Who knew? Swimming with sharks a boon to educational stuffed toy business | Crain's Portland

Who knew? Swimming with sharks a boon to educational stuffed toy business

Last month, the two founders of Slumberkins, a Portland-based childhood educational brand, appeared on the national television show “Shark Tank” to advocate for their cuddly creatures that parents and teachers use as tools to promote positive life skills.

Callie Christensen and Kelly Oriard dreamed up Slumberkins two years ago, as a hybrid between a stuffed animal and a security blanket that would incorporate skill-building routines using therapeutic techniques designed to promote positive attachments during the bedtime routine.

As mothers and educators with years of experience in counseling, pre-K, elementary and special education, their vision is to become a household name of children's educational products that parents use as tools to guide their child's development. From foxes and yetis, to Bigfoot and sloths, each Slumberkin has an accompanying Sleepytime Rhyme board book and keepsake Affirmation Card based on real-life inspiration.

In their first year, aided by a large Instagram following, Slumberkins made about $200,000 in sales and they project they will make more than double that this year, at around $500,000. They appeared on “Shark Tank,” seeking $175,000 for a 5 percent equity stake in an effort to make their products more accessible.

The Sharks, however, didn’t bite. 

Daymond John, who described the plush industry as “brutal,” was the first to go out. He was followed by Kevin O’Leary, who encouraged the pair to continue expanding their story online. Mark Cuban said he believed there was just too much work involved for such a small equity stake. Lori Greiner praised their mission, but fretted about the competition. She was out, followed by Robert Herjavec.

“It was such a surreal and amazing experience to have the chance to pitch Slumberkins on Shark Tank,” Oriard said. “While filming, we held our ground and focused on the heart of our company – getting Slumberkins to as many children as families as we can.

"Slumberkins are totally unique creatures that are made with love and intention for all the children and families in our own lives, so I cannot even explain how it felt to be able to stand proud before our friends and family on national television.”  

But in the end, Oriard and Christensen said that despite this episode focusing on public servants and those who give back, they failed to acknowledge that aspect of their business.

“While on the show, we found that some of the sharks were so focused on the plush toy aspect of our brand that they skipped over something very important: Slumberkins and the accompanying Sleepytime Rhymes are a contemporary interactive tool for parents, caregivers and teachers,” Christensen said. “A few of the Sharks were focused more on the profitability of the company rather than our goal to expand our brand to be more accessible to a wider range of customers.”

The Slumberkins duo said they were definitely disappointed they didn’t get a deal, but they acknowledged that the feedback from the Sharks was very valuable and they were very appreciative of their business expertise.

And as it turns out, getting a deal is not the only benefit to be had from national television exposure. Since that episode aired last month, Oriard and Christensen report that:

  • Traffic to the Slumberkins' website increased over 900% from the week prior to airing on Shark Tank
  • They've seen almost an 8x increase in sales over a typical month
  • In 2018, Slumberkins plans to release a new line of products intended for an older child.

Also, they said that because of the tremendous response from show, the company was able to give back to the local community through a donation to Oregon Health and Science University Doernbecher, providing 100 Fox board books and Slumberkins to children who may not be home for the holidays.

December 18, 2017 - 1:01pm