BGBS: 023: Callie Christensen and Kelly Oriard
Founders and CEOs of Slumberkins, Callie Christensen and Kelly Oriard share how they started as two best friends telling stories of sloths and Bigfoot for fun and turned it into a multimillion-dollar business. This business is based on all-around storytelling. Stories have the power to provide meaning and clarity around some of life’s most challenging moments. These moms used their natural skills and expertise to equip parents with invaluable resources. Find out how the two found themselves deconstructing plush blankets to pitching their business idea on Shark Tank, and everything in between.
Get ready to find out how storytelling changes lives!
What we’re talking about
- Discovering The Power Of Storytelling As Mothers
- Dreaming Big: How Two Moms Went From The Local Holiday Bazaar To Shark Tank
- Making Millions From Meaningful Moments
Discovering The Power Of Storytelling As Mothers
Callie Christensen and Kelly Oriard became fast friends in high school, bonding over their tall stature, volleyball tryouts, and pronunciation efforts in Spanish 101. Their friendship continued to grow through college, shared interests as educators, and leaning on each other as they each became new moms. It was through these commonalities that they realized there was a need for resources to help parents emotionally support their children from an early age. Utilizing their areas of expertise, Callie, a special education behavioral interventionist, and Kelly, a counselor and family therapist, along with their personal experiences, the two brainstormed how they could equip parents with the skills to lead the sometimes difficult conversations with their children. As parents themselves, they thought of how valuable bedtime routines had become. These are moments when they could really connect and engage with their children. They also realized the power of storytelling and the messages that could be delivered. And so began the early stages of Slumberkins; plush toy creatures with corresponding stories that help facilitate authentic interactions between parent and child.
Dreaming Big: How Two Moms Went From The Local Holiday Bazaar To Shark Tank
After realizing they may be on to something, the two borrowed $200 to purchase fabric and hand sew about 30 versions of their first edition of creatures. Binding the characters to their corresponding stories, written by Kelly and printed on cardstock, the two set off to sell their concept at a booth at their local holiday bazaar. They sold out quickly and returned home with $700. This process continued until they realized after buying out the local fabric store’s entire stock of plush fabric, that this was something bigger than they had originally imagined. Launching their business on Instagram and Etsy helped launch their “handmade side hustle” with access to an open market. They soon found themselves making an official pitch on Shark Tank. While it did not go as they had hoped, it really helped them take their business more seriously and give their business plan and mission the attention deserved. They realized what differentiated their product to the many other plush toys out there were their therapeutic storylines, and really connecting to their consumers.
Making Millions From Meaningful Moments
Today, Slumberkins is a multimillion-dollar business with 20 employees and over 60,000 customers. They are currently talking with the Jim Henson Company to produce a children’s television series based on the Slumberkin characters. With the business steadily growing each year, the part that the duo are most proud of is their ability to connect with parents, teachers, and caregivers. Slumberkins has a Facebook social group where their consumers can connect and grow together. Callie and Kelly are having the most fun working together, something others warned wasn’t possible for best friends. They’re enjoying proving those doubters wrong and helping Bigfoot feel good about himself.
Let’s all say it together: “I am strong. I am brave and unique. The world is better because I am here. I like me.”
- 27:31- 28:28 (57 sec KO) Well, I think story in general… wanted to infuse both of those into one.
- 32:40- 33:19 (49 sec CC) So I tried to pitch the Bigfoot storyline… always published the first draft of everything.
- 35:47-36:34 (47 sec CC) One of the moments I think for us when I think back was when the fabric stores… maybe we’re on to something here.
- 39:07-40:00 (53 sec CC) Well, so that was our first pitch ever… seamstresses that were helping us.
- 42:06-43:01 (55 sec KO) That’s just sort of the way that we operate… not dwelling on you know, quote, unquote, failures.
- 48:48-49:35 ( 47 sec KO) Well today we have 20 employees… exposing people to the brand.
- Let’s do something together. That’s fun. And that tries to affect the problem that we’re seeing in the world at large. -KO
- I think of it as kind of a stealth, social-emotional support for families because they don’t even realize the positive impacts that they’re doing with their child when they’re reading these storylines with their children. – CC
- It was sort of also a swing in the dark because there wasn’t a model in the way that we were doing it, of what that looked like, very much. And so we were just really again, excited that it was resonating. -KO
- Children are also seeking that connectedness and I think that the mascots of the creatures themselves and the storylines just kind of solidify their kind of love mark on that creature. -CC
- I always say we bootstrapped our way into Shark Tank because I think it was our like grit and tenacity that got us on that show. And you know, that was a big piece of feedback from the sharks was that the plush, the toy market is kind of brutal. -CC
- we needed to be able to tell our own story online and connect with the consumers that are using this in the way that it was intended to, you know, be a resource, and support, and tool for their child and so yeah, definitely lives in the storyline. – CC
- We walked in as athletes and then we walked out like both sobbing and so, but no, actually we woke up the next day and it was on the flight home from LA that we wrote our next book on the plane that was about growth mindset and kind of started the beginnings on the development of our character, narwhal. -CC
- And I think that’s the real benefit for Callie and I both is when we do it together. We’re always having fun. So nothing really feels like a failure. -KO