Walmart scores lucrative win with 7-year-old millionaire YouTube star

The 7-year-old YouTube star named Ryan generated tons of buzz this week as the highest-paid YouTuber (GOOGL), raking in an estimated $22 million from June 2017 to June 2018, according to a new Forbes list.

Even more impressive, though, this young internet phenom is set to become a toy tycoon himself after catching the attention of the world’s largest retailer earlier this year.

Debuting first in Walmart (WMT) stores back in August, his namesake toy line “Ryan’s World” is one of the season’s biggest sellers, according to Brad Bedwell, a senior buyer in toys for Walmart.

“The hot item this fall has been the [Ryan’s World] Giant Mystery Egg,” Bedwell told Yahoo Finance, before adding, “That’s really been the big winner of the season.”

At $34.82, the Mystery Egg offers surprise elements like slime, putty, squishy, figures, and a lights-and-sounds vehicle. When Yahoo Finance visited a Walmart in the retailer’s hometown of Bentonville, Ark., the egg was sold out in that store.

“We’re getting more in as we speak. Every day, we have more hitting stores,” Bedwell said, adding, “It is going to go fast because they’re so many kids that want it.

Ryan handpicks the line. It features characters like Combo Panda and Gus the Gummy Gator from his YouTube channel, Ryan ToysReview.

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LONDON, ENGLAND - SEPTEMBER 25: Zoe Sugg aka Zoella attends the launch of her debut beauty collection at 41 Portland Place on September 25, 2014 in London, England. (Photo by David M. Benett/Getty Images for Zoella Beauty)
LONDON, ENGLAND - NOVEMBER 03: Zoella attends the BBC Radio 1 Teen Awards at Wembley Arena on November 3, 2013 in London, England. (Photo by Samir Hussein/Getty Images)
LONDON, ENGLAND - SEPTEMBER 25: Zoe Sugg aka Zoella attends the launch of her debut beauty collection at 41 Portland Place on September 25, 2014 in London, England. (Photo by David M. Benett/Getty Images for Zoella Beauty)
LONDON, ENGLAND - SEPTEMBER 25: Louise Pentland (L) and Zoe Sugg attends YouTube phenomenon Zoe Sugg's (Zoella) launch of her debut beauty collection at 41 Portland Place on September 25, 2014 in London, England. (Photo by David M. Benett/Getty Images for Zoella Beauty)
LONDON, ENGLAND - SEPTEMBER 25: Zoe Sugg aka Zoella attends the launch of her debut beauty collection at 41 Portland Place on September 25, 2014 in London, England. (Photo by David M. Benett/Getty Images for Zoella Beauty)
LONDON, ENGLAND - SEPTEMBER 25: Zoe Sugg aka Zoella attends the launch of her debut beauty collection at 41 Portland Place on September 25, 2014 in London, England. (Photo by David M. Benett/Getty Images for Zoella Beauty)
LONDON, ENGLAND - SEPTEMBER 25: (L to R) Tyler Oakley, Zoe Sugg and Alfie Deyes attend YouTube phenomenon Zoe Sugg's (Zoella) launch of her debut beauty collection at 41 Portland Place on September 25, 2014 in London, England. (Photo by David M. Benett/Getty Images for Zoella Beauty)
LONDON, ENGLAND - SEPTEMBER 25: Zoe Sugg (L) and Jamie Oliver attend YouTube phenomenon Zoe Sugg's (Zoella) launch of her debut beauty collection at 41 Portland Place on September 25, 2014 in London, England. (Photo by David M. Benett/Getty Images for Zoella Beauty)
LONDON, ENGLAND - NOVEMBER 03: Zoella attends the BBC Radio 1 Teen Awards at Wembley Arena on November 3, 2013 in London, England. (Photo by Samir Hussein/Getty Images)
LONDON, ENGLAND - SEPTEMBER 25: (L to R) Jim Chapman, Zoe Sugg and Tanya Burr attend YouTube phenomenon Zoe Sugg's (Zoella) launch of her debut beauty collection at 41 Portland Place on September 25, 2014 in London, England. (Photo by David M. Benett/Getty Images for Zoella Beauty)
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Bedwell gave a Ryan’s World Mystery Blind Bag to his nephew for his fourth birthday last weekend.

“[My nephew] exclaimed ‘Combo Panda!’ And I was like, I can’t believe he recognizes this character. This is a character that’s on Ryan’s channel and nowhere else. And he recognized it at the drop of a hat.”

That example speaks to the broader trend of how kids and where kids are consuming content.

