HOOHOBBERS, A MORE COMPLETE STORY
In 1979 Bill and Judy Sommerschield and their two young daughters were having Thanksgiving dinner with Bill’s parents. One daughter used a bulky booster seat to raise herself up to table size; the other was left with the Chicago phone book having to do the deed. Bill wondered why there wasn’t a portable booster seat to solve this seating problem; a compact chair that could be easily carried from place to place.
Over the next year Bill pursued the idea of creating a portable booster seat. Along the way he met the acquaintance of Mike Wilson, an industrial designer. Mike designed what is now Hoohobbers’ signature product, its junior director chair/booster seat. Focus Groups were enthusiastic. One lady described how she thought the chair was an item her little toddler could easily control all by herself; a legitimate product -not just a fad or piece of candy or some such, that would help develop the child’s emerging personality and sense of self-awareness. Wow! Though more than a bit wordy, she hit the nail on the head. This idea of child control and self-fulfillment would be used as a measure for all Hoohobbers products that would be born later.
Over the next 18 months Bill pursued development of the chair, first thinking it a good idea to have someone else bring it to market, then determining to do so himself. Reluctantly leaving his advertising career, Bill decided to give the chair a go. In June of 1981 it was ready. Made of solid polypropylene, it just happened to emerge at the same time maturing plastics technology allowed it to be fashioned with a bright, highly cosmetic finish. It stood out. People took notice. Sales passed $3million in Hoohobbers first fiscal year, the vast majority of which were from the little booster.
Rumors soon began to circulate about companies preparing to copy the chair’s design (at least 6 ultimately did). To help counter this, added products were developed. These included a director chair for older children, a rocking chair, a combination toddler/adult table, a baby rocker, a toy box, an easel, a laundry hamper, dinnerware, silverware and more. The new products maintained the same high-design motif as the original chair, as well as reflecting its uniqueness in their own way. All the products folded, all were made to be used outdoors as well as indoors, and all were highly portable.
Hoohobbers product uniqueness proved to be a hurdle to overcome, however: there was no established market for this kind of product, and at first appearance the distinctiveness and utility of Hoohobbers products are not readily apparent. Here were items that constituted an entirely new product concept. A concept consumers ultimately adopted, as it was totally consistent with the increasing mobility of American households and an emerging awareness of the tremendous advantage offered by product-compactness.
Accolades followed, including over 75 awarded patents, Best Design Awards from America’s Juvenile Products Association, Parents Choice Awards, repeated awards from various juvenile industry magazines, frequent editorial recommendation, even jury-selection into the permanent product collection of MOMA, America’s leading modern art museum in New York. As for product quality, Hoohobbers has never had a product recall. And product returns are virtually non-existent.
Beginning in the late 1980’s soft goods were developed. These include crib bedding, diaper bags, Moses baskets, cradle, port-a-crib and bassinet linens, receiving blankets, hooded baby towels, lunch boxes and bibs, plus related room decor items such as drapes and valances, ottomans, throw pillows and floor lamps. Later, personalizing services were also added with embroidery becoming a 'must have' product component in recent years.
As the company grew and the product-line expanded, Judy sold a personnel-placement company she had started and moved over to Hoohobbers full-time. As head designer she is now responsible for creating all design collections, which she refreshes with new collections at least twice annually. Her latest inspiration: a line of washable linen bedding customers themselves design right here on our web site.
All Hoohobbers products continue to share not only the same high-design commitment but are offered in the same colors or design collections. This creates the ability for a customer to create an entire houseful of childrens products with a single design statement! Today, Hoohobbers offers its products in over 25 distinct, classic to contemporary design collections. Products purchased for home use and as gifts by people who appreciate fine design. Indeed, as an interesting side-note, Hoohobbers has many customers who have been purchasing that first chair and other items for decades; some sending 35 chairs and more over the years as their “standard newborn or birthday gift”.
Since its founding Hoohobbers has maintained its commitment to generating “incomes at home” for both its employees and its suppliers by manufacturing in America, at Hoohobbers Chicago factory.
And today, those two girls no longer need boosters at Thanksgiving, though a couple of their children still do. The little 1970 toddlers -along with their younger brother- are now intimately involved at Hoohobbers. And if you peruse Hoohobbers web site closely enough you may still spot a picture or two of them from their toddler-modeling days alongside pictures of their own children. Generation to generation, Hoohobbers products continue meeting the real world needs of kids.
"We are so grateful for the continuing support of our long-time, dedicated Hoohobbers loyalists as well as all our new customers who hear of us year after year”, Judy says. “And to have our children now working with us…we have so much for which to be thankful”.
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