BC/What’s Next

What’s Next mfg., Inc., is a four year old company whose yo-yo manufacturing expertise has been evolving for almost two decades. Located about forty miles south east of Buffalo, NY, the rapidly growing business turned out about 12,000 yo-yos per day in 1998, up from fewer than 5,000 per day in 1996.

What’s Next was founded in 1995 by current president Brad Countryman and now employs 75 people in the rural town of Arcade, NY. The company is the world’s number one producer of fixed-axle wooden yo-yos and aluminum ball bearing yo-yos, manufacturing them under the “BC” and “Tom Kuhn” labels.

The history of this four year old company really dates back to well before 1995. “What we are today,” Countryman recalls, “stems from a scrap wood problem.” As a manufacturer of custom furniture in the late ’70s and a true woodworking aficionado, Brad could not just dispose of his left over wood. So, in 1980, he made the decision to craft toys and yo-yos at his Country Wood Shop. “We started making little cars and trucks, and making the wheels for them was a natural transition into creating yo-yos,” stated Countryman. A 1981 trip to the New York Toy Fair, the toy industry’s main annual product showcase in Manhattan, got things rolling even faster. While the majority of his booth displayed high-end children’s furniture and hobby horses, it was the couple of yo-yos hung over the backdrop that attracted the most attention. “Out of all our products, the yo-yos got the most notice, so we went with it.”

In 1982, the small shop’s three workers turned out 10,000 yo-yos that caught the eye of companies such as L.L. Bean, Eddie Bauer, and Land’s End, which began to market custom made versions of Countryman’s yo-yos the following year. As the line evolved, and exotic woods were added, the toys found their way into museum shops and upscale catalogs as high-end novelty gifts.

By the late 1980’s, Countryman’s company now called Hummingbird Toy Co., LTD., was known worldwide for their ability to make all kinds of high quality wooden toys. Even to this day, Countryman has a reputation for his skills to make just about anything out of wood. Hummingbird produced the Yo-Yo Man/ Smother’s Brothers yo-yos which were quite popular for about four years during this time period.

In 1991, Brad Countryman sold 70% of his share in Hummingbird, and remained with the company only as the Creative and Marketing Director. In 1992, the company suffered a severe flood, and almost completely abandoned yo-yos to produce the Thomas the Tank Engine railroad sets for preschoolers. Production demands drove the business to China and into bankruptcy in the mid-1990s.

Due to popular demand, Brad decided pick up the pieces that Hummingbird left behind, to return to manufacturing yo-yos, and thus, What’s Next was born. In 1995, Countryman developed the complete line of BC yo-yos. Shortly thereafter, BC joined forces with Tom Kuhn, a world renowned inventor of the most modern and high-tech yo-yos. What’s Next is known across the globe for their wooden yo-yos, and has become incredibly famous for their production of the Tom Kuhn aluminum SB-1 and SB-2(a.k.a. Silver Bullet) models. These were the first yo-yos made from aluminum, and the first ever to include a ball bearing axle. The Silver Bullet is perhaps the best known yo-yo in the world for its performance, so amazing that it was studied by the crew of the space shuttle as part of the Toys in Space program.

In 1999, the company’s traditional yo-yos are selling like hotcakes at a time when the so called “easier- to-use” models are driving the toy’s resurgence. What’s Next is offering a challenge to all those kids playing with these cheater’s yo-yos to put down their training wheels and pick up the real thing. The company is raising the bar of yo-yo expertise by forming the What’s Next “Extreme Team” and by presenting yo-yo players of all ages and skill levels the “Fixed Axle Challenge.”

Also in 1999, Brad Countryman decided to expand his BC line to include other high quality skill toys. The Axis and Faces spin tops are reminiscent of the tops made over 50 years ago, but their precision machining makes them outstanding for performing hundreds of tricks. The Blaster and Paddle Head paddle balls are the only high quality paddle balls in current production that can actually be used to perform tricks. BC has also introduced a professional quality line of juggling balls, and the Kendama, a traditional Japanese skill toy.

Today, What’s Next mfg., Inc., is a leader in the manufacturing of professional quality skill toys. They remain committed to keeping traditions alive and to teaching the “video game generation” some real skill.