Not even Toys "R" Us recently moving to close all of its U.S. stores could dampen the mood at this year's New York Toy Fair, a massive trade show that's held annually at the end of February. Amid larger-than-life Lego characters and a T-Rex whose thunderous roar periodically filled the Jacob K. Javits Convention Center, hundreds of toy innovators were out peddling their products, hoping to get noticed and land atop the purchase orders for toy retailers nationwide.
From shark pillows to squishable tacos, here are just five of the hottest--and most imaginative--offerings created by entrepreneurs.
The Dream Pillow
Seven-year-old Harper Miller may have been one of the youngest inventors at this year's Toy Fair, but she has big dreams.
Since last March, she has sold 5,000 Dream Pillows: plush, pillow-shaped stuffed toys that work to keep nightmares at bay. Inspired by her brother, who has struggled with nightmares, Harper came up with the idea of writing down your preferred dreams and stuffing them inside the Dream Pillow. "By the time they tuck it under their pillow and drift off to sleep, they've thought all these wonderful thoughts," says Harper's mother, Jenna Sellers Miller. She is the founder of The Intention Project, the Delray Beach, Florida-based maker of The Dream Pillow, which has notched $120,000 in revenue so far.
At this year's Toy Fair, the Millers exhibited the new line of dream pillows, dubbed Dreamimals, which are three pillows shaped like cute critters that retail for $29.99 each. Lamby helps calm children's fears. Sharky helps them be more adventurous. And Pinkie, a koala, encourages silly dreams.
Pop It Pal
For the gross-out toy of the moment, there's Pop It Pal. This silicone toy--the size and shape of a kitchen sponge--emits a gel made from canola oil and beeswax, or "pus," when you squeeze it. (There's also a glittery pus alternative.) Founders Bill and Summer Pierce launched the toy last January with just $35 worth of Facebook ads. Now, the pre-filled toy and one pus refill retails for $19.99 on Amazon, eBay, and Etsy, which helped the toy maker generate $683,000 in 2018 sales.
Like many inventors, Tripp Phillips turned to entrepreneurship to help to resolve a personal problem three years ago: His Lego creations kept breaking apart when the then 10-year-old tried to play with them. So when a school assignment tasked him with inventing a product, Tripp (and his father Lee Phillips, a lab scientist by trade) came up with an adhesive that holds Lego structures together with just enough strength to not stick permanently.
The family started out making the weak adhesive in their Dalton, Georgia, home and selling single two-ounce containers on Amazon for $8.99. The endeavor generated a profit by its fourth week of production. And soon, the family was pitching the sharks. In June, the Phillips family landed an $80,000 investment from Shark Tank's Kevin O'Leary in exchange for 20 percent equity.
Today, Le-Glue--still just $8.99--is available online and in about 50 mom-and-pop shops, museums, and learning centers across the U.S. In just over three years, the family has made about $250,000 in total sales, says Lee, adding that they're on track to double that figure this year.
While volunteering in Thailand in 2005, Zoe Fraade-Blanar and her soon-to-be business partner, Aaron Glazer, came across a factory that made "super-soft fur." Bored in their tech jobs, they decided to start a plush toy company when they returned home to Bethesda, Maryland. "We had Squishables in our bathtub and on the stove," Fraade-Blanar says. "We looked at each other and said, 'Well, I guess this is what we're doing for the rest of our lives.'"
Now based in New York City, the 15-person company has racked up approximately one million followers across its social media channels--and says these fans are the key to its success. They once suggested the company make a "kitsune," which the founders had to Google. "It's a three-tailed fox," Fraade-Blanar says. "We made it, and we sold out in one week."
The toys range in price from $19.99 to $50, and the animal and food lines are the most popular. You can get a Corgi Holding a Donut for $19.99, a Comfort Food Taco for $38, or a Cerberus--a three-headed dog--for $48.
The business has been entirely bootstrapped, with each founder putting in $2,000 in startup capital. While the company declined to share revenue specifics, it reports that it has grown by an average of 30 percent year over year, and sold 2.5 million Squishables since it started. "The sheer level of enthusiasm has kept the financing in such a state," Fraade-Blanar says.