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Nov. 29, 2020

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Vancouver’s Slumberkins No. 270 on list of fastest-growing firms in U.S.

Children’s brand taps into digital channels as pandemic alters lives

By , Columbian business reporter
Published:
2 Photos
Callie Christensen, left, and Kelly Oriard, co-founders and CEOs of Slumberkins, in their downtown Vancouver office in September.
Callie Christensen, left, and Kelly Oriard, co-founders and CEOs of Slumberkins, in their downtown Vancouver office in September. (amanda cowan/The Columbian files) Photo Gallery

Vancouver-based educational children’s brand Slumberkins has more than doubled its revenue every year since its founding, and if the past five months are any indication, the COVID-19 pandemic isn’t going to alter that trajectory.

The company is ranked No. 270 on Inc. magazine’s annual list of the 5,000 fastest-growing companies in America, published last week. The list cites Slumberkins’ 1,657 percent revenue growth over three years. Sales have kept pace during the pandemic, and co-CEOs Kelly Oriard and Callie Christensen said the situation has also sped up the brand’s expansion into new online media channels.

The duo founded Slumberkins in 2016, drawing on Oriard’s background in family therapy and Christensen’s in education, as well as their own experiences as mothers. The company’s plush animal characters come paired with books that parents can read together with their young children to help build emotional skills.

Pandemic arrives

The pandemic hasn’t been without its challenges for Slumberkins, particularly in the early months. According to Oriard and Christensen, the company initially reacted to the pandemic by cutting all of its marketing and discretionary spending in anticipation of a possible drop in revenue.

“With COVID-19 hitting, it was one of those moments where we were bracing for impact, like a lot of companies, I think,” Oriard said. “There was so much unknown.”

But Slumberkins also began a pivot during those initial weeks to place a greater emphasis on wellness and resources for parents and children who suddenly found themselves stuck at home as schools closed to in-person classes.

The changes included a new page on the company website called “Slumberkins School” which Christensen characterizes as a “free resource hub” with coloring pages and other activities to do at home, as well as new videos featuring Oriard reading from various Slumberkins books.

They also began making digital versions of the books available for anyone to download.

“We really just wanted to be useful in our already existing customers’ lives,” Christensen said. “We’re in it with them as busy moms with young children at home too.”

Christensen and Oriard described the shift as an effort to refocus on the company’s core mission: to play a major role in the conversation about childhood emotional skill-building.

The company’s rapid growth in the past few years has been driven by the popularity of its plush animal creatures and board books, but the duo said their long-term goal is for Slumberkins to diversify across multiple pathways to reach parents and children.

“I feel like the pandemic and COVID-19 has only accelerated our vision for what we’ve always believed Slumberkins can and should be, which is the modern day Sesame Street-Mister Rogers mash-up,” Oriard said.

Slumberkins has consistently placed an emphasis on maintaining a closely connected online community of customers, but the creators said the past few months have seen a huge influx of earned media and online engagement due to the shift toward providing resources.

Oriard and Christensen credit that increased brand awareness with helping to keep sales stable during the pandemic — along with the company’s online store and direct-to-consumer business model, which proved resilient in the face of pandemic stay-at-home orders that shuttered physical retailers.

Some of the existing Slumberkins characters were well-positioned to address the feelings of stress and anxiety, Christensen said, such as the Alpaca character that aims to teach kids about stress relief.

The company also released a new creature this year called Otter that focuses on family bonding — a skill that has taken on even more importance at a time when extended families have to maintain their connections remotely, Christensen said. The new character proved to be especially popular, she said, selling through its entire planned stock for the rest of the year in a matter of days.

The creators plan to keep up the focus on new media options in the coming months, including the planned rollout of a slew of new content for the Slumberkins YouTube channel.

They’re also still hard at work developing a potential Slumberkins TV show in partnership with the Jim Henson Co. The project was announced in 2018 and has been slowly taking shape behind the scenes. The show hasn’t yet received an official green light, Christensen said, but she and Oriard remain busy with the development process.

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