Magic Weighted Blanket — Handcrafted Serenity

Magic Weighted Blanket

About Magic Weighted Blanked 

Meet entrepreneur Keith Zivalich, the founder and owner of the Magic Weighted Blanket, the Original Weighted Blanket® Company. Weighted blankets have become extremely trendy over the past few years, with thousands of articles, influencers, and publications discussing the surprising benefits that they provide. Mr. Zivalich’s original design ensures that his weighted blankets mold to the user’s body, creating a hug-like sensation known as Deep Pressure Therapy (DPT). DPT has been shown to help ease stress and anxiety, even in people with autism or sensory processing disorders. And yet, despite the popular demand for weighted blankets skyrocketing recently, there is surprisingly little information out there about the small business owner behind the weighted blanket.

Motivation

The Magic Weighted Blanket has been around for over twenty years and, in that time, has faced many challenges as well as a remarkable success. The company’s founder, Keith Zivalich, came up with the idea for the weighted blanket back in 1997 after his daughter placed a stuffed, bead-filled toy on his shoulder. He noticed that the beads in the toy had caused it to sink into his shoulder – almost like the toy was trying to hug him. In a flash of inspiration, he realized that a blanket filled with beads could replicate that hug-like feeling, but for the entire body!

Keith’s wife, Lynda, sewed several prototypes before they finally settled on their original design. In order to ensure that the blanket’s weight would be evenly distributed across the user’s body, the Zivalich’s used a pocketed inner liner. Each pocket is filled with the same amount of poly pellets, creating an even weight that is, more-or-less, held in place. While the beads will shift as the user moves, they are prevented from simply pooling in one corner of the blanket (which would render it useless).

Zivalich took his new invention around to swap meets and was met with mixed criticism. While some were intrigued by the idea, others couldn’t understand why they would want to lay under a heavy blanket that was filled with beads. Nevertheless, Keith persisted! He showed his weighted blanket to a friend who taught disabled children. She brought one of Keith’s Magic Weighted Blankets to her class for nap time and noticed that the children calmed down almost as soon as the blanket was placed over them. Once Keith saw how successful his product was with disabled children, he knew that not only was there a market for his business, but also people whose lives could genuinely be improved by his invention. Excited to find a product that could actually help them destress, the autistic community embraced the weighted blanket.

Despite remaining a full-time executive for an advertising agency, Zivalich found himself with a growing side-hustle. On his lunch breaks, Keith would drive to downtown Los Angeles to pick up fabric, which he would then deliver personally to a nearby factory with whom he had contracted to make his Magic Weighted Blankets. Slowly but surely, word of his weighted blanket business started to spread by word of mouth. While this brought Zivalich more business, it also led to competitors making and selling their own weighted blankets. Eventually, weighted blankets gained mainstream attention. In 2014, a journalist from Forbes reached out to Zivalich for an interview. After that, more journalists started reaching out and Keith soon saw his small business being featured in Cosmopolitan, Women’s Health, Lifehack, Wall Street Journal, and several other publications of note. 

Challenges

Keith has faced many challenges since starting his small business. The first, and perhaps greatest, the challenge was attempting to get a patent for his new invention. Zivalich applied for a patent for his weighted blanket after searching patent records and finding that nothing like it had been patented before. However, he soon realized just how expensive it was to apply for a patent. After having his application rejected on his first attempt doing it himself, and being unable to afford to hire a lawyer to help him, Keith was unable to move forward with the patenting process. 

Fortunately, not having a patent did not deter Keith. He found great success selling his Magic Weighted Blankets over the years. Unfortunately, along with success comes increased competition. Zivalich was thrilled to see his product gaining mainstream attention and popularity, but knew that it was only a matter of time before other companies would begin to make their own weighted blankets overseas and undercut his prices. And, sadly, that is exactly what happened. He soon saw weighted blanket companies everywhere, and most of them manufactured their blankets in the same overseas factory at prices far below what it cost Keith to have his blankets made here in the United States. It wasn’t long before Zivalich began getting messages from those same overseas factories, offering to make his Magic Weighted Blankets at incredibly cheap prices. Despite this, he held strong and continues making his blankets in America to this day.

