PROVO — The soft and cuddly stuffed animals that hit the market in March are more than just another plush toy.

Pull apart the Velcro and the creatures become pillows. Unzip them — they become blankets.

Known as Zoobies, the toy animals are the brainchild of J.C. and Reed Smoot, two brothers who were looking for a different kind of product.

Reed Smoot lives in China and was importing stuffed animals that turned into pillows or blankets when they decided to do something on their own, said marketing director Ryan Treft.

No one was making a stuffed toy that did both. Thus Zoobies was born and patented.

Last February the fledgling company entered the prestigious TIA Toy Fair in New York. They hit the ground running with 12 different animals called the Safari line and in March began selling to boutiques and gift shops.

But then orders from larger wholesalers began to come in and their popularity grew.

The business employs just eight people, all of them under 30. The company now has more than 260 wholesalers across the country and ships to Canada, Hungary, Japan, Australia, Italy and England.

"We have no idea" how many retail stores carry the plush creatures, Treft said.

Along the way the company has learned what sells best and what doesn't so has discontinued "Wangombe the Water Buffalo" and "Gamba the Gazelle." Some of the others are limited to stock on hand, Treft said.

The toys retail for $28. The most popular sellers are Hada the Pink Hippo, Kojo the Croc and Mashakara the Monkey.

"Color matters more than the animal," Treft said. "That's why the pink hippo sells so well. Little girls love it."

Next February, Zoobies returns to the New York toy fair to launch its zoo collection. Those animals include an orangutan, a koala, polar and panda bears, a tiger, a tortoise and a gorilla.

Zoobies has a retail store in front of its offices at 46 N. University Ave. where some of the new prototypes can be seen. They won't be offered for sale until next year.

Since exhibiting at the toy fair, Zoobies has won several awards, including Toy of the Year from Creative Child Magazine, the prestigious Oppenheim Gold Award and was a finalist for the Juvenile Products Manufacturers Association's Innovation Awards.

The toy-pillow-blanket has been the subject of several national news magazines and television shows as well as local coverage.


E-mail: rodger@desnews.com