Mike Bowling, Inventor of Pound Puppies: Here’s to Enjoying the Ride!

by The Bloom Report | 30 Sep 2021

The Bloom Report

Here’s to Enjoying the Ride!


People I meet always seem interested in how I invented Pound Puppies® and the toy line’s astounding success.  I’m here to tell you that it isn’t so much about the nuts and bolts of “how”.  The most important thing to know is the “why” and the guiding principles I learned in the ride along the way. 


It’s Not the How... It’s the Why

Many people find it hard to believe that I never sought to invent Pound Puppies® for “the money”.  I did it for the freedom and the joy it would bring me.  To stay focused on what I truly wanted over the years, I taped quotes on my desk at home to remind me of my goals daily.  My most favorite quote that I still have taped to my desk reads, “If I can be given a living in doing something that I enjoy, then that in itself is wealth.”  I pursued my toy idea because I wanted to get up every morning and do something I loved every day.  Believe me, if I had done it just for “the money” I never would have taken the huge risks I did to make it a success.


I came to the toy industry as a total newbie.  I didn’t know a soul in the industry and had no idea how it worked.  I only knew I had an idea I believed was great and I wanted more than anything in the world to make it become a reality.  To illustrate this, a few years later, Howard Bollinger, formerly at Kenner told me, “You succeeded because you didn’t know all the reasons why it wouldn’t succeed.” 


Of course, Pound Puppies® wasn’t the first idea I had.   I considered many non-toy ideas before the Pound Puppies® concept, but the negative thinking always crept into my mind. Thoughts like, “You can’t do this. You don’t have the contacts or the money, etc., etc., etc.!”  kept me from pursuing those ideas.  Let me tell you, when you are standing on a Ford Motor Company assembly line, and you are putting the same part in again and again, you can do it without even realizing you are doing it!  It gives you a lot of time to think! Ford Motor Company is a great company, but the truth is I really didn’t enjoy working in a factory. However, for 18 years, Ford Motor Company provided me a good wage and medical benefits that allowed me to take care of my family.


The funny thing is, when the idea for Pound Puppies® came to me, I wasn’t at work.  It was December 27th and I was thinking about how much my daughter loved her doll I got her for Christmas. That’s when it dawned on me that the two things people were most passionate about were their children and their pets. As I considered the pets I had loved, I remembered that every one of them had come from “The Pound”.  That was the Eureka moment, the moment the dream came to life.  I would create Pound Puppies®! It would be a toy for children to adopt, name and love, just as I had adopted many real living “Pound Puppies” throughout my life!  

No, You’re NOT “Barking Mad!

Inspiration, Perspiration and Persistence Pay Off.  Don’t Quit!

If you are passionate and believe in your idea, nothing will stop you! The only way it will fail is to quit.  It is important to hold on to that beautiful moment of clarity when the gift of inspiration hits you, because remembering that feeling will sustain you when it is time for the perspiration and persistence that must follow.


In the early stages of creating Pound Puppies®, I still went to work at Ford most days, at least when I wasn’t burning up my maximum 90 days leave (Non Paid) to chase my dream.  When folks I worked with at Ford became aware of my toy plans, some of them would bark at me as I walked down the aisleways. Yes! They literally “barked” at me. Some of it was good natured hazing and some was mockery.  I didn’t let it phase me because I KNEW this toy was great.  It just made so much sense to me.


During these early stages of Pound Puppies®, the smartest thing I did was hire an intellectual property lawyer who patiently listened, and then taught me something very profound.  He said, “You can’t own an idea.  Nobody can own an idea.  What you can own, is a patent, a copyright, or a trademark.”  Now I know, hiring an intellectual property lawyer should be one of the earliest steps a toy inventor should do with a toy concept or any idea for that matter!  It’s money well spent.  His advice was to create physical toys which I could then copyright and file a registration for the trademark. The name/trademark was the most valuable part of the IP…it explained the concept to kids in just two words….Pound Puppies®!


Before I ever licensed Pound Puppies® to any company, I got the idea to send two handmade Pound Puppies® to Hanna-Barbera along with a handwritten letter that read, “I have invented a toy called Pound Puppies which I think would make a great cartoon show! If you’re interested, here’s my phone number to call me back!”  Now most people would tell you that’s not the “proper” way to approach two famous producers in Hollywood. What did I know about cartoon shows or their production? Nothing! I only knew I grew up loving the Flintstones, the Jetsons, Scooby Doo, and don’t forget The Huckleberry Hound Show! I never thought of approaching anyone else, but I sure had nothing to lose, so I sent out the two Pound Puppies® and the letter, not really expecting to hear back.


One week later I was sitting at my kitchen table after a long day at work when our phone rang. (It was a small princess phone mounted on the wall, not a cell phone, of course.) I answered it and heard a man say, “Hi I’m Joe Taratara, a VP from Hanna-Barbera, and I’m calling to say,  Joe Barbera received your package and loves your Pound Puppies! He would like you to come to Hollywood and meet with him and Bill Hannah to discuss Pound Puppies!” I remember my excitement.  I had to sit down, which is not an unexpected reaction when your dreams start coming true right before your eyes.  A week later, when I walked into my first meeting will Bill Hanna and Joe Barbera, Joe said,  “I loved these the minute I saw them because I don’t have to explain to kids what they are or what they’re about. The story lines are natural and translate all over the world.  We would love to make a cartoon show about them!”

