INDEPENDENCE, Ohio -- The company that developed Strawberry Shortcake, Care Bears and Popples is ready to introduce a group of toys for 1988 that take the idea of stuffed bears a step further.
Those Characters From Cleveland Inc. has come up with Special Blessings to be manufactured by Kenner Products Inc., Nosy Bears for Hasbro Inc. and FlopaLots and Brush-a-Loves for Amtoy Inc.
Those Characters From Cleveland and Amtoy are subsidiaries of the American Greetings Corp., the world's largest publicly held greetings card company.
Each of the new toys to be introduced in early 1988 carries a twist to the old standard of dolls and stuffed animals.
'If you're not hugging it, there's nothing you can do with it,' said Tom Schneider, vice president of licensing and planning for Those Characters From Cleveland, speaking about traditional toys. 'The question was, 'How can you make plush (animals and dolls) playable',' he added.
The Nosy Bears, for example, have large clear domes as noses that allow children, by squeezing the bears, to shoot basketballs, pop popcorn and play jack-in-the-box in the domes. The bears will come with a dozen different noses.
Special Blessings rag dolls can be posed in a praying position - kneeling with their hands together -- and come with a booklet of inspirational thoughts and sayings designed to deal with a child's everyday activities.
The Brush-a-Loves allow children to groom the characters' long hair with brushes on the ends of their tails and mirrors on their paws. And the FlopaLots look somewhat like a quilt patched together to make various animals.
American Greetings got involved in the toy-character business almost by accident.
Artist Holly Hobbie did a series of drawings for American Greetings in 1967. Her character, which became known simply as Holly Hobbie, was used on stationery, cards and gift-wrapping paper by the early 1970s.
And, after a Holly Hobbie doll appeared as a prop in a 1972 advertisement, a manufacturing company called to ask for permission to use the character. That's when American Greetings decided the pursue the sale of characters.
American Greetings' first major push in the toy market came in conjunction with Kenner in 1980 with the introduction a Strawberry Shortcake line of toys, party supplies, stationery, clothing and greeting cards.
The results were more than $100 million in Strawberry Shortcake business in the first year and the formation of Those Characters From Cleveland.
Next was another venture with Kenner, this time in 1983 with a complete line of Care Bear products, which has been American Greetings' biggest success in character licensing . About 25 million Care Bears have been sold.
'If you took what is the most popular plush animals, it's always going to be bears,' Schneider said. 'We make it special -- take a strong thing and make it even stronger.'
Popples, introduced with Mattel, followed in 1986. A recent market research survey showed that almost half of all boys in the 3- to 6-year-old category asked for one of the soft characters that can be converted into a small pillow.
Other items developed along the way include My Pet Monster and Madballs with Amtoy in 1986 and Lady LovelyLocks with Mattel in 1987. The number of new items planned for 1988 represents the company's most extensive effort in new products.
'I think we're being considered as a wide-range creative house to the point that we've been involved in movies and television programming,' said Jack Chojnacki, co-president of Those Characters From Cleveland and Amtoy.
'We know we will do very nicely with all of these (new items),' Chojnacki said. 'No one knows what the next Cabbage Patch will be. Do we have it here? Maybe, maybe not.'