As a kid, do you remember walking through the busy city streets in awe of the skyscrapers towering above you?
So do we! You see, we grew up near the birthplace of the skyscraper in the Windy City and have been in love with tall buildings ever since we were kids. We happen to disagree with Josh Baskin and think buildings can be fun (gratuitous 80’s movie reference)!
We’re building a collection of plush skyscrapers inspired by America’s most iconic tall buildings. Construction has begun with designs for Willis Tower in Chicago and the Empire State Building in New York with a number of additional designs in various stages of pre-production. Our “Squeezables” are simplified massings of the real buildings and are designed at a relative scale to look great together as you build your collection. With your support, we can move our Squeezables into full production so you won’t have to wait much longer to build your own Squeezable Skyline!
The Squeezable Story
Three brothers and an architect walk into a bar...while it may sound like the start of a bad joke, it’s actually how Squeezable Skyline was born! But before we get into the details of that lunch meeting, let’s back up a bit. Just about five years ago, longtime friends Michael Gordon, our Chief Architect, and Glenn Robertson, our Foreman of Operations, were out with some buddies having dinner on a warm summer evening. As they were talking about ideas they had for new business ventures, Michael noticed Willis Tower from his vantage point. It was at that moment he thought...why not start a company building plush skyscrapers?
Not long after, Michael got to work researching what it would take to launch the company, and even got as far as to have some prototypes produced. Unfortunately, the timing wasn't right to go at it alone, so he put his Squeezable ambitions on the shelf, knowing he would someday revisit the idea.
Over four years had passed since Michael’s dinner with Glenn, and all that time the ideas for Squeezable Skyline kept brewing. Glenn and his brothers, Struan and Brent, met up with Michael for lunch and before long the subject turned to new business ideas. The brothers Robertson, with entrepreneurship in their blood, liked the concept, and the four friends quickly began breaking down the tasks required to get the wheels turning again. As they parted that afternoon, the blueprint for Squeezable Skyline was again underway!
Laying The Foundation
After that initial lunch meeting, it wasn’t long before we began laying the groundwork to form the company. We had a workshop to figure out what had to be done and who was going to do it. With his background in architecture, Michael got to work on the prototypes for the new generation of Squeezables. As the tech guru and overall operations guy, Glenn took the lead on getting our website established and locating our manufacturer. Struan, our financial mastermind, got to work on building our financial model and legally forming our company. And our sales lead, Brent, turned his attention to getting agreements in place with our partner buildings.
A Squeezable Strategy
Before developing our design specifications or even securing our website, our very first order of business was defining the direction of our company. There were two primary strategic decisions we had to make which would inform the way we approached our products and branding: who is our perfect customer, and which buildings to include in our roadmap and when?
We spent a lot of time talking about our target audience and what kind of product would appeal to them. Luckily for us, defining this individual was fairly easy: we were the perfect customer! A dad traveling for business, looking for something for their son or daughter on the way home. An urban couple traveling to a city for a long weekend looking for a unique memento of their trip. A parent looking for a decoration for their baby’s nursery. It was these people we had in mind when developing our Squeezables.
Now that we knew who we were designing for, we needed to figure out which buildings to design first. As native Chicagoans, it was a no-brainer that we would include Willis Tower and John Hancock Center in our plans; of course, we would have to include the icon of all American skyscrapers, the Empire State Building. From there, we analyzed over fifty skyscrapers in 20 cities to determine what other towers to include in our plans and in what sequence. With three fully developed designs on deck, we are already hard at work with a number of phase 2 prototypes.
We realized that to make Squeezable Skyline successful, we couldn’t just create plush skyscrapers; we had to create a brand. To do so, we spent many hours establishing a design language that would be common across all of our products and supporting marketing collateral.
Aside from being the first plush skyscraper to market, we needed to establish additional differentiators that made our Squeezables easily identifiable. Instead of taking a photo-realistic approach to the building designs, we opted for a simplified massing based on a standard module. The result is a family of products that are as individual as the towers they represent but also related to one another. We also agreed upon the signature design characteristic of our Squeezables: the “Squeezablue” plush bases. As you will see, that blue design element has worked its way into virtually all areas of our brand identity.
In conjunction with the early work on the Squeezable designs was the development of our logo. We spent A LOT of time working through a number of variations and luckily had a very patient graphic designer! We wanted something that emphasized both the plush and vertical nature of our products and can proudly say we are pleased with the end result.
Now, for the Squeezables! When it came time to determine the scale of the designs, there was one guiding factor among all others: they had to be travel friendly. So from there, we looked at all the towers on our roadmap and knew the tallest of those towers could max out at 24”. We also looked at which would be the shortest and decided upon 14” as the lowest height in our collection. Using a highly scientific methodology (ie. Excel formula), we were able to create a relative scale for all of our designs based on the actual building heights. Working in AutoCAD, detailed design specifications for each of the buildings were developed, including elevations, plans and isometric drawings.
