Warren Buffett, the renowned business tycoon, is known for his astute investments in companies that offer products he personally enjoys, such as Dairy Queen and See’s Candies. Now, adding to his eclectic portfolio, he has taken an interest in the plush toy sensation, Squishmallows.
Squishmallows made a notable appearance at this year’s Berkshire Hathaway annual meeting in Omaha, Nebraska. Shareholders eagerly purchased 10,000 cuddly dolls within a matter of hours, including special editions featuring the likeness of Buffett himself and his long-time business partner Charlie Munger. Squishmallows became part of Berkshire Hathaway through the acquisition of Alleghany in the final quarter of 2022.
Jazwares, the parent company of Squishmallows, was founded by Judd Zebersky and is led by him as CEO, with Laura Zebersky serving as president. They now report to Greg Abel, Berkshire’s vice chairman for non-insurance operations and Buffett’s designated successor. The Zeberskys, a couple from South Florida who transitioned from being lawyers to toy entrepreneurs, expressed their excitement about being part of the Berkshire umbrella and the freedom they have to run their own business.
In an interview, Laura Zebersky stated, “It’s an amazing structure. We’re thrilled to be part of it. It’s better than we could have ever anticipated, and being around the greatest leaders in the world is phenomenal. We are also interested in exploring the synergies that come with it.”
Buffett, who is 92 years old, recently commended Greg Abel for assuming most of the responsibilities within Berkshire Hathaway. Abel has been overseeing a significant portion of the conglomerate’s operations, including energy, railroad, and retail divisions.
Although Buffett’s involvement with Jazwares originated indirectly through Alleghany, he has demonstrated a willingness to invest in smaller businesses that may not significantly impact Berkshire’s substantial earnings and revenue. Often, Buffett admires the management of such businesses and expects them to continue growing and remain profitable.
Last year alone, Squishmallows sold an astonishing 100 million units, with prices ranging from $5 to $30. Laura Zebersky attributed the surge in sales to the pandemic, which accelerated Squishmallows’ growth. Additionally, celebrity endorsements on platforms like TikTok, including names like Kim Kardashian and Lady Gaga, played a crucial role in raising awareness of the brand.
Zebersky highlighted the broad appeal of Squishmallows, stating, “The idea of having something that was nurturing, cozy, cuddly, and affordable, with instant gratification—it resonated with people across different age groups, not just kids. It’s uncommon in our industry to have such a wide and diverse demographic.”
In April 2020, Jazwares acquired toymaker Kellytoy, the creator of the Squishmallow brand in 2017. Ensuring the longevity of Squishmallows’ success, Jazwares is cautious about oversaturation and selectively pursues partnerships, as stated by Zebersky. Over the past two years, the plush toy brand has accounted for 40% of Jazwares’ total revenue.
Zebersky emphasized the brand’s sustainability, saying, “We’re now in our sixth year, and it’s not a passing fad. We’re experiencing smart and sustainable growth. We carefully control the production volume, ensuring there are unique styles and sizes for each retail channel, promoting collectability.”
In a recent announcement, Squishmallows revealed a partnership with McDonald’s Happy Meal, set to roll out in 70 different countries throughout 2023.
Furthermore, Jazwares actively engages with its fanbase through non-traditional marketing strategies. One example is their participation in VidCon, the largest gathering of influencers and content creators held in California. At the event, Jazwares showcased a massive pit filled with an array of Squishmallows, inviting attendees to immerse themselves in the experience.
While Squishmallows represents one of Jazwares’ fully owned intellectual properties, the company also collaborates with renowned brands such as Disney and Pokemon, leveraging licensed partnerships to offer a wider range of products.