Rebekah: Can you tell me about Fluff & Tuff and the inspiration behind it?
Ellen: It’s a bit cliché—my husband, Chris and I created Fluff & Tuff out of our own need. At the time, we had four dogs; they loved plush toys but were very hard on them. I was constantly buying toys but couldn’t find exactly what I was looking for: a high quality, ultra-plush toy that was also good looking. I was convinced with high quality materials and the right manufacturing techniques, we could produce a better, more durable plush toy and they would have a much better chance of holding up to our dogs’ rough play then the lower quality toys.
We were fortunate to have a friend in the children’s plush toy business that helped us tremendously in the beginning. With his relationships, my lifelong experience with dogs and Chris’s business background, we launched Fluff & Tuff in late 2010.
Rebekah: What makes Fluff & Tuff toys special?
Ellen: Above all else, quality is most important to us; our fabrics, our designs, our manufacturing and our customer service.
We use a luxurious plush dogs love, hearing all the time from owners about how much their dogs love our toys like none other they’ve had previously. We use a thick inner mesh liner bonded to the inside of the plush. The interior seams are generously folded and double stitched and the durable squeaker is encased in a sewn fabric pouch.
Our retailers and their customers are why we’re in business. We sell direct, not through distributors, so I know every single retailer carrying our toys and am very thankful they’ve brought us into their stores. Some I’m closer to than others, but for all, our goal is to simply be a good partner.
Rebekah: What do you do to produce your quality products?
Ellen: A distinguishing characteristic of all our toys is their lifelike appearance. So not surprisingly, I start with the real animal and try to stay as close as possible with the occasional fun element added such as the pink ears on our Edsel Elephant. I’m also very influenced by the German plush toys I remember from my childhood.
Our toys are manufactured under the same strict U.S. standards set for children’s plush toys and are the only pet product produced in our factory. Our materials are nontoxic, independently tested and double scanned for metal objects.
Rebekah: What are your most popular toys?
Ellen: Even though all of our toys are similar in their true-to-life designs and fabrics, some are predictably more popular than others such as both sizes of our squirrels, rabbits, raccoons or almost anything dogs are intrigued by in their backyard. A few designs surprise us though. Our Ruby Rainbow Trout, our mini size Shelly Turtle, extra-large size Sadie Bear and Georgia Gator, one of our original four toys, is still among our top sellers today.
Rebekah: What is a typical day like for you?
Ellen: Not sure there is a typical day as with any small business, I do everything and anything that needs to be done—and I mean everything—thankfully, enjoying all of it.
Building our brand from an idea into something people recognize has been interesting, challenging, stressful and incredibly rewarding. Whether I see our toys in a store, or meet somebody who has a Fluff & Tuff for their dog or receive a photo of a dog playing with one of our toys, it is all such a thrill for me. At the end of the day, what we create makes dogs happy—a simple way to look at our business but for me, very motivating.
Rebekah: What is in store for Fluff & Tuff this year?
Ellen: We’ll continue to introduce new styles throughout the year for our retailers. I’m always thinking of potential toys, working on the design of those in our pipeline or even tweaking some of our current toys. In addition, we’re introducing our first non-toy item with a luxurious blanket for dogs made out of our same ultra-plush, mesh-lined fabric.
This year, we will also continue our charity toy program with the introduction of our third annual Holiday Charity Toy of which 100 percent of our sales profits will be donated to our designated charity. We donate thousands of toys to various shelters, fundraisers and organizations but as a small company, this is our way of being able to donate a substantial amount financially as well.