Whoever said silly babbling doesn’t pay off doesn’t know Jim Gick.
The 64-year-old Laguna Niguel resident has made a living on babbling. He is the inventor of the popular Babble Ball and many other toys for pets, and serves as president of Pet Qwerks, a national pet toy company.
As for the wildly popular Babble Ball, when touched, the interactive toy quips such phrases as: “Here we go again,” “Here puppy, puppy,” “Oh lucky dog,” and “Rock'n'roll big doggy,” to name a few of the messages.
He created the Babble Ball for his dog, Koko, whose own talking toy had broken.
"He had that look on his face: 'Please, fix it,' " Gick said during a recent interview at his Laguna Niguel home. "The toy sat broken in the garage for a month or so, and Koko would look at it every time he saw it.
"One day I found a ball-shaped yo-yo in a toy store," Gick said. "I cut it apart, made a little motion switch for the components of the broken toy, stuffed it inside and glued it together. Koko went wild ... he chased it all over the house until he was exhausted. It was his favorite toy by far."
How it Works
The ball is triggered to talk by either a pet’s breathing or by the vibration of the animal walking nearby. The voice the ball makes is actually Gick’s that has been manipulated by computer technology and has been recorded on a chip that sits inside the ball.
“All pets love toys that make noise," Gick said. "Most pets also love balls and the Babble Balls combine both features into a single toy. Inanimate squeak toys or plain balls don't hold a candle to the Babble Balls. From the pet’s perspective, the Babble Balls are playing with them. The more they play, the more the balls will talk back to them."
After a year of testing various Babble Ball prototypes, and investing $500,000 of his own money, Gick found a supplier overseas, and in July 2003, the first Babble Ball was born. The balls are still produced overseas, he said.
"The dogs think there is some kind of animal inside the ball, but other pets love it, too," he said. “One consumer said her ferret adopted the little kitty ball and carried it around like a baby. Another lady sent me a picture of her hedgehog playing with one."
These days, sales are well into the seven figures and since its founding, Gick has gone on to invent other pet toys such as IncrediBubbles, Blinky Balls, Da Bomb, and the X-Tire. He said the number one selling pet product at is the Babble Ball. It is also sold in supermarkets, pet stores and home goods stores.
The Babble Ball has even made it into homes of the famous like actress Jennifer Garner, wife of Ben Affleck. Click here to see video.
Gick said the Babble Ball is also healthy for pets; it’s typical that pets, especially dogs, become quite excited with the balls. The physical workouts provide all the benefits of healthy exercise.
"A healthy pet is a happy pet," he said. "The Babble Balls have opened new worlds for pets that are blind or have poor eyesight. Pets with separation anxiety or are chronically bored have perked up remarkably. Unlike toys that motivate activity by dropping out unhealthy treats, the Babble Balls are just good healthy fun."
Early Creative Beginnings
Gick is no stranger to inventions as his dad was a former designer of metal tools for leather crafts such as belts and purses. He had one of the first hobby shops in the 1950s in the Los Angles area that was bought out by Charles Tandy of the Tandy Corp, he said.
The second oldest of four children, Gick was drafted when he was 19 years old, and when he returned from the Army, he worked for his father. That business did so well, his dad sold it after 20 years, leaving Gick to find something to do on his own. He started up a new company specializing in gift products and later became a distributor of products for other companies. The company branched out, eventually into gift and stationery products with a line of postcards that was later bought out by a large company.
Gick, after selling the stationery business, decided in 1997, to venture into the world of real estate, something he didn't like. Finally, with the discovery of the Babble Ball, he started on a new path that continues today.
Nowadays, Gick attends various pet trade shows around the country, in addition to constantly working on adding more products to his growing pet toy company. The main office and warehouse is 27,000 square feet and is located in Irvine, where it employs nine.
“We have more than 100 different pet products now,” he said. “I'm always working on new toys, my mind is always churning, hoping to make pets happy.”