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The story behind the ~$75M new stuffed animal company

Welp, I’m back from my Christmas vacation, and Christmas has officially passed.


Now I can finally reveal what I bought Peanut for Christmas. Well, at least one of the things I bought for her:



6 months ago, I never heard of a Squishmallow. Today, my girlfriend has filled our entire bedroom with these cute and furry stuffed animals.


Which made me wonder…


How long has Squishmallow existed? How much money do they make per year? And, after realizing they’re on pace to surpass $75 million annual sales—only 5 short years after Squishmallows were born—this year, how did they become so successful?


Best part?


Well, according to my research (which admittedly was shallow), Squishmallow makes anywhere between $50 million and $75 million from online sales alone. But they also sell in brick-and-mortar juggernauts like Walmart, Target, Meijer, and the list goes on. More on that later. But I may be grossly underestimating their actual sales and revenue metrics.


Think of this email like a case study of an ecommerce company’s unfathomable success.


There will be many lessons you can apply to your ecom or service-based business. But each lesson will require you using your own brain and creativity to figure out how to apply them to your business. In fact, it’s the polar opposite of “swiping” from successful businesses.


Anywho, if I haven’t scared you enough to exit out of this email, let’s roll:


Before we begin, lemme first describe what a Squishmallow is:


Squishmallows are like stuffed animals with better branding, positioning, and marketing. They act more like Beanie Babies than your typical stuffed animal though. Both children and adults adore them. But unlike Beanie Babies, these thangs feel like a pillow. In fact, they’re fantastic as both a pillow enhancer and a pillow substitute. (And this is coming from mayhap the most skeptical Squishmallows customer who exists.)


We brought a few Squishmallows on our flight to Florida, and they’re more comfortable than airplane neck pillows—at a fraction of the price to boot.


Which brings me to my first, and perhaps most important, Squishmallows lesson:


1. Squishmallows are a great product.


If you want to succeed in ecommerce (or any business for that matter), you must have a good product.


This is why most trendy brands go kaput shortly after they explode in popularity:


They make shyt products. Fidget spinners, anyone?


Squishmallows aren’t. In fact, let’s compare them to Beanie Babies:


Beanie Babies had a cool marketing schtick:


They only created limited amounts of certain Beanie Babies, artificially creating scarcity, and in theory, driving up prices. Back in the 90s, Santa filled many Christmas gifts for children with Beanie Babies — with the hopes that their parents would get stinkin’ filthy rich as time pressed on.


As more time passed, more (foolish) adults invested more money into Beanie Babies. In fact, some Beanie Babies went for thousands of dollars.


But Beanie Babies kinda sucked. Sure, they were cute to a toddler. But you couldn’t use a Beanie Babie as a pillow. At some point, the biggest Beanie Babies spenders only bought them as an investment, and hid them in their closet for the eventual massive pay day. Well, then the Beanie Babies bubble burst, and Beanie Babies collectors and hoarders were out thousands of dollars. (And hundreds of thousands of dollars in their minds…)


Squishmallows don’t have this problem.


My 3-year-old niece and 28-year-old girlfriend love them alike. Not because one day they’ll be worth hundreds of thousands of dollars, but because they’re cute, comfortable, and useful. And they make Squishmallows of all shapes and sizes, adding to their usefulness as a product.


Moving on…


2. Like Beanie Babies, they have unique names.


Every Squishmallow has a unique name, adding a bit of world-building to an otherwise inhumane stuffed animal.


This is important for many reasons we’ll get into later. So just keep this in mind as we go through more lessons in this list.


3. Squishmallows have a unique backstory.


In addition to having a unique name, each variation also has a unique backstory.


This further adds “meat and potatoes” to the world-building effect that having a unique name offers. It also encourages one-time Squishmallow customers to become brand loyalists—something every single ecom business strives for—in record time.


This fact that buying one Squishmallow encourages customers to buy multiple Squishmallows is why they’re in shelves in the biggest brick-and-mortar juggernauts in the world—even though the brand is barely 5 years old:


The key to getting your products into Walmart, for example, is by how much you encourage other sales of products offered in Walmart. Most products in Walmart do this with complementary products. Think tire cleaners and car wax.


But Squishmallow figured out a way to do this with their own brand!


How?


By having a unique backstory for each Squishmallow variation.


Aahhh, see the power of storytelling applied to ecom?


Let’s keep going:


4. Like Beanie Babies, Squishmallows also have rarity.


When I was purchasing Squishmallows for Peanut for Christmas, I went to their site. (Fun fact: my girlfriend had already bought ~12 Squishmallows before either one of us went to their website.)


On their site, they have special classifications based on the rarity and exclusively of certain Squishmallows.


This, of course, gives you status when you have rare and exclusive ones that nobody else can get their hands on. (And status is often the psychological trigger that works best in the wild world of marketing.)


This is something high-end fashion brands do. And yet, here we see this same principle applied to something as silly as stuffed animals.


And as I mentioned before, unlike Beanie Babies (which did give their customers and collectors an illusion of status), Squishmallows are useful.


You can use them instead of an expensive (and uncomfortable) airplane neck pillow. You can use them in lieu of a pillow, or stack one on top of your pillow to watch TV or read a book in bed without putting your neck in awkward and painful positions. You can add them to your background on Zoom and impress other Squishmallow enthusiasts you work with. You can buy your niece, daughter, or son a Squishmallow and have confidence they’ll love your gift. You can bring your Squishmallows camping or to music shows and not have to worry about laying your head on the ground.


And there are an infinite amount of other use cases for Squishmallows.


5. Because of the reasons above, Squishmallows are actually fun to buy.


Again, this is coming from someone who couldn’t have been more skeptical about Squishmallows—especially as my girlfriend brought a new one home each time she went to the grocery store without me.


Not many products are as fun to buy as Squishmallows.


Why?


Because of the world-building, usability, positioning, and status they give you.


I’d be shocked to find out a big portion of their buyers are only one-time buyers. Any one-time buyer becomes a brand loyalist in record speed. This is anecdotal, of course, but I’ve seen this happen with everyone I know who bought a Squishmallow. Doesn’t matter how old they are.


It reminds me of tattoos:


You know how people become addicted to tattoos after getting their first one?


Well, Squishmallows cracked this code too.


They even offer mystery boxes—which I wanted to buy for Peanut but couldn't because they were sold out... in fact, most Squishmallows available on their site today are sold out (and I think they add new ones to their site each month.


(Bonus lesson in there)


Anywho, there are a ton of lessons from this email you can apply to your business. I suggest you reread this email a few times to let the lessons marinate in your brain.


In related news: If you need help implementing some of these lessons into your email marketing strategy, grab a time here, and let’s see if partnering together makes sense.


John


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