Earlier this year, fervent fans across the country waited with bated breath for retailers to finally unveil collections of Star Wars: The Force Awakens products that had been shrouded in secrecy for years. Among the items that people rushed to get their hands on as soon as the clock struck 12:01 EST on Force Friday were the dinnerware, drinkware, and on-the-go products from Airway Heights manufacturer Zak Designs.
“As long as I’ve been in the licensing business, I’ve never seen anything like what Star Wars has become this year,” says Irv Zakheim, Chairman and CEO of Zak Designs. “We expected big sales, but the event surpassed every expectation. No, it destroyed every expectation.”
It’s a pleasant surprise that Zakheim and the rest of the team at Zak Designs is getting used to. In November of 2013, when Disney’s Frozen hit theaters, there were big expectations that the film would do well and that the products developed to support the movie would be extremely popular. No one, however, was prepared for the worldwide phenomenon that Frozen became.
“Demand for product was unbelievable,” Zakheim said of the popularity of Zak’s Frozen products. “Retailers were begging us for anything and everything we could give them that had to do with Frozen, and we significantly added products to our line and rushed product in to help meet the demand.”
The unprecedented success of the fun and innovative products Zak developed for the movie catapulted the company to its largest annual sales in the company’s 40-year history. But it wasn’t just the popularity of Frozen that accounted for the growth in sales. Zak had also made a firm commitment in 2014 to expand into new and under-served categories. It launched a comprehensive offering in ceramics and glassware that included traditional coffee mugs, drinking glasses, and sculpted mugs in a wide assortment of licenses that appealed to fans of all ages. Zak also launched its Toddlerific assortment of mealtime products designed to make it easier for toddlers to transition from being fed to feeding themselves, and to give more options for people who wanted functional and fashionable on-the-go drinkware choices. Zak significantly expanded its Planet Zak offering with more thermal containers and new stainless steel growlers as well as innovative water bottles such as the HydraTrak bottle that allows people to simply and easily keep track of their daily water intake.
These expanded categories not only helped Zak to its most successful sales year in 2014, they also helped position the company for continued growth in 2015 – especially considering that one of the most anticipated movies in history was just around the corner.
“Star Wars isn’t an event,” Zakheim said. “Star Wars is something altogether different. It’s a part of our culture. It’s a part of who we are. Fans of all ages and from every background can find something to relate to with Star Wars. It’s never gone out of style, but it’s never been as popular as it is right now.”
From durable plates and bowls to ceramic mugs and water bottles, the assortment of products Zak Designs put together to feed the Star Wars craze surpassed any collection the company had previously developed. The company made a significant investment developing the products under the blanket of secrecy the licensor demanded. (Even Zak’s top international customers had to sign Non-Disclosure Agreements before they were allowed to see the prototypes of the products).
Once Force Friday hit, however, both the investment and the secrecy paid off. The products lived up to the hype, and fans responded in a way that only Star Wars fans could. And after the dust settled, Zak Designs was left staring at sales figures that have climbed high enough to make 2015 an even bigger year than the record-breaking sales year the company had in 2014.
Mega movie events like Frozen and Star Wars have not only given Zak its two biggest sales years in the company’s 40-year history, they’ve also helped position Zak for future growth that will continue to drive its success for the next 40 years. The company has recently expanded its workforce by adding key people in strategic positions that will allow Zak to move into different markets and increase its offering in existing accounts. To keep up with the anticipated growth in demand, Zak is also in the process of expanding its already impressive warehouse in Airway Heights by 50 percent and adding an additional 48,000 square feet of space that will be completed in March 2016 and help ensure that as the company continues to grow, it will always have enough room to hold the inventory it needs to keep up with the demand.
“The whole team here at Zak has worked hard to give us the record-breaking success we’ve had the last two years, and with the expanded warehouse and new additions to the team, we’re helping to make sure that all that hard work and success keeps us on a trajectory of future growth,” Zakheim said. “It’s really going to be fun to see where we go in the next 40 years!”