If having to deal with cheaper versions of his product now wasn’t enough, Keith found himself simultaneously struggling to compete with his competitors (and their massive profit margins) when it came to marketing. Since his blankets are made in America he simply did not have the same marketing budget as many of his competitors. This meant he was slowly getting pushed further and further down the Google search rankings, while also getting bumped from articles and lists in major publications. The Forbes article that was once the first article in a major publication written about him and his business was redirected to a new link for a shopping guide about weighted blankets. That guide did not include the original weighted blanket on its list – rather, a group of Forbes’ affiliates (Forbes made money off of each sale made through the links in the guide) received all of the recommendations. Another huge letdown by the media occurred when Time Magazine reached out to his company and interviewed him for their “Best Inventions” list in 2018. That may seem like a good thing, which is exactly what Keith and his family thought when they were first contacted. They were met with disappointment, however, when the night before the list was to be published they received an email from Time claiming that “weighted blankets did not make the cut” for the Best Inventions list. However, this turned out not to be entirely true. Time had selected weighted blankets for their list – they just gave the award to another weighted blanket company. They mentioned that the other company had not invented the product, but had made waves in the media with their marketing campaign. 

Zivalich soon realized that weighted blankets had reached a level of popularity that had the media writing articles about them, not for informational purposes, but for their own profit. To make matters worse, it turns out that other companies were willing to simply lie about their own products. Keith’s daughter and the sole employee had noticed several other companies claiming to be “the original weighted blanket.” This caused Keith to finally file for a trademark for the slogan he had long used with his company: “the original weighted blanket.” They received their trademark earlier this year, and will finally be able to stop other companies from fraudulently taking credit for Keith’s invention.

A final challenge has been dealing with Amazon. It is hard for a small business to compete with large corporations, and nearly as difficult to compete with drop-shippers that source their products in countries with low/no minimum wages. The Magic Weighted Blanket put their products on Amazon in 2017 and quickly saw success, making over $1 million in sales through Amazon alone. However, after the weighted blanket trend hit and Amazon was flooded with knock-offs made overseas (and being sold for less than half the Magic Weighted Blanket’s prices ) Zivalich found it difficult to compete. Naturally, things got even worse when Amazon started removing some of the Magic Weighted Blanket’s listings (supposedly for making unverified medical claims – Zivalich did not make any medical claims in his listings) just before Black Friday while allowing competing brands (most of whom used similar product descriptions to those that Zivalich was penalized for) to remain on the platform.

Opportunities

While the obstacles that Keith has faced have left him and his family feeling as though there was nothing that he could do to compete in the now oversaturated weighted blanket market, he never gave up. Even during a pandemic that saw many small businesses close, Keith has continued on, telling his story and doing the best he could to market his blankets on the basis of ethical sourcing and high quality, as opposed to trying to compete on price.

Recently, there has been a push for consumers to support American-made products. Buying American helps American workers keep their jobs and also stops rewarding companies for exploiting workers overseas, all so that they can sell cheap products for a huge markup. Cheap products are cheap because they were made in countries that don’t provide their workers with equivalent protections to those here in America (which, themselves, are not the best). There are many people who are willing to buy a more expensive product if they know that they are supporting American workers making a living wage.

Advice 

The Magic Weighted Blanket has been in business for over two decades and, in that time, Keith has learned a thing or two about small businesses. The first piece of advice he’d like to share is for fellow inventors. If you come up with a new and original product that you truly believe that it can be successful then get a patent. Not only that, but protect your other intellectual property, such as slogans, with trademarks. 

Save money and learn DIY marketing and PR strategies. Doing it yourself has never been easier for small business owners. Platforms like Shopify make it simple to create your own online store. Social media, with some effort, can be used to get the word out about your product and create a loyal customer base. Instagram, Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest, etc. are free and easy to manage yourself so there is no need to hire an expensive marketing company to run those accounts for you.

Finally, customer service is key. Big corporations are routinely criticized for their poor customer service, which absolutely drives shoppers away. The Magic Weighted Blanket’s email address is managed by Keith’s daughter and he mans the phone line. Many customers are surprised to find themselves talking directly to the owner of the Magic Weighted Blanket after wading through endless automated answering services, voicemails, and disinterested associates trying to contact some of Keith’s bigger competitors. 

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