Knockoffs of the Like-A-Bike are nothing new. Remember, Kokua, the German manufacturer who invented it, got the idea of a pedal-free cruiser from the Draisienne, a nearly-200-year-old ancestor of the modern bicycle. And at a made-in-Germany premium price of $279, there was a lot of room for Chinese undercutting once the concept had proved out.
But the Skuut takes the art of the knock-off to a whole new level. For one thing, it's probably the baldest copy of LikeABike out there, though it's only available in one size and color. The real balls, though, come from Skuut's promotion. Launched last year, they rather boldly hyped their product, not as a cheap (or even just a cheaper) alternative to a 4-year-old product, but as a brand new innovation. And the baby media appears to be going along.
Cookie Magazine, published a company who should know from knockoffs and edited by a bunch of NYC moms who should know better, featured the just-launched Skuut a "best gift idea for 3-4 year-olds" last December. [Granted, buying a $90 Skuut would leave more money for buying those Marc Jacobs slingbacks, but what kind of bizarro universe is it when a Conde Nast magazine trumpets a cheap knockoff over an original?]
Even more amazing, though, are Tom Vacar the KTVU [San Francisco] consumer reporter, who runs the annual "Great American Toy Test," which apparently didn't need to vet the Skuut for originality before awarding it the Top Ride-on Toy in 2006, and Stevanne Auerbach, PhD, aka Dr. Toy, "for many years one of the nation's and world’s leading experts on play, toys, and children's products," who did the same thing.
Though it IS television [Fox, even] and self-syled expert/talking heads, I'll go ahead and assume for a moment that no playola or consulting fees traded hands for these awards. But how can someone claim to be an industry expert on ride-on toys and honestly say they hadn't heard of or seen the LikeABike at all before Fall 2006?
It kills me because based on her resume, Dr. Toy should be the patron saint around Daddy Types. She developed the first education marketing program for Creative Playthings back in 1968, and as an education official, she says, "she approved the first grant for the Children's Television Workshop, 'Sesame Street'." But she also apparently picks her toy award winners by watching the local news, so go figure.
So what's the punchline here? Media and experts serve their own purpose, which may only occasionally overlap with your own? Parent-run start-ups should take care not to miss or price itself out of mass market, mass media publicity stunts? If you start with a 200-year-old design, you better not base your business model on intellectual property rights? Or the Chinese can make a wooden bike for a helluvalot less than the Bavarians?