Toys from the Disney movie "Toy Story" are such a big hit at Burger Kings across the country that they are selling out at some stores.
The Burger King in Reisterstown was out of the toys for most of the week to the consternation of many of its customers.
"What do you mean, no toys!" demanded Donna Levey, who came to get a toy -- and a meal -- for her 10-year-old son, Zach, on Wednesday. It was the second time they'd found the store out of the "Toy Story" toys.
"No, Zach, we're eating here, we don't have time to run around to a million different places," Bill Levey told his disappointed son.
At least four other Burger Kings in Baltimore, Bel Air, Edgewood and on Pulaski Highway in White Marsh -- all stores owned by Bill Harloe -- also ran out of the toys, which are being packaged free with kids meals.
Most other area Burger Kings reported huge demand for the toys, but said they wouldn't run out.
"A lot of stores are out, but we are holding here," said Bob Hogan, who works at another Burger King in the White Marsh Mall.
Tiffany Hoag, marketing director for 11 Maryland Burger Kings, said she ordered $150,000 worth of "Toy Story" toys. Her stores are going through about 15,000 toys a week, she said. "Toy Story" puppets, which are being sold for $1.99, aren't moving as well as the free toys.
Each week Burger King is offering a different toy and puppet featured in the movie, which took in $39 million over Thanksgiving weekend. Already, the Buzz Lightyear space ranger is getting hard to find. The promotion is due to last through Christmas.
Burger King negotiated rights to sell "Toy Story" toys in its restaurants almost a year ago. Franchises around the country were asked to order the number of toys they thought they would need. Burger King corporation then ordered 35 million of the toys and an additional 15 million hand puppets.
When the company runs promotions like these, franchise owners only get one chance to order the toys, and they must make a decision, sight unseen, about which movie will be a blockbuster. The franchise owners, in effect, are guessing -- and with their own money.
If they guess low and demand for the toys is high, they anger their customers. If they guess high and the demand is low, they lose money.
"Basically, we underestimated the demand for 'Toy Story' toys," said Mr. Harloe, who owns five Burger Kings in Maryland that ran out of the toys. "They've taken off as the largest premium we've ever seen."
Yesterday, the Reisterstown Burger King got another 600 toys, said assistant manager Jay Wlolery. But he doesn't know how long they'll last or how many more toys he will get after that.
Most of the week, the restaurant had to post signs on the doors, the cash register and the drive-through window that read: "Toy Story Kid's Toys: Due to the Overwhelming demand . . . We are Temporarily out of stock."
This was not good news for Mark Gordon, the harried father of 7-year-old Peter Gordon.
"Are you kidding? Yeah, we came here for the toys," Mr. Gordon said. "Actually we went to Roy Rogers first. I thought they were there. A guy there told us the promotion was at Burger King, so here we are."
These kinds of promotions are a staple of the fast-food industry. Burger King and McDonalds have been packaging toys with their kids meals for years. These promotions are designed to bring people in and sell meals. And they do.
The run on the "Toy Story" toys is going on across the country. Burger King is distributing about 8 million toys a week -- a faster pace than they had anticipated.
"There are spot outages," said the company spokesperson Kim Miller.
Tom Herman, who owns eight Burger King restaurants in the Baltimore area, said the demand for "Toy Story" toys is even bigger than it was for "Lion King" merchandise in 1994.
This time Mr. Herman said he ordered 60,000 of the "Toy Story" toys and 20,000 hand puppets.
"I guessed it would be big and guessed right," he said. "I am very pleased."