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September 2008 | Vol. VII - No. 9
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Zoobie Pets Invade 1,100 Stores in Under 2 Years

Brothers’ Vision Becomes Hit 3-in-1 Plush Toy


“We’re trying to establish ourselves as a brand name and be a long-term company — not just a trend.” JC Smoot
Two years ago, at the age of 23, JC Smoot developed a stuffed animal that could serve as a pillow and blanket when the occasion called for it. He teamed up with his older brother Reid, developed a line of zoo and safari plush animals, and started a company. Zoobie Pets have stampeded the market. JC, CEO, recently spoke to TDmonthly Magazine about what he and Reid, President, did to make Zoobie Pets a success.

ROADTRIPS SPARK IDEA

We come from a big family of eight brothers and sisters, and I have three younger sisters. I got the idea for Zoobies because whenever we went on car trips, my sisters would grab a pillow, a blanket and a stuffed animal, and they would always pick up a stuffed animal on the vacation.

The normal stuffed animal is bought and the kid gets attached to it, and then it goes on the bed or dresser and never gets played with again. Zoobies are the first plush animal kids can use. A Zoobie Pet has a purpose — it becomes a favorite blankie, a character.

SETTING UP SHOP ABROAD

My brother Reid has a degree in international business and taught at a Chinese university. It was his familiarity with the country and his contacts that enabled us to find manufacturers. We found a really good factory and sent samples back and forth.

We self-funded the company, and once we had traction from the first two trade shows, were able to get a loan. Even now, the money we generate we put back into the company.

The difference between our original idea for the Zoobie and how far they’ve come is pretty shocking. My brother is detail oriented, and having him living in Shanghai and doing quality control for Zoobies is a big strength of our company.

FIGHTS SIGNAL GOOD PRODUCT

I left the initial prototypes at a day care owned by my uncle and went back a couple of days later to find that the kids had been fighting over the few I had left.

We didn’t know a whole lot about marketing, so I approached someone we knew with experience. He had his kids playing with the Zoobies and eventually came on as VP of sales.

Now, parents write in on our website to thank us, saying, “We bought this and this and this, but all the kid cares about is the Zoobie Pet, because we can put it in the car and the kid plays with it.”

NO ADVERTISING NEEDED

We attend Toy Fair, ABC, ASTRA, JPMA and smaller fairs, and have sales reps throughout the country. Marketing is primarily word of mouth because every show we go to produces an “Ah” factor.

We were on “The Today Show” recently. Natalie Morales has a Zoobie pet. So does Meredith Viera, and she wrote in her blog about how she takes Mashaka, the monkey, in her car going to work and back home every day. These kinds of things have helped Zoobie pets take off.

We’ve been mentioned in “Parenting” and “Parents” magazines, so we haven’t paid for any [traditional] advertising, and we’ve won more than eight awards.

GENERATING GROWTH AND NEW IDEAS

Zoobies are now distributed in 30 countries. We started out at Toy Fair 2007 with zero stores, and at last count it was 1,100 to 1,200 stores — boutique and mid-size chains like Learning Express, not big-box stores. We’re trying to establish ourselves as a brand name and be a long-term company — not just a trend.

Reid and two part-time employees work in Shanghai, and eight people work in the U.S. office with me. Without Reid living in China, I don’t think we could have established ourselves as a company as quickly as we did. With everything there’s a learning curve, and we had to learn a whole industry, but I don’t think we had it too bad.

We have funky and cool ideas for the future, and soon, we’re coming out with an environmentally friendly line. You sell toys to people, and you make toys for kids. We wanted to have fun doing it.

See Zoobie Pets below, and read their TDmonthly review.




MSRP: $25.00
Age Range: 0 to 2
Launch Date: September 2008
Gender: Boys And Girls
Category: Infant & Toddler
Plush



Zoobies are three-in-one plush/pillow/blankets that come in a variety of animals. Now Baby can have her own Zoobie sized just for her with Baby Zoobies. Baby Zoobies have a detachable blanket that measures just 23" x 29.5". They fit nicely in diaper bags. They also feature a furry "comfort corner" to please Baby's love of textures. Diaper bag not included. Launch date: September 1, 2008.
ToyDirectory Product ID#: 20385      (added 8/29/2008)
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AD


