Stuffed animals and their virtual lives are big business for Ganz. It makes popular tween toy Webkinz and runs its related website, where kids register to take care of their pets online. The company has expanded its Webkinz distribution beyond the specialty store niche to mass merchants, such as Target, and mall stores, including Tween Brands' Limited Too. Ganz also manufactures bath and body collections, candles, home and garden accent products, purses, photo albums, and other products. Its brands include Time & Again, Bella Casa, Treasured Memories, Maggi B, and Heritage Collection. The company was founded in 1950 by Samuel Ganz and is headed by Samuel's grandson, Howard, as president and CEO.
Despite the private firm's vast products portfolio, Ganz is banking on its Webkinz business for its bread and butter as it works to extend its reach into other areas for product and sales diversity. Its licensing deal, such as the one it inked with artist Connie Haley in 2009, gives Ganz's giftware a fresh look.
Called the next Beanie Baby with a virtual twist, Webkinz has targeted the pre-teen set, which is generating the most sales. Its Webkinz online world can be accessed using a code found on the stuffed animal toy. (With demand high, some retailers have found that enterprising kids were tearing off the tags in order to gain entry to the website.) On the site, users can set up a room for their virtual pet; they must remember to feed and care for the pet, whose health, hunger, and happiness is measured on a posted scale. Users also can interact with other Webkinz pet owners on a limited basis.
Pairing a virtual world with its stuffed animals has made Ganz a model to other toy makers, including including Mattel and Kid Brands, who are doing the same to generate revenue, particularly given the growing group of young computer users. Most notably, traffic on the Webkinz website rose more than 800% in 2007, totaling more than 7 million unique visitors per month. Webkinz closest competitor is Club Penguin, which was acquired by Disney Online in 2007.
All the young users on the Webkinz site has some parents casting a critical eye to protect them. The appearance of children's movie ads on the Webkinz Web site in late 2007 sparked criticism from children's advocacy groups, as well. Ganz maintains that it does not allow paid advertisers on its site. Capitalizing on the Webkinz success, the company has introduced Lil'Kinz, which are smaller versions of the original. – less