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Mass Appeal

Does your product have what it takes to attract an international audience?

One year ago, Provo, Utah-based toy company Zoobies launched with a dozen prototypes at Toy Fair 2007. Now Zoobie Pets (the company's line of toys) are sold in more than 1,000 stores in some 30 countries. Within its first year, the company exceeded $1 million in sales and, with a staff of 10, expects significant growth in its second year.

Brothers Reid, 29, and JC Smoot, 26, invented Zoobie Pets after seeing their younger siblings pack into a car with animals, pillows and blankets. Seeing an opportunity to combine the items, they launched the company with a third co-founder, Ryan Treft, 26.

Here's how Zoobies went global so quickly--and successfully.

  • Clever product: Zoobies are high-quality, plush three-in-one preschooler cuddle toys that become comfy pillows. They include large, washable fleece blankets zipped to the body and folded inside the zippered interior.
  • Trade shows: Toy Fair 2007 was instrumental in unlocking international markets and high-end retailers like FAO Schwartz for Zoobies. Attending that show resulted in orders from several international distributors, and sales reps signed up on the spot. Zoobies netted orders from about 100 stores then and there. The company or its distributors now attend about 10 shows each year.
  • Viral marketing: Targeting influential bloggers (found through a Google search), magazines and newspapers is resulting in rave reviews that have attracted international distributors as well as customers. "Demonstrating how they work and getting the product in the hands of influential people is much more effective than buying advertising," says Treft, the company's marketing manager. "Local press leads to international distribution."
  • High-end retailers: Zoobies appear in FAO Schwartz and Harrods, but never in box stores or discounters because that would dilute the quality, Treft explains. Reaching these stores was a function of their distributors' connections, a quality product and a savvy viral marketing campaign in which affluent moms requested Zoobies.
  • Supply chain: Distributors can only buy container loads of Zoobies, ensuring that orders are large, thus requiring well-connected distributors.
  • Stellar quality: Reid moved to Shanghai, China, before Zoobies was born to handle sourcing for other companies. He then stayed to get his own company off the ground. "I felt the need to personally oversee product development and quality control," says Reid, who's caught glitches before they made it into production, thus saving time and money. And, he continues, "it gives us an edge to have our own office at the manufacturing source" by eliminating middlemen from the sourcing process. Reid plans to stay in China as long as Zoobies' production is based there.
  • Safety focus: "We recognize that the burden is on us to make sure our products are safe and trustworthy," emphasizes Treft. Zoobies strictly adheres to all toy safety regulations everywhere its products are distributed, and also tests for metal and lead content using certified safety labs.

 

Gail Dutton is a freelance writer in Montesano, Washington, specializing in business and technology.

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This article was originally published in the November 2008 print edition of Entrepreneur with the headline: Mass Appeal.

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