NEW YORK (AdAge.com) -- What started as a wish to bring some practicality to an otherwise frivolous pile of stuffed animals in a little boy's room has, in seven years, turned into a multimillion-dollar global business.
That, in short, is the My Pillow Pets story. The longer version is that in 2003, Jennifer Telfer, a California mom of a then-7-year-old, decided it would be great to make a stuffed animal for her son that did more than just sit there. What if it could double as a plaything and a pillow? One meeting with a plush manufacturer at a Las Vegas tradeshow later and she and her husband, Clint, were on their way to developing what Toys 'R' Us this year named one of its hot holiday toys.
The first My Pillow Pet was a dog, and six more animals followed from there. Today the company sells about 30 different animals and "they keep multiplying," Ms. Telfer, CEO at parent company CJ Products, said.
In 2003, the year the company started selling the pillows, it logged $300,000 in gross sales. By 2009, after starting advertising on kids' cable channels such as Nickelodeon, Cartoon Network and PBS Kids as well as family-oriented nets such as Travel Channel, the company recorded $7 million in gross sales.
This year CJ Products forecasts in-house gross sales to mom-and-pop and smaller chain stores such as Hallmark of $20 million. It expects to sell 15 million pillows by the end of 2010 via mass retail -- such as Bed Bath and Beyond, Target , Walmart, Walgreens and Rite Aid -- which, at a wholesale price of $10 per pillow (retailers sell it for $20), equates to $150 million gross. The company also sells the pillows for $24.95 directly from its website, mypillowpets.com.
And now the real fun begins. Earlier this year CJ Products signed with Fabrique Innovations, a collegiate licensing company, to create a line of collegiate Pillow Pets that will come out next year. It is also finalizing deals with Sesame Street and DreamWorks to license characters for new pillows.
The pillows are currently sold in six countries; next year they will be sold in nearly 20.
Still ahead on the My Pillow Pets agenda is a revamp of the top 12 animals as actual branded characters, with names, personalities and best friends -- which actually will be blogging to help kids further "connect with these animals," Ms. Telfer said. And the long-term goal is for the character development to give way to a cartoon series or movie. "Some sort of animation, for sure," she said.