An Interview with Beverly Hills Teddy Bear Company CEO, David Socha

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You can't love a computer or a screen. You can love a plush.

David Socha, CEO Beverly Hills Teddy Bear Company

David Socha founded Beverly Hills Teddy Bear Co. in 1994 and also serves as its Chief Executive Officer. Since inception, he has led BHTB to be a leading Custom Plush Manufacturer and a worldwide toy company that specializes in plush and figurines. 

Passionate about helping children, David has been involved with organizations including Samaritan's Purse, MCF (Mully Africa), and Holy Cross Family Ministries where he currently sits on the board. He has been honored in Entreprenuer magazine, and enjoys speaking to young adults about their passions and dreams. A certified youth hockey coach in Southern California. David is the father of 5, and his kids are actively involved in product development and research of BHTB. 

Richard:

As the name of your company strongly implies, you are in the plush toy business. How has the business changed since you first entered the industry?

David:

Most of the companies that dominated the plush industry twenty five years ago are no longer in business (Applause, Dakin, Russ, etc.). Our company has evolved into a full spectrum toy company with a focus on plush. Our biggest non-plush success has been Glow Crazy (a patented laser technology toy).

I think, because I worked for or ran two of the original big name plush companies, it has definitely given us an advantage in designing and making plush. It is no secret that anyone can make plush. However, there is an art to designing, manufacturing and marketing plush.

The manufacturing process is a huge component because not all factories are create equal. Some factories specialize in small plush and some in big; some high quality / high detail and some simple. The secret sauce is knowing who is strong at which and picking your partner wisely.

The design is also very important. It is important to be on trend, yet traditional. Our design staff and freelancers are extremely talented. Over the last 25 years we have worked on over 10,000 different plush projects from DTR's to making product for other toy companies.

Richard:

The industry from time to time sees a higher demand for plush toys than at other times. What is the situation at this time and what kinds of plush toys are popular? 

David:

There is a constant base level demand for plush. Traditional, licensed, generic, etc. The other side are the peaks — Beanie Baby, Pillow Pets, etc.

There is usually a cycle for ups and downs between the hits. We see the ups and downs from our own retail website called http://www.stuffedanimals.com. These cycles usually have a few years in between and don't typically run into each other. 

Richard:

With social networks, youtube and other platforms for end users to express themselves, it has become in some ways more challenging to market toys. How are you now handling your marketing and how has it changed since you first got started? 

David:

Being in the plush business is different. When I started, plush was only an impulse purchase (over 90% was not planned). Meaning you had the 2 seconds of consumer eye contact to see an adorable "teddy bear" and for them to pick it up and buy it for themselves or a loved one. Now, with the power of media, we are seeing that plush can be advertised and successful in a big way. We can see it pulling consumers young and old to buy your plush product. Whether it be a gift or for themselves. 

Richard:

What has been the impact of B to C (business to consumer) and B to B (businss to business) digital commerce been on your business?

David:

I believe there are 2 elements here. On the corporate side we have made a strategic play to own some of the best domain names in our business. Including stuffedanimals.com, plush.com and customplush.com. This has helped us cast a wide net on the internet for both B's and C's.  

In terms of working through the challenges of digital commerce, it has been tricky. The initial commitments on a buy by most retailers have plummeted, especially if you tell them you are selling to Amazon.

It is a different strategy for each product. Meaning some you sell Amazon and some you don't. The digital world will continue to swallow up retailers of all sizes until they make an identity for themselves and an experience for the consumer. Customer service is key with them to continue to be relevant in the space.

Richard:

You have come out with a new product called Surprizamals  Can you tell us a bit about its genesis and why it appeals to digital kids?

David:

This line has evolved over the last 7 years. We are the original blind pack plush. Obviously, blind packs are a huge trend in the collectible category. The bottom line is that "right place, right time". 

This line has been incubating in the company for many years and we hit the market at the right time with plush that is on trend. Kids love the "baseball card" effect. You never know what you are going to get—and the possibilities are endless. You might get the "ultra rare"! Anyone around the world has the same chance of getting the golden ticket of plush.

I also think the variety of plush and breadth of characters are very appealing. We are making anything from Narwols to bears, and everything in between. Some of our most popular are a Yeti and a hedgehog. 

I believe the appeal to our digital kids are that you can't love a computer or a screen. You can love a plush. One of the companies I worked for had a slogan: "We are in the love business". I think that more than ever kids want love and a way to express it. Plush toys give them that opportunity. It is a pretend pet that gives them a sense of friendship.

This product line started out as a small idea that began in 2 retailers about 10 months ago. Since then it has gone from 2 retailers to 50+ countries worldwide.

Richard:

How do you see its future of "high touch" toys like plush in a "high tech" world?

David:

This is an interesting question. I think the most successful toys today are still "touchy" toys. Lego stuffed animals, dolls, etc. 

The high tech world will continue to pick off the younger kids for the digital appeal but I believe that traditional toys have a place that isn't going anywhere soon.

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