The Dreams Team Takes a Holistic Approach to Toys

Duck Sailer Boat
02/05/2024
by Victoria Ritter

Sometimes toys can extend past being simply fun or comforting to customers. Some playthings, including items produced by Dreams USA, fulfill a deeper need.

President Toru “Sonny” Soeya founded Dreams Inc. in 1996 in Japan. While he initially did not see himself as a toymaker, he instead envisioned himself as a creator of feel-good products. His mission, which stands to this day, was to create products that relieve mental fatigue and help heal the soul.

“Sonny’s a very spiritual guy,” said Alan Buff, vice president of Dreams USA. “He believed that by creating products that bring inner peace to the person who used them, he was fulfilling a mission. He was creating products that would have more staying power than just the latest fad toy.”

Dream Inc.’s first product was a rubber duck with an LED light. The duck was roto molded, resulting in a smooth feel. The light added balance to the figure and provided a soft glow that help users relax during bathtime. “About 500,000 ducks were sold in the first year in Japan, and the design was selected by MoMA (Museum of Modern Art) for inclusion in their collection,” said Jackie Bonheim, director of marketing.

Over the next few years, Dreams Inc. began selling some products to select American retailers. Soeya, who observed differences between the U.S. and Japanese markets, wanted to establish a company in the States that would be integral to the main business. In 2009, Dreams USA was incorporated in Providence, RI. With nine employees – eight of whom are full-time – Dreams USA resonates with its customers, which mainly consist of independent specialty toy retailers.

“We are focused on bringing products to the specialty toy market that are unique and salable,” Bonheim stated.

Dreams USA exhibits at several trade shows, including ASTRA Marketplace & Academy, Toy Fair New York and is attending the inaugural North East Toy Show in Springfield, MA this February. Dreams USA also exhibits in rep showrooms in Atlanta, Dallas, Las Vegas, Minneapolis and Seattle; its mid-Atlantic reps show products at the Philadelphia Gift Show.

No matter where it exhibits, Dreams USA focuses on how its toys speak to the whole mind and body. “The way in which we market the product and its potential uses speak to the idea of healing the mind and soul,” Bonheim said.

Dreams USA’s catalog has expanded to include about 200 SKUs, including bath items, space-related products and animal-themed merchandise. Its product lines are designed for all ages, though they are marketed for ages 3 and up. While each toy is attractive to consumers, they are also intended to provide relaxation, happiness and even healing.

In 2023, Dreams USA saw an unprecedented level of demand for their toys. Its most popular products were Sonny Angel and Smiski mini-figures. Sonny Angels take the form of baby boys decked out in unique headgear or themed outfits. Smiski are “curious little creatures” that glow in the dark and exhibit different personalities and poses. Both product lines are sold in a series, with the collectable figures packaged in blind or mystery boxes. While Dreams USA introduces limited edition Sonny Angel series four to six times a year, it releases new Smiski series approximately twice a year and gift/toy items also twice a year.

“The current surge in demand for both Sonny Angel and Smiski is being fueled by 20-somethings seeking healing, comfort and happiness with a minimal investment,” Bonheim observed. “Since introducing Sonny Angel, we have gained a big following of die-hard fans. Their devotion, love and commitment as well as the true happiness it brings them, makes everything worth it.”

“The warmth that we feel from our fans and retail customers is because the products we sell are so fun, colorful and different,” Buff added.

Dreams USA’s two newest products are the Duck Sailor Boat and Posture Pals. The Duck Sailor Boat is a bath toy that is propelled by a fizzing tablet and, as a throwback to Dreams Inc.’s first toy, is captained by a duck. Posture Pals are plush companions that encourage the user to sit with good posture. “Posture Pals are unique as they provide comfort and coziness but also have a function,” Bonheim said.

When designing a new product, Dreams focuses on creating something unique, colorful, functional, sophisticated and, above all, fun. The products are not available on the mass market, as the company chooses to focus on supporting specialty toy, gift and fashion retailers. “Everything we create must appeal to our target distribution,” Bonheim said. “We value our relationships with our customers and work very hard to make sure they ‘feel the love.’ We are a small company and we relate best to other small businesses.”

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