Happy Dog Toys’ route to becoming a SpongeBob SquarePants licensee is a little more circuitous than most, and the end product is just that little bit more interesting as a result.
Back in 2001, Voorhees, New Jersey-based consultant Building Q was approached by an inventor with an aquarium concept. Building Q went to Nickelodeon with the idea, was sent out to fish for possible licensees and stopped at Happy Dog, which eagerly took the bait.
Partnering with Nick marked the company’s first foray into character licensing and its first aquarium venture. The company’s strength lies predominantly in dog and cat toys, ‘but this was such a natural fit with the property that we couldn’t say no,’ says Happy Dog VP of marketing and sales Neil Werde, whose licensing career includes a stint at Mattel (where he worked on a Nick activity toys line). A contract with Nick was signed two weeks before Toy Fair in 2002.
In fact, all associated partners in this underwater enterprise bought into the idea so quickly that the SpongeBob desktop aquarium was designed, developed, manufactured, shipped and on shelves by June 2002 (and we all know how rare a four-month turnaround on licensed product is). Sold for an SRP of US$29.99, the 1.8-gallon desktop aquarium is molded in Nickelodeon orange with a Bikini Bottom backdrop, and it comes with stickers for customization and a sculpted SpongeBob figurine.
Both parties claim that the deal opened up new channels of distribution for them. It brought Happy Dog into coveted mass outlets like Wal-Mart, Target and Toys ‘R’ Us, as well as nick.com and small mom-and-pop aquarium stores. And Nick found itself in uncharted retail waters with distribution at PETsMART and Petco.
Further waves of success: The aquarium sold more than 100,000 units in 2002, and Happy Dog has extended the line for 2003 to include a tank modeled after SpongeBob’s pineapple house for Siamese fighting fish (whose scrappy nature necessitates solitary digs), as well as character accessories (which can be used with other tanks). And due out at Petco and PETsMART this month is Krusty Krab’s Original Recipe Fish Food, complete with a topper sculpted in the shape of a Krusty Krab burger.
Werde says his company has signed a deal with a corporate identity that should be announced just ahead of the planned product launch this August. And while he is open to further character licenses and is pursuing several, Werde says he’s not about to dive in as quickly as he did with Nickelodeon.