Ask the owner of the nation’s largest yo-yo factory how’s business and he’ll likely give you a pun.
“You know, it’s a business that has its ups and downs,” Hans Van Dan Elzen said. He owns the Chandler-based YoYo Factory, at 155 E. Chilton Drive, Suite 101 in Chandler, which sells the most yo-yos in the U.S.
While the pun may induce groans, it’s accurate. Van Dan Elzen said his business tends to go in cycles where it becomes really popular, but then people set them aside for something else for a few years.
Right now, yo-yos are thriving.
The National Yo-Yo Championships are returning for the first time since 2019 and are winding up today, June 26, in Mesa. There was no championship event in 2020 or 2021 because of the pandemic.
Arizona was the scheduled stop in 2020 before the event was canceled. One of the reasons this area was chosen is because of the YoYo Factory and its success.
Van Dan Elzen says he has visitors stop by his factory all the time, and in fact had to add a little retail area so they could buy some products. He welcomes the visitors, and he or one of his demonstrators will happily teach anyone some tricks if they have a little time.
“If you do come for a visit plan to spend like a half hour and learn some tricks,” he said. “If you bring 30 people, we can’t handle it, but if you bring five, yeah, definitely.”
Van Dan Elzen says his yo-yos cost between $5 and $450. He said he refused to sell any for less than $5 because the quality would be so poor it would be unlikely that a person would enjoy using it.
The $450 yo-yo is made of titanium and will spark when you do the “walk the dog” trip.
Visitors in May, if they come at the right time, might even get to see a demonstration from the current world champion, Gentry Stein of Germany. He’s been hanging out at the YoYo Factory.
Van Dan Elzen said he got into yo-yos when he was 15 when he was living in Detroit. He liked the toy, but it fell apart pretty quickly. That led him to pursue better made yo-yos. He found a company in Tucson that made high-quality yo-yos. He kept buying them, and then reselling them to his friends.
Soon, he was being called into the office at his school.
“I created a craze,” Van Dan Elzen said. “My vice principal said he wasn’t upset with me, but he said Hans, look, you got to stop what you’re doing because this is causing a major disruption. The janitor is not sweeping the floors. The gym teacher is not teaching gym. He’s just playing with yo-yos. It’s got to stop.”
The vice-principal did arrange for a demonstrator to help Hans learn how to teach others, something he’s been doing ever since. He moved to Arizona and attended Arizona State University, and would teach others how to yo-yo on the weekends.
“They paid me in string,” he said. “That didn’t put gas in the car, but, you know.”
He was working with the Tucson company and it sold 18 million yo-yos from 1996 through 2001. That had the company second in the U.S.
But, the ups and downs of the yo-yo business hit after 2001 with a severe downturn. The Tucson business closed.
Van Dan Elzen invented a new yo-yo in 2003, the Fast 201. He teamed up with Hasbro and sold millions. That’s when he started his own business. His company ahs been at its current location since 2012.
Van Dan Elzen said the precision required for modern yo-yos is extreme.
“Twelve-year-olds are very demanding in the precision when they spent $100,” Van Dan Elzen said.
He sought out engineers in top tech companies trying to solve the problem, which would allow someone to spin a yo-yo on their skin without vibrating.
“I had to interact with the aerospace industry. Finally, one shop in Tucson, they took on the challenge. At first, they said it can’t be done. I said, ‘What do you mean, it can’t be done?’ They said it’s too expensive. And I said, what’s expensive? What if I just said I’ll pay it, you know. And so we had a big breakthrough, just by demanding precision. And now we set the standard. Yo-yos are precise now.”
The National Yo-Yo Championships was expected to draw between 100 and 200 competitors. They are all top-level players and will compete in five categories.
155 E. Chilton Drive, Suite 101