Not long after, with my new handmade Pound Puppies® and my plan in hand, I hit the road with Bob Steiner. Bob’s family had started Kenner Toy Company and after the family sold Kenner, he consulted in the toy industry. Bob Steiner was my agent, my consultant, my mentor, and my friend.  Knocking on doors was “ruff”.  I was swiftly turned down by many different companies.  During one of my presentations, an executive even huffed that the puppies were the ugliest things he'd ever seen.  He gave a distasteful glance at my Pound Puppy® and snorted, “Looks like they’re squatting to pee!” Then he got up and walked out! Nevertheless, I persevered and eventually landed an audience with Irwin Toy in Canada, who licensed Pound Puppies® on the spot and released them in Canada in that same year.  Five months later, they were on the shelves. They were an immediate hit! The months that followed brought more wonderful news.  Tonka took the license and was now going to manufacture and market Pound Puppies® in the United States. With Hannah-Barbera  producing a cartoon series for ABC, we were ready to take off, but even before the first cartoon came out, we were already number one in the US, proving the strength of the concept.


Great things happened!  I worked hard, persevered through every obstacle, and never gave up on bringing my inspiration to life. I always imagined myself as one of those little cars where you wind it up, set it down, and every time it hits an obstacle, it just flips over and keeps on going. Doing business means overcoming challenges daily.


My No-Fail Business Philosophy:

Product success.  Partner success.  My success.


Over these many years in the toy industry, I have found what I believe is a perfect business philosophy that guides me always.


Product  success.  Partner success.  My success.


First, I focus on the product. It has to be great. If your product is not a winner, nothing else matters.


Second, I focus on my partners and what they need to be successful.  An example of this in action is when the head of international sales for Tonka called me and said, “I got a deal with a distributor in the UK for a hundred thousand piece order of a special item.  I have to give him a lower price to make it work. We will cut our margins. Will you take a cut in the royalty rate?”


I said, “Yes!” and without hesitation, took half my usual royalties for that particular item. When the next quarterly check arrived, I noticed that the accountants had sent me full royalties  rather than the half I had agreed to accept.  They overpaid me, so I sent the money back. 


When the accountant called me to say, no-one EVER sent a check back to us on overpaid royalties!”, I simply told him, “I love you guys!  You are doing a great job for Pound Puppies®.”  And they were.  We were number one in our category.


Product success.  Partner success.  My success.


Years later at a Christmas party in California, the president of Galoob Toys, who had recently licensed Pound Puppies® said, “I can’t figure you out.”

“What do you mean?” I asked.

“You are not like all the other license owners.  You’re not like the rest of them that I deal with who we fight with all the time!” 

“I appreciate that you more than you know,” I replied.  “Why would I fight with you? You are manufacturing, selling, shipping, and advertising my product.”


I was truly grateful for all his company was doing, and I want to sincerely thank all the wonderful partners who have helped me along this journey I’ve had in these last 37 years.


Product success.  Partner success.  My success.


When your product is a success, and your partner succeeds, your success always follows. You never have to worry about number three if you take care of number one and number two first!  It is all about genuinely caring about one another and working together to assure each other’s success.  In all my dealings, I strive to always remain a gentleman who places character above profits and insists on honesty and kindness leading the way on the road to success.  If you adhere to this philosophy, no one will ever fault you or your success.


On True Joy

I am proud to be part of the greatest industry on earth, putting smiles on kids’ faces all over the world. Bringing Pound Puppies® to life and guiding it to reach over $1 billion in retail sales in 52 countries, watching it be named as one of the Toy Industry Association’s top 100 toy lines of the last 100 years, and become recognized by Time magazine as one of the 100 best toys since 1923, were worth more than anything!!  It was a labor of love and passion. For me, the true joy of inventing toys comes from the toy’s creation process, the lifelong friendships I form along the way, and seeing the results when all that creative passion comes to life. I firmly believe that

wonderful toys are not just manufactured.  True toys, the ones that last and capture our hearts and imaginations, come from a place of joy and a love for all children.  They have a story to tell, a world they live in and way before I invent a toy, before the first stitch is sewn, or drawing is

made…I know their story. 


The first time I recall seeing a Pound Puppy in public was in 1985 at the Toronto airport.  A little girl was hugging her Pound Puppy tightly in her arms and talking to her new best friend. I just stood there and watched her hold it. It is impossible to describe the feeling. My idea had been based on love, and right then, when I saw such love in that little girls eyes, I knew the original love that had inspired my toy had truly come through in the Pound Puppies®. .


While Pound Puppies® will always hold a special place in my heart, I have enjoyed creating many other successful toy lines, and have developed many more great friendships with people in the toy industry.  Today I still enjoy inventing toys and I also enjoy sharing my business philosophy and encouraging people to keep hope and joy on the same plate as hard work and perseverance.  Most of all, I encourage people to take the first steps and simply... start.  As I share in my motivational speeches, “The Greatest Ideas on Earth Will Never Be Invented.” Everyone has ideas, but the problem is, the majority will never pursue them.  Go ahead!  Don’t hold yourself back.  Accept the gift of inspiration you were handed and... Enjoy the ride!



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