A second act for plush-doppelgangers maker Bleacher Creatures

Bleacher Creatures’ founder Matthew Hoffman (left, front) and Pangea Brands CEO Ed Strauss (right, front, holding dog Minnie) and associates in New York on Sept. 28. Behind them, from left, are Jeremy Kelley, Jason Davidman, and Peggy Strauss. The two companies — whose products are featured on the shelves — have combined to become Uncanny Brands.

Five months after filing for bankruptcy, Bleacher Creatures, the Plymouth Meeting maker of stuffed likenesses of pro sports and entertainment personalities, has a new lease on life: new ownership, a pared product line, and a humble appreciation for the consequences and costs of trying to be too much too soon.

New York-based Pangea Brands LLC, which specializes in pop-culture toys, collectibles, and appliances — including a “Star Wars” toaster and a “Transformers” waffle-maker — announced its purchase of Bleacher Creatures on Oct. 1 to coincide with two relevant events: the Fall Toy Preview in Dallas, and New York Comic Con.

Though the deal will bring many changes, Bleacher Creatures founder Matthew Hoffman, 46, of Plymouth Meeting, will remain. He will be president of the new combined company, to be known as Uncanny Brands effective Jan. 1. In a recent interview, the new company’s leaders talked about the future.

How will Bleacher Creatures offerings change?

Dropped from the line, at least initially, will be National Football League and Major League Baseball figures, as well as characters from DC Comics and Marvel. Still available will be dolls fashioned after popular personalities in World Wrestling Entertainment, the National Basketball Association, and the National Hockey League, as well as some college mascots and politicians.

Camera icon Tom Gralish
Elvis (from left), President Trump, Pope Francis and other superhero plush dolls created by Plymouth Township-based Bleacher Creatures are shown on display at Pangea Brands in New York. Pangea combined with the founder of Bleacher Creatures to buy the assets of the latter’s bankrupt company.

Of the discontinued lines, some the result of the bankruptcy, “I think the door is open with all of them,” Hoffman said. But for now, the focus is on scaling down expensive licensing agreements and inventory “to build a strong foundation. What we did before is sort of go after everything and drown.”

Who were the winning bidders on Bleacher Creatures’ assets?

Hoffman, along with two other original investors in Bleacher Creatures, Ed and Peggy Strauss, a New York couple who started Pangea Brands in 2009, one year before Bleacher Creatures was founded. They would not disclose what they bid on the assets.

How much of the estimated $1 million in Bleacher Creatures’ debt to 40 to 50 creditors — including the Strausses and Hoffman —  will be satisfied?

Hoffman and Ed Strauss said that won’t be known until the end of 2017 as they continue to attempt to collect what was owed Bleacher Creatures, including amounts from retailers who themselves have declared bankruptcy, such as Toys R Us and Nerd Block.

With Bleacher Creatures citing $1.5 million in assets as of the end of March and $1.8 million in liabilities at the time, why did the Strausses consider the business worth merging with Pangea?

“We loved the uniqueness of the ability to create plush that actually looks like a human, that whole idea that nobody else is really able to achieve,” said Ed Strauss. He and his wife intend to use the titles co-managing partners at Uncanny Brands.

“I think we were all blown away by the quality of these things,” said Peggy Strauss. “When confronted with this all going to go away, it was incredibly sad. We just felt in our gut … this is a great product.”

What went into the decision to have Hoffman oversee the new company?

“We took a big gamble on Matt now running a combined entity, but we really feel that Matt knows the licensing business so well that he would be the right person to combine these companies and build them into a licensing powerhouse,” Ed Strauss said.

Will Bleacher Creatures’ acquisition by a New York company mean the end of its Pennsylvania office presence?

No. Hoffman said the plan is to move to another site within Plymouth Meeting. There are plans to add staff later this year to the current workforce of six. Orders still will be accepted at http://bleachercreatures.com. The dolls are made in China.

In the combined company, what is expected to contribute the most amount of revenue?

“The ‘Star Wars’ products are going to continue to drive the business,” said Peggy Strauss, although she is not certain there will ever be “Star Wars” Bleacher Creatures. “That’s a tough license deal to get.”