Not only is Britt Menzies is an unlikely publishing success story—she’s an unlikely art, t-shirt, and plush-doll success story as well. Beginning five years ago in her Atlanta home with a colorful, cartoony painting she made of her daughter in a tutu, Menzies has crafted a child-, parent-, and retailer-pleasing brand she calls StinkyKids, a name inspired by a favorite term of endearment for her two kids, “the little stinkers.”
“It’s a name that people either get immediately,” Menzies says, “or it gets them curious to find out more.”
Prompted by a request from her two-and-a-half-year-old daughter, Emma, for a portrait of herself as a ballerina, Menzies’s initial canvas painting caught the eye of friends and neighbors, who began asking for portraits of their own kids as characters. A Coca-Cola exec-turned-full-time mom, Menzies began seeking ways to promote her hobby business, and in early 2006 began displaying her work at a local gift store. When the store owner asked after character rights, Menzies realized there were other ways for her to sell her work. T-shirts featuring an array of StinkyKids—whittled down from 20 kids to six, but since expanded to 10—seemed like a natural fit, and before long she had convinced buyers at Nordstrom department stores to stock them. Arriving just in time for holiday season 2007, the shirts attracted the attention of national media—dubbed a hot holiday item by The Today Show—and sold out everywhere they were available. Nordstrom was excited to hear Menzies’s next idea for the StinkyKids: a line of plush dolls and a book series. Nearly a year later, she had the dolls in hand, with FAO Schwarz on board, and another run of product about to sell out.
When Stone America Licensing agency called Menzies after last year’s holiday season, expressing interest in expanding the world of the StinkyKids, it confirmed what she also knew: she had a full-fledged brand on her hands. Last December, Stone America became the official home of the StinkyKids.
Menzies already had a message to build positive stories around, developed while raising two well-meaning but typically mischievous children— “always be a leader of good” by making right choices and learning from mistakes—and went to work creating distinct personalities, interests, and storylines for the 10 characters, each of which is based on someone in her life (including her son, her niece, and even a StinkyKid Britt, modeled after Menzies herself). The rights to the 12-volume picture book series went to Pearson (the dolls are handled by Alexander Doll Company), with an imprint as yet to be determined. The first book, StinkyKids and the Runaway Scissors, will have a print run of 5,000 and go on sale the first week of November at Nordstrom, FAO Schwarz, and everywhere Madame Alexander sells the dolls, and will be sold by Pearson’s sales team to all the major book retailers (including Barnes & Noble, Borders, Walmart.com and Target.com).
Each book will feature the lesson for the StinkyKids to learn, like the importance of asking adults for help (which the Kids learn in Runaway Scissors after Britt gets bubblegum stuck in her hair). The books will also include a parent/teacher guide written by author and parenting expert Killi B. Ritter, and an open-ended conclusion (“What do you think happens next?”) that encourages young readers to become young storytellers. Menzies is also committed to making the world of StinkyKids a stable and consistent one; it will always have both parents in each book, and a description of each StinkyKid at the front.
Menzies also puts the “little stinKers” on stickers, buttons, pens, and journals, and has hopes for an animated series, but what’s most important to her, as a mother and a businesswoman, is living out the “leader of good” message. Since the start, she has donated a portion of the enterprise’s proceeds to a cancer charity started by her mother, called Books, Bears, Bonnets, Inc. Menzies will be supporting the book release with signing events through the holiday season, including local venues as well as a stop at the FAO Schwarz flagship store in New York City between Thanksgiving and Christmas; the dates will be announced on www.stinkykids.com.