Squishmallows, the ridiculously soft plush brand from LA-based Kellytoy Worldwide, was built for the brick-and- mortar retail experience. Seeing an entire wall of those squeezable characters has proven to be tantalizing to kids—and, let’s face it, to a lot of adults, too. But in a post-pandemic world—one where parents are hyper-aware of what their children are touching—Kellytoy knew it needed to adapt its retail strategy.
In the past, Squishmallows’ DTC platform served to feed the obsession of existing fans. Once kids were introduced to the brand through traditional retail channels, they would head online to fill any gaps in their collection, says CEO Jonathan Kelly.
“We carry the whole line on DTC, so if there are characters people are looking for or trying to collect, they can [find them] on the website,” he says. “But since COVID-19, we’ve seen our online business grow tremendously. More consumers are buying online, rather than going to stores.”
To take advantage of this uptick, the company is expanding its DTC focus and working to bring in new customers through the online program as well as using it as a vehicle to cater to existing fans.
At the end of September, Kellytoy launched a limited exclusive online promotion for the brand’s 500th design. Only 500 units—numbered for authenticity—were available for purchase through the website.
The company is also introducing new styles to the DTC platform each month, and launching special raffles, events and competitions through its website. These programs are all being supported by Squishmallows’ social media channels—another area Kelly says has become a significant priority for the company in recent months. The key, he says, is that any and all social media content needs to illustrate how soft the range is. This means much of the toymaker’s efforts focus on video to draw in kids who aren’t already fans.
The toyco is also working through social media to raise awareness about the fact that Squishmallows are machine-washable and dryer-safe, in order to make parents feel more comfortable about buying a high- touch item in stores.
Kellytoy is also working with retail partners to capitalize on their own online shopping platforms.
“They are also expanding their online efforts, and we’re working to make sure the products available online are often separate from what’s available in stores,” Kelly says. “That way, when retailers want to change what’s available on the floor [to make room for new units, for example], they can move those older items to the website.”
Kellytoy will continue to expand its DTC efforts, to both attract new consumers and ensure existing fans feel as connected to the brand online as they did in stores, he says.
“The average fan collects anywhere from 10 to 100 styles,” Kelly says. “We’re trying to maximize that lost traffic due to store closures.” Kellytoy is applying that same soft-touch strategy for its upcoming in-store marketing.
“We do a Black Friday promotion for Squishmallows with Target, and usually they display the items in a huge pallet,” says Kelly. “But this year, Target will break the products down into four smaller displays that can be housed in different parts of the store. There will be, say, 10 pieces on display instead of 60.”
While Kellytoy will ship the same number of units to various retail partners, fewer items will be on the floor and available to touch. These smaller, spaced-out displays also help stores enforce social distancing measures, and as a bonus for the toymaker, create multiple opportunities for a consumer to stumble across the brand while they browse.