Every business has its ups and downs, but there have been a lot more ups than downs for an Edmonton company that produces, of all things, yo-yos.
We’re not talking about those cheap toys you learned how to walk-the-dog with as a kid. CLYW’s “return tops” (the yo-yo name is trademarked in Canada) are precision-machined, brilliantly coloured works of art, made from aircraft-grade aluminum, that have become must-haves for yo-yo collectors around the world.
Yo-yo enthusiast Chris Mikulin created CLYW (originally Caribou Lodge Yoyoworks) in 2006. Since then, he’s shipped thousands of return tops, first from his house and now from his office in the Ritchie Mill building. Some of them, like the company’s first model, Peak, sell for hundreds of dollars to collectors.
In 2011, Mikulin left his job as a mechanical engineer to fully devote himself to CLYW. The company now has a full-time employee – the 2010 world yo-yo champion, Edmontonian Jensen Kimmitt. Since yo-yo superstar Kimmitt joined the team, business has boomed.
CLYW has its “bread-and-butter lines that keep the lights on,” says Kimmitt. But it also has the collector’s items, like The Canvas, Kimmitt’s signature yo-yo. Models run from $60 to $160, and last year CLYW recorded sales of $325,000.
What makes a CLYW return top so special?
“For us, it’s combining engineering and art,” says Mikulin.
The return tops are precision-machined in Vancouver and Eugene, Ore. Once they arrive in Edmonton, Kimmitt puts them together with a silicon sticker, axel and bearing. But it’s a little more complicated than it sounds – there is a precise science to the modern yo-yo. “If you change the weight by half a gram, it’s more sluggish,” Kimmitt explains. The tops have to be precisely machined to ensure there is no vibration in the top when it spins at upwards of 9,000 RPM.
Where does this Canadian company stand in the international yo-yo community? Kimmitt says it’s at the top of the heap. “We are the innovator, the leader, in what the core of the community really wants. We set the bar.”