buy as six Playstation 3s were placed on display.

He called me. “Are you still looking for a Playstation 3?”

“Put it in your cart,” I said. “Don’t let it out of sight. I’ll be there in 15 minutes.”

That was also a merry Christmas. Just like this one is going to be.

Am I worried about ruining the surprise by going public with this tale? Not really. Next Avenue’s demographic is readers age 50 and over. These Fingerlings are destined for much younger folk.

By Julie Kramer
Julie Kramer is the author of an award-winning thriller series, including Stalking Susan - winner of the Minnesota Book AwardShe spent a career as a news producer for WCCO-TV, NBC and CBS and researched a Travel Channel series, "The Zimmern List" which launches in March.

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