Greetings, Learning Expressions Readers!
You might have heard of inventors and entrepreneurs – but how about kidventors and mompreneurs? Well, here at Learning Express we’re strong believers that some of the best toys around are invented and developed by parents and kids. Last year, we put the spotlight on kids in the toy business in a three part blog post. Today, we want to share the story of two parents who have taken the toy business by storm—with what started as a handmade toy for a PTA fundraiser.
So, to start with, what exactly is a Shoulder Buddy?
A Shoulder Buddy is an adorable little friend that perches on your shoulder and shares its “smarts” with you. Each box comes with three different parts: a Buddy, a magical coin, and a "smart card". Each Buddy is distinctly colored and comes with a unique emblem on its belly. The magical coin will tell you your Buddy’s name, and on the enclosed smart card you’ll find your Buddy’s message.
My personal favorite is “Peace” – who told me on her smart card, “I travel the world meeting new people and sharing my ‘Peaceful Smarts’ so that we can all live together in happiness.”
The real beauty of Shoulder Buddies is that you can actually wear them. You just stick the magic coin under your shirt (or hair or shoe!) and your Buddy will perch on you all day long. In fact, Peace even helped me write the blog today!
Interested in learning a little bit more about this dinky delight of a toy, we sat down with inventors Jeaneen & Kevin Muller to find out more about their story.
Toy Talker: Thanks so much for chatting with me, Kevin and Jeaneen! So I have to ask - how did you come up with the idea for Shoulder Buddies?
J&K Muller: Well, Shoulder Buddies were largely inspired by our two daughters. The concept started at their school holiday fundraiser where our handmade versions were a big hit. We decided to develop them into different characters that would help teach kids fun and valuable life lessons through "Smart Cards". We would assemble them out of our garage and do fundraising events for schools in the area.
Toy Talker: So how did that transition to where you are today, selling in toy stores all over the country?
J&K Muller: Initially, we stopped by our local Learning Express store and dropped off one of those samples. Within a week the store manager called us and said that people were wanting to buy her sample, and that she wanted to carry Shoulder Buddies for two of her stores. Sales were strong and we expanded into a dozen more Learning Express stores throughout Florida. We were then discovered by a toy company called The Bridge Direct Inc, and we partnered with them to help us develop Shoulder Buddies into the retail success they are today.
Toy Talker: Well we’re delighted that Shoulder Buddies made their retail debut with Learning Express!
J&K Muller: It seemed like a natural partnership. Shoulder Buddies are cute and wearable, which kids love—and they have great educational messages as well. Learning Express attracts customers who want a unique, educational, good quality toy, and Shoulder Buddies are all the above.
TOY TALKER: What has the public reaction been like to the Shoulder Buddies?
J&K Muller: The public reaction to Shoulder Buddies has been unbelievable. We are overwhelmed with joy when reading the supportive and positive emails, letters and videos that come in to us from kids, parents, teachers and fans who love and embrace Shoulder Buddies.
TOY TALKER: That’s great to hear. So, moving forward, what's ahead for Shoulder Buddies?
J&K Muller: We continue to develop new Shoulder Buddy characters to collect and recently launched a book about where Shoulder Buddies come from and how they earn their "Smarts". There is a lot of excitement building for our first brand partnership with Sanrio, as we will being launching a wearable "Hello Kitty" Shoulder Buddy later this year.
Here are Jeaneen and Kevin chatting with Channel 10 News from our Coconut Creek store!
So there you have it, readers! From the PTA to a shelf near you – the Shoulder Buddies!
Talk to you again soon,