Have you ever thought about starting a plush doll or plush toy business?
In this post, I’m going to break down where to get your supplies, how to price your products, and what you need to do to stand out in a crowded market. Let’s dive in!
Hi! My name is Mei Pak and I help makers, artists and designers make a consistent income from selling their handmade products online.
Plushies are Here to Stay
Everyone had a soft toy growing up, whether you called it a softie, plushie or a teddy.
They’re a quintessential part of childhood! They’re frequently given as gifts and most children have many more than one! The options are endless.
You can create plush toys by:
- and even some creative combinations that use one or more techniques
I love the idea of starting a plush doll business for many reasons.
The first being that the entry point into a plush toy business isn’t very expensive. To get started, you just need some fabric or yarn and a sewing machine, which you might already have for your personal use.
I also think there’s a lot of opportunity to build a whole world and back story behind your plush dolls or stuffed animals. Depending on what your designs are, you could have a lot of fodder for content to post on social media, your blog (if you have one), and your email newsletter.
This is huge, because if you’re selling something like jewelry or art, it can be challenging to come up with good, story-based content. If you’re passionate about designing your own plush toy, you can later expand your business into a passive income model by offering the digital pattern for sale.
It’s always great to have ways where you can see your business growing!
Having said that, there are some challenges you need to be aware of before you jump into starting your business, so you can plan and prepare for them.
There are a lot of hobbyist crafters out there who are creating items and selling them for little more than the cost of the materials.
This is because they aren’t running a business! They’re happy to just have fun and have their material costs covered.
If you’re running a business, not only do you need to be paid for your labor and profit, but you’re competing with all of these hobbyists.
It’s a crowded marketplace and it can be a challenge to stand out.
Making plush toys can be time-consuming, compared to other production methods. You are creating each item, either stitch by stitch or fabric piece by fabric piece.
There is going to be a limit on how many items you can make per week. It’s crucial that you select products that maximize your earnings.
Lastly, because you’re creating products that will be used by children, you’ll want to take the time to learn about the legal requirements of toy-making and ensure your items comply with the regulations.
Safety will need to be a top concern for your business, and it will inform your choice of materials and offerings.
In order to keep your shop top of mind, it’s essential that your shop has a clear message and a defined niche so you’ve got to dig deep.
- Do you want to specialize in gifts for newborns?
- Maybe you hate making the same thing twice, and you're drawn to a custom-plush business that uses t-shirts from the customer’s stash?
- Do you love embroidering and creating fine detail work on faces that leads you to a higher-end art doll?
- Or you may want to specialize in making gothic soft toys for people who like creepier, darker things?
The point is, find a niche and stick with it!
Make sure that what you want to make and sell is something people actually want to spend money on.
To see what people are interested in buying, you need to do research. Etsy is a great first stop in finding out what people are buying right now. Don’t be afraid to peek at the competition, see what they’re doing and what’s working.
I’m definitely not advocating that you copy anyone’s aesthetic.
Doing your research on the competition can help you steer your handmade shop in the right direction so you can start making sales quickly!
Steer clear of a niche that’s completely flooded, like simple teddy bears stitched in plain fabric.
You also want to avoid anything that nobody is doing, like a 6 foot tall custom plush toy.
Take the time to notice more general trends as well. We’re in a moment where the customer cares a lot about where their materials come from.
So maybe you’d like to craft leather teddy bears using material from your home state of Montana. I’m not saying that’s a good idea that will sell, but you get the idea.
Now we need to figure out how you can stand out in that niche.
- By adding leather tags to finish off your pieces
- The quality or type of fabric you use
- Or how each toy comes wrapped in a lovely box with a birth certificate
You want it to be recognizable enough that people will know it came from your particular shop.
When my friend, Stacey Trock, ran her plush toy pattern company, FreshStitches, her designs were so distinctive that her customers could pick them out instantly.
In fact, she told me that one time she did a design for a publisher which didn’t put her name on the pattern design and her customers wrote to her saying that the publishing company had stolen her pattern!
Her designs were that distinctive just from the style!
That’s what you want to aim for, and that’s when you know you stand out from the competition and you’re memorable.
Which brings me to the topic of designing. If you’re going to set up a business of sewing plush toys, it might be worth investing the time in developing your own patterns. Abby Glassenberg’s book Stuffed Animals: From Concept to Construction shows you how.