Age Range: 3 and up
Gender: Boys And Girls
Category: Plush



A member of the multi-functional Zoobies family, limited-edition Rhaxma transforms from plush animal to pillow, to blanket. Undo the Velcro strap under his tummy to make him into a pillow, and a zipper tucked underneath reveals the ultra-soft blanket. Rhaxma’s 33” x 55” fleece blanket is machine-washable and his head is filled with squishy microbeads.
— “Zoobies are the biggest seller,” Kathy Jenkins, owner of Toys in the Attic in Dalton, Ga., told TDmonthly when asked about her best-selling plush item in June 2008.
— “Zoobies seem to be hot,” echoed James Burdette, owner of LB Toys in Media, Pa.
— "They're the best travel pet," said Janet Gregory, owner of Over the Rainbow Toys in Anchorage, Alaska, in summer 2008. "We couldn't keep them in stock over the holidays, and my rack is looking really thin right now as I wait for my latest order to come in."
ToyDirectory Product ID#: 19766      (added 7/10/2008)
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AD


Wholesale Price: (Log in to view)
MSRP: $30.00
Age Range: 3 and up
SKU or Item #: 689076930659
Launch Date: February 2007
Gender: Boys And Girls
Category: Plush
Gifts
Preschool



Part of the Safari Collection of Zoobie™ Pets, Mashaka the Monkey is a plush animal, pillow and blanket all in one. It wears a light-blue collar, and the blanket is detachable for washing convenience. The Zoobie Pets Safari Line was included on the ASTRA "Best-for-Kids" toy list for Holiday 2007 and received a Best Bet 2007 Award from the Canadian Toy Testing Council. Launch date: February 2007.
— Zoobie Pets' innovative three-in-one design has captured the attention of numerous retailers at trade shows this year, also garnering a TDmonthly Top Toy 2007 award. In addition to featuring soft, quality materials, the Zoobie Pet’s identity as a stuffed animal, pillow and blanket is executed extremely well, leaving great possibilities for travel and growth with any child.
— The new Zoobies were doing well for Brandy Lindstrom, manager of Little Blue Choo Choo in Scottsdale Ariz. in fall 2007.
—  As of 05/13/2011 this product had 4 out of 5 stars from 3 reviews on Amazon.com. Cons: Two customers said they wished they had bought the larger size, because the "baby" size was smaller than they had expected.

Where to Buy: Kazoo Toys; Poopsie's
ToyDirectory Product ID#: 15385      (added 9/25/2007)
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AD


Age Range: 3 and up
Gender: Boys And Girls
Category: Plush
Infant & Toddler



This crocodile is a plush animal, a soft pillow, and a warm blanket all in one! In an exciting new, patented three-in-one concept, Zoobie™ Pets embody creativity and innovation. A Zoobie is the ideal travel companion — whether on the road, on a couch or in front of the television, Zoobie Pets make a perfect friend for any kid. They are machine-washable and child-safe. Read Review
ToyDirectory Product ID#: 15154      (added 9/13/2007)
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AD


Gender: Boys And Girls
Category: Plush



Part of the Safari Pack, this super-soft plush is also a pillow and a blanket. It is three products in one. Zoobie Pets received a 2007 Oppenheim Toy Portfolio Gold Award and a 2007 Top Toy of the Year Award from Creative Child Magazine.
― Debbie Scholl, owner of Fundamentally Toys in Houston, favored these transformable pets/pillows/blankies at Toy Fair 2007.
ToyDirectory Product ID#: 11424      (added 2/9/2007)
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AD


Age Range: 3 and up
Launch Date: March 2007
Gender: Boys And Girls
Category: Plush
Gifts
Infant & Toddler



At first glance, this spotted creature looks like a typical plush animal. But with a simple un-doing of the straps underneath its body, the giraffe becomes a soft pillow and, furthermore, zips open to reveal a warm blanket. From an elephant to a lion, this 12-character range features soft fabrics and friendly faces. “These new Zoobie Pets are one of a kind. There is nothing like them out there,” J.C. Smoot of Zoobies told TDmonthly. Launch date: March 12, 2007.
ToyDirectory Product ID#: 11629      (added 2/23/2007)
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AD


Age Range: All Ages
Gender: Boys And Girls
Category: Plush
General Toys
Gifts



The plush panda transforms into a pillow when the Velcro enclosure is pulled apart. The pillow then transforms into a blanket when unzipped. The plush is a toy, blanket and pillow in one. The Zoobies Zoo Collection is a 2008 Babies and Mom's Radio "Squeel of Approval" Award winner.
ToyDirectory Product ID#: 18009      (added 3/17/2008)
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AD


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Elizabeth GreenspanWriter's Bio: Elizabeth Greenspan edits and writes for trade and technical publications. She has interviewed and collaborated with some of the top practitioners in their fields. She lives in Philadelphia and travels extensively for her work. Read more articles by this author

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