When Christy and Robert Grossnickle’s second child and only daughter Ansley was a toddler, there was one thing she loved as much as her parents and older brother Brandon.
And that was Ottie.
Ottie was her stuffed otter that she was never without.
“She refused to do anything, go anywhere, or sleep without her favorite stuffed animal, Ottie,” said Christy, adding that Ottie – with his matted brown fur and “grungy-looking orange star on his hands” – remains an integral part of her Desert Vista High School daughter’s room.
“Parents know that losing a child’s ‘lovey’ is considered one of the most devastating natural disasters, right up there with hurricanes and earthquakes. The savviest parents even buy multiple loveys in case a back-up is needed. Our family endured many meltdowns and search and rescue missions from a misplaced Ottie,” Grossnickle recalled.
And from that attachment to the ever-disintegrating yet always-loved stuffed otter came an idea for a business that Ansley’s mother kept in mind, and through the COVID disaster and a personal familial loss, decided to take the leap and start Pouchyroos.
“Pouchyroos was actually toddler Ansley’s brilliant idea. She fell asleep with Ottie in the crux of her arm every single night. Some nights when Ansley fell asleep, Ottie would get lost in the sheets or fall to the floor.
“Instead of looking for Ottie herself, Ansley would wake me up in the middle of the night, poking me in the forehead so I could find Ottie…This went on for many, many nights,” she said.
Then, one night as she was being tucked into bed, Ansley stuffed Ottie into the elastic waistline of her pajama bottoms.
“When I asked her what was going on, she rolled around in her bed and said, ‘Now Ottie can’t fall out!’ I knew this kiddo was on to something.”
That sparked the idea for Pouchyroos.
“I spent almost 10 years after that talking about kids’ pajamas with a kangaroo-like pouch built in to hold a child’s favorite stuffed animal. I was busy teaching (at Kyrene Schools) and raising two kids, so talking about the idea was all that I could handle at the time,” Grossnickle recalled.
Pouchyroos remained a dream and a topic of table conversation until two events caused Grossnickle to move.
First, her mother passed away.
“I had just visited her at Thanksgiving; it happened so suddenly,” she said. “I think we all have ‘someday’ dreams or things that we think we’ll get around to doing eventually. For me, it was Pouchyroos. It was something I talked about doing for nearly a decade but there was never enough time.
“When my mother passed away on Dec. 29, 2019 the concept of ‘not enough time’ became very real to me,” she said.
“After my mother passed, I decided that ‘someday’ comes way too fast and kicked off January jumping head first into making Pouchyroos a reality.”
And then, the pandemic and shutdown happened, and like many others, Grossnickle’s job as a team manager with Savvas Learning Company, formerly Pearson K-12 Learning, was totally different.
Traveling throughout her 15-state western territory was no longer possible and she and her team, sequestered in their homes, attempted to teach their clients through Zoom.
With more time, Pouchyroos flew to the forefront.
“I said ‘no more waiting for that day. I’m going to learn about it, figure it out, and do it.’”
It was actually three years ago when Grossnickle started the ball rolling a bit by contacting an Ahwatukee seamstress who could turn her drawings and fabric swatches into a Pouchyroo.
“These first prototypes were just rompers with a big saggy pouch on the front but they were important to figuring out what didn’t work,” she said. “While I worked on the design of the pouch, I also needed to find a manufacturer in the United States that would allow me to produce in small batches.”
She finally hit the on a manufacturer when an Internet search introduced her to FABRIC, a fashion incubator tucked within the Arizona State University campus.
“They had designers, pattern makers and full manufacturing capabilities just 20 minutes from my home,” she said. “Most importantly, they had the patience to work with me through many revisions to get the pouch just right.
“I don’t even own a sewing machine, so I would make prototypes of the pouch out of construction paper and taped-on fabric to bring to the designer.”
It was during this prototype and revision process that Grossnickle met with a local patent lawyer, who verified that the product did not already exist.
“We finally designed a pouch that would expand to hold a stuffed animal and lay flat when the pouch was empty and now Pouchyroos is patent-pending,” she said.
With research, Grossnickle located a manufacturer in Los Angeles.
“Cost was still a huge challenge,” she admitted. “Manufacturing in the United States is expensive and I wasn’t willing to cut corners on quality. I needed funding to produce higher quantities to get my costs down, which is why I decided to launch a Kickstarter campaign,” she said.
Kickstarter is a crowdfunding platform that enables new projects to get off the ground through pre-orders and donations.
Grossnickle has set a goal of $20,000 to be met by Nov. 19. If her goal isn’t reached by that date, online backers are not charged.
“In the first two days of the campaign, I went out with a bang but since then things have really slowed down and I have been hovering at 17 percent of goal, which is about $3,500. I am not giving up,” she said.
“If I don’t hit my Kickstarter goal, I will just have to produce in small batches and grow at a slower pace.”
One problem she foresees is that people don’t want to wait until February to get their Pouchyroo.
“I understand that it’s hard for people to wait that long to get their Pouchyroo. But I tell people, let’s think 2021! It would make a great Valentine! It shows a lot of love,” she said. “Because of COVID, even manufacturing is behind schedule, so I have to remain positive and help people be positive.”
So is a Pouchyroo an essential item? Any parent who has or have had a toddler who clung tenaciously to a favorite toy or blanket, knows it is, Grossnickle said.
“I’m not a child psychologist but I’ve done enough research to know that a child’s lovey - whether a stuffed animal or blanket, etc., has super powers,” she said.
She notes that the term “transitional object” originated in 1951 with D.W Winnicott, one of Britain’s leading pediatricians and psychoanalysts.
He said, she explained that a “transitional object is a stuffed animal or security blanket that helps soothe and comfort a child’s anxiety and stress. Security objects or transitional objects are often misunderstood as a sign of weakness but that’s not what scientists, like Winnicott, tell us. These comfort objects are actually key to the development of independence and healthy relationships in children.”
Grossnickle said the Pouchyroos are made from a soft fabric with a slight stretch and comfortable for children to wear everywhere.
“Pouchyroos aren’t treated with flame-retardant chemicals or made of scratchy polyester, so they can’t be considered pajamas. They’re intended for playing, travel – when we get back to traveling – and chilling at home.”
An unusual fundraiser called the Burpee Challenge is scheduled at Ahwatukee’s Hub Fitness Friday, Nov. 13.
Burpee is a grueling exercise involving a squat thrust with an additional stand between reps.
“We’ll be doing one burpee for every dollar pledged during 3 and 6 p.m. that day, said Grossnickle. “People are welcome to join us at Hub Fitness. It’s a very large space indoors and outdoors and people wear masks. They can also pledge online via Kickstarter.”
Hub Fitness is at 14647 S. 50th Street, suite C181, Ahwatukee.