To meet U.S. regulatory specifications, we were required to include a Sewn In Label (SIL) outlining the product’s material content and testing guidelines. For the design of the SIL, we developed a simplified alternate logo which has since been used elsewhere in our marketing materials.
Finally, we had to design a hang tag for our products. Aside from providing the retail bar code, we wanted to use it as an opportunity to share some trivia about the buildings in a fun way. The front hang tag design includes our logo and tagline on a white background and is the same for all buildings. The back of the hang tag in “Squeezablue” and white text includes the building name and city mirroring the Squeezable base design, as well as a number of facts about the tower in the context of the dimensions of the Squeezable.
Building Our Squeezables
When we began this journey, none of us had any idea how much we would learn about embroidery methods, fabric piling or foam stuffing. In order to build a high quality product, we had to do our homework so we knew exactly what to look for in a manufacturing partner. We started our search online and ultimately found ourselves walking around big box retailers and local toy shops to build our list of candidate manufacturers.
We found a great company based in North Carolina with overseas production facilities that understood our vision and was really interested in helping us bring our idea to life. Taking the design specifications we produced, the manufacturer worked with us through a number of design iterations, experimenting with material types and fabric colors. Getting our Squeezables to stand upright without being too heavy was a design challenge they helped us solve. Once the prototypes were just right, they were shipped to our offices and are the exact designs you see in the Under Construction section below.
Empire State Building Squeezable
As the icon of American skyscrapers, the Empire State Building has stood proudly over the New York skyline for the last eight decades. The real one might fit in King Kong's hand, but now we have a version that fits in yours!
The first of our two flagship designs is the Empire State Building. Constructed of tan plush fabric representing the limestone tower and gray plush fabric for the mast, the Squeezable stands approximately 21 inches tall and weighs 1.6 pounds. The base dimensions are 6” x 5”, and all setbacks are based on the standard half inch Squeezable module.
Our Empire State Building prototype is complete (pictured below) and ready for production upon the successful completion of this campaign.
Willis Tower Squeezable
For many years the tallest building in the world, Willis Tower in Chicago still dominates the city's skyline. While you might not be able to fit a 1700 foot building in a suitcase, we happen to have a version that's travel friendly!
Our other flagship design is Willis Tower. Built from black plush fabric representing the building’s body with gray plush for the roofs and white plush for the two antennas, the Squeezable is approximately 22 inches tall and weighs 1.4 pounds. The base dimensions are 4.5” x 4.5” inches and helped define relative scale for all our designs.
Our Willis Tower prototype is complete (pictured below) and ready for production upon the successful completion of this campaign.
While our Kickstarter campaign is just getting started, over the last month we have been working with retailers to establish retail channels for our Squeezables once we move into full production. From museum stores to airport gift shops, we have received a great deal of interest in our products and have already begun placing orders. Come Summer 2014, you will be able to find Squeezable Skyline throughout the Chicago and New York markets and many more soon after.
Phase Two Designs
Even though our product launch is centered around the Empire State Building and Willis Tower, we have a number of additional designs ready for quick roll out. As you may have seen in some of our product photography, the prototype for the John Hancock Center in Chicago is fully developed and will be introduced in the very near future.
Additionally, we have prioritized 6 new tower designs to be included in our phase two. The design specifications are complete and work is well underway to move them into full prototype development. Plans to expand our Squeezables into five new markets across the country are in the works.
Long Term Developments
From our original analysis of the skyscraper inventory, we have identified a total of 25 candidate towers to be included in our product line in 14 American cities. The sequence in which the Squeezables are developed will depend on a number of factors, including market size and projected demand. We want to move very quickly once production begins on our first phase and plan to have all designs in stores within 18 months.
The Future of Squeezable Skyline
What are the long term plans for Squeezable Skyline, you may ask? While we don’t want to divulge all our plans, we can say that we have a strategic roadmap that goes beyond the full line of 25 Squeezables outlined above. There are a number of product extensions that work well within our Squeezable framework which include some additional brand opportunities. In our opinion...the sky is the limit!
It all started with visions of plush skyscrapers dancing in his head and a near unhealthy obsession with graphic design standards (ask Glenn). Michael is the creative in our crew who used his background in architecture to bring our Squeezables to life.
Foreman of Operations
Glenn likes to get his hands dirty and make things happen, so naturally he was the man to lead operations at Squeezable Skyline. From building a six foot Willis Tower to creating the website, Glenn has proven that no project is too big or too small.
Principal of Finance
Having spent many years crunching numbers as an investment banker, Struan was the perfect candidate to lead our finance department. Why did we set our Kickstarter goal at $25,000? Because Struan ran the numbers and said so.
Superintendent of Sales
Getting to this point took some deal brokering so we could legally produce the Willis Tower and Empire State Building Squeezables, and Brent was the guy to get the deals done. Are you a retailer interested in carrying our Squeezables? Talk to this guy.
The Empire State Building image® is a registered trademark of ESRT Empire State Building, L.L.C. and is used with permission.
Willis Tower™ are trademarks and copyrights of 233 S. Wacker LLC and used under license to Squeezable Skyline LLC.