This way, your piece is completely distinctive and you don’t need to worry about obtaining permission to use someone else’s design for commercial purposes.
If you’re brand new to pricing, then you’ll want to watch my pricing video to get a great in depth view on how to price your products.
It boils down to how much you can earn per hour, per week, and what the market will bear.
Let’s talk about how much you can earn per week. Say that you’ve calculated that you can earn $20 per hour and you’re happy with that. Realistically you have to think of your week as a whole.
It’s important to think of how many hours you can practically produce your products and decide if that’s suitable for your life.
When you’re thinking about that, don’t forget that you need to set time aside to do administrative business things as well like marketing and promoting your business.
The third component is how much the market can bear. That is, will people buy your products at the price you need to sell it for to make a living?
This is where the research you did on your market will come in handy. It’s also where having a unique selling point, that can elevate your product from a so-so commodity into a luxury item is incredibly valuable.
If you have done your research or even experimented in your own shop and you suspect that you won’t be able to sell your toys for the money you need, then it might be time to go back to the drawing board and brainstorm new product options.
If you’re purchasing significant quantities of a material, you should be able to purchase it wholesale or at least at a discount from retail.
Try to go as straight to the source as possible with your other materials.
Polyfill, leather tags and notions can all be purchased in bulk. Take the time to find your sources and you’ll save big money in the long run!
Don’t hesitate to contact a supplier you like to see if they offer wholesale pricing to production artists. Depending on the company, it may be as little as a tax ID number, some paperwork and a minimum order to get started.
If you plan your products the right way, like selecting from a limited color palette, then you can order bolts of fabric at a time. Then you’ll be saving big money on your largest supply cost.
Take the time and effort to find your materials and allow your products to be shaped by what supplies make sense to stock. This is a key component to profitability!
Once you have your products in place and a cohesive shop identity, you’ll want to create a library of marketing materials that you can use in your shop and in social media.
This is also the time to invest in good product photos.
You want to have some that are just your product on a white background and a whole other set of lifestyle photos. This would be your products being used by people in everyday life.
For example, if you sell infant plushies, then you’ll want a photo of a baby playing with your toy.
Things like that give the customer a good sense of scale and show what your product would be like in their world.
These photos are also great for social media and they’ll help you out with customer service.
Trust me, customers hardly ever read the product descriptions!
If you don’t show your product in a real-life situation, you’ll inevitably get someone who thinks it was supposed to be a totally different size!
More than that, lifestyle images are great for selling with emotion because people buy based on emotions and feelings. They don’t generally buy based on logic.
So you want to make sure you have both types of photos in your shop.
You’ll also need to set up a website, I highly recommend going with Shopify.
If you’re curious why I don’t recommend Etsy, you can check out this video here where I talk more in depth about that.
Long story short, always start and focus your energy on your Shopify store because that’s a more long term and stable solution.
Once you’re established and you’re making consistent sales on Shopify, then it makes sense to branch out to marketplace sites like Etsy and Amazon.
Bottom line is, you don’t want to rely on Etsy and Amazon for sales, because they fluctuate way too much. One day you’re doing well and the next you’re not.
Once your business is open, it’s time to promote it!
Start building an email list with free software like MailerLite.
Email marketing is one of the most effective forms of marketing, and it’s one of the only marketing avenues that you actually own.
Keep in mind, you don’t really own your social media accounts and your followers.
Even if you don’t plan on sending newsletters to your subscribers right away, it’s worth it to start collecting emails as soon as your shop opens.
From there I recommend reaching out to anyone who has a large audience on their platform and pitching your product.
This could be:
- Social media influencers
- Big websites (like BuzzFeed or Huffington Post)
It’s free to get your products mentioned, and I have a whole video here that talks about that process step-by-step if you need a deep dive on that.
It takes a long time to build up your own social media following one person at a time, so that’s why I recommend getting your products featured on other sites instead.
You can think of it as a shortcut to getting your work seen by thousands of people in a short amount of time and for a very low cost.
I hope you've enjoyed those tips on starting a plush toy business.
If you enjoyed this post or have any questions, leave a comment below. Don’t forget to check out my YouTube channel for more tips and inside secrets!