“Years ago, kids would have been glued to the TV watching the traditional channels, and now they’re watching content everywhere. They’re still watching TV, but they’re also watching it on tablets and parents’ cellphones. Everywhere they are, they can look at and consume content. And YouTube is now up there with the major TV channels with how many kids watch it,” Bedwell said.

Moving at a record pace

Big-box retailers like Walmart typically plan their toy offerings anywhere from one year to 18 months out. They first learned about Ryan’s World after meeting with a kids entertainment company, Pocketwatch, at The American International Toy Fair in New York held in mid-February.

Bedwell knew he found something special and immediately texted Anne Marie Kehoe, the vice president of toys for Walmart, so that they could move fast.

“It just all made sense,” Bedwell said of his first impression.

Walmart partnered with Pocketwatch and Bonkers Toys to bring the line to the big box retailer exclusively beginning on August 1, a new record for the toy team at Walmart.

“That’s one of the things that’s changing and is a big change for in the industry is speed because the manufactures, the retailers, everybody has to rethink the paradigm of the timelines because kids are not on that timeline. And so, that’s a big shift for all of us to be able to be that nimble and fast,” Kehoe explained.

Christmas in July

Walmart was sure Ryan was going to be big back when they hosted a meet-and-greet event with the YouTube star at a Bentonville store in July. A massive crowd showed up at the store. As one Walmart employee put it, “It was like The Beatles at Shea Stadium.”

“The moment we arrived and saw how big it was, we knew,” Bedwell said. “This is bigger than we ever thought it was going to be. That day, the suppliers were there too, we started buying more. ‘Let’s buy more. This is going to be big.'”

One of the appeals of Ryan to his fans is that he’s a normal kid.

Related: The 11 richest YouTube stars in the U.S.

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11. Liza Koshy 

Subscribers: 13.5 million

Liza Koshy, formerly a prominent Vine comedian, started to gain a massive following on YouTube in 2016 with humorous videos that she produces weekly. Koshy has since gone on to star in the Hulu series "Freakish!" and Tyler Perry's horror-comedy "Boo! A Madea Halloween."

10. Jake Paul 

Subscribers: 13.5 million subscribers

2017 estimated salary: $11.5 million

Jake Paul started out as a personality on the now-defunct Vine, creating comedic shorts with his older brother, Logan Paul (the eighth most popular YouTuber in the US). Paul now posts comedic videos, original music, and other material on his personal YouTube account. He has also become something of a villain in pop culture, as has his brother (see No. 8).  

9. Roman Atwood 

Subscribers: 14.260 million 

Roman Atwood is an Ohio-based vlogger who posts prank videos and other humorous daily-life updates that often involve his girlfriend and three kids. In November, Atwood premiered his own YouTube Red series, "Roman Atwood's Day Dream," which focuses on "extreme stunts."

8. Epic Rap Battles of History 

Subscribers: 14.269 million

Epic Rap Battles of History started as a live improv skit by two friends, but quickly become an online sensation. Founders Peter Shukoff (NicePeter) and Lloyd Ahlquist (EpicLloyd) pick two figures from history or pop culture and imagine what it would be like if they faced off in a rap battle. The videos are entertaining, with characters as varied as Darth Vader, Adolf Hitler, Abraham Lincoln, and Chuck Norris verbally battling one another in full costume.

7. Logan Paul 

Subscribers: 16.6 million

2017 estimated salary: $12.5 million

The former Vine star and older brother of Jake Paul has over 16 million followers on his personal YouTube account, where he posts vlogs and reaction videos. Paul drew intense criticism in January for filming the body of a man hanging from a tree in Japan's Aokigahara forest. YouTube withdrew some of its backing of Paul in the wake of the controversy by removing him from Google Preferred and putting his YouTube original projects on hold. 

6. Fine Brothers Entertainment (FBE) 

Subscribers: 16.7 million

Brooklyn natives Benny and Rafi Fine are the two online producers/writers/directors who created the successful React video series. In React's various iterations — Kids React, Teens React, Elders React, and YouTubers React — the brothers show viral videos to people and film their reactions. In 2016, they were involved in a controversy over trying to copyright the React video form that drew widespread backlash and led to a campaign to unsubscribe from the duo's channel.

5. JennaMarbles 

Subscribers: 17.83 million

JennaMarbles (real name Jenna Mourey) has long been one of the most recognizable stars on YouTube. Though she started her career with BarStool Sports, Mourey soon moved into video after posting "How to Trick People into Thinking You're Good Looking," which quickly blew up. Her channel features comedic videos about being a young millennial woman.

4. Markiplier

Subscribers: 19.5 million

2017 estimated salary: $12.5 million

Mark Fischbach, known as Markiplier, is a YouTuber focused on gaming. He has an energetic style. Fischbach has ambitions beyond YouTube, as well. He once told Variety that he wanted to "push [himself] into music and acting." 

3. NigaHiga 

Subscribers: 20.4 million

Ryan Higa, who goes by the username NigaHiga, was one of the first major YouTube stars. Higa produces a variety of comedy videos, including sketches, music videos, and short commentaries on pop culture. His videos have high production value and a professional touch, with a quick, funny, and incisive sensibility.

2. Smosh 

Subscribers: 22.8 million

2017 estimated salary: $11 million

Smosh, started by comedy duo Ian Hecox and Anthony Padilla, was one of the first YouTube sensations, becoming well known for the duo's slapstick comedy videos that parodied video games and pop culture. Anthony Padilla left the Smosh channel in June 2017 to create his own solo YouTube account, which now has over 2 million followers.

1. Dude Perfect 

Subscribers: 26.8 million

2017 estimated salary: $14 million

Dude Perfect is a channel from twins Cory and Coby Cotton and three of their college friends from Texas A&M, all of whom are former high school basketball players. They do sports tricks and comedy, some of which makes fun of sports stereotypes.

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“What I love about YouTube as a platform… these are home movies for them. Ryan’s fame is not sold out crowds in a stadium or walking red carpets. It’s the numbers on a screen,” Pocketwatch CEO Chris Williams said.

The Ryan Toys Review YouTube channel averages a billion views each month and has over 17.3 million subscribers.

Like many kids these days, Ryan began watching YouTube videos as a toddler, starting with the nursery rhymes and eventually moving to videos of kids unboxing toys, his parents Shion and Loann told Yahoo Finance. Ryan’s family keeps their last name and home state confidential for privacy reasons.

Inspired by the other kids he saw on YouTube, Ryan asked his mom if he could make a video too.

“It was my spring break. I was a teacher,” Loann said. “So my husband was working. I thought, maybe, it would be fun if [Ryan and I] could make videos together.”

Loann took a then three-and-a-half-year-old Ryan to the store to select a toy, a Lego Duplo Number Train, for the inaugural video. 

“We made a video. We had so much fun. Money never crossed our mind. In fact, we just started then because it was something to do over spring break.”

The intention was to make videos for friends and family to enjoy. However, Ryan’s videos quickly began to attract a sizable viewership.

“At first, we thought somebody was hacking or pranking,” Shion said. “For months and months, we were trying to observe the information each month. There was a point where it was taking off each month it doubled, tripled. I couldn’t believe it.”

Ryan’s parents, who frequently appear in the videos, eventually left their prior jobs and now work full-time producing YouTube videos. They run a production company with 23 employees.

As Ryan’s Youtube channel grew in popularity, viewers began asking for merchandise. Some viewers were even making their own versions based on the characters featured on the channel.

At the end of last year, Ryan’s family partnered with Pocketwatch to launch Ryan’s World. It’s not just toys, but also things like clothing and bikes. Ryan’s content is available on Hulu and Amazon Prime. They also launched a book with Simon & Schuster.

Williams, a Disney (DIS) veteran, said Ryan’s massive scale and the adoration he attracts from fans is a “rare combination” that comes along “once in a decade.”

Ryan’s family owns a “substantial” equity stake in the company and participate “significantly” in all revenue streams from Ryan’s World, according to Williams.

While headlines have circulated that Ryan is a multi-millionaire, he doesn’t have access to that money, and he doesn’t live a celebrity life.

“We feel so fortunate that he stays the same after the Youtube phenomenon. He’s still the Ryan we remember,” Shion said. “That’s the part I love the most. He stays humble. He’s funny and positive throughout, not just in the videos, but outside the videos.”

They try to give him a normal life as possible.

“He goes to a regular school. He does extracurricular activities like swimming and music lessons,” Loann said.

Lately, the first grader has been focused on reading and expanding his vocabulary.

“The kids at school see him as their friend. They don’t put him on a pedestal. He’s not a celebrity. He’s just another kid in class.”

Ryan wants to be a game developer when he grows up. And for the holidays, he wants to travel with his family on a cruise.

Julia La Roche is a finance reporter at Yahoo Finance. Follow her on Twitter. Send tips to laroche@oath.com.

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