Sootheze Therapy Products in Red Bluff
By Melissa Mendonca
Story by Melissa Mendonca
Photos by Alexis Leclair
IN EVERY HOUSE, at least one person has a favorite blanket or stuffed animal. There’s just something about it that brings comfort and security. They keep going back to that one special item, regardless of condition over time.
Mike Nichols of Red Bluff’s Sootheze Therapy Products has been studying the art and science behind these favored items and has elevated them to a therapeutic level for individuals on the autism spectrum and anyone needing the grounding effect of a weighted blanket or specially designed plush animal.
His items, often used by play therapists and designed with their needs in mind, have three core components that set them apart: they’re weighted for a grounding and calming effect; they’re filled with a proprietary blend of calming herbs for the impact of aromatherapy; and they can be heated or chilled for additional comfort. And they’re soft – the kind of soft you don’t want to let go.
One could say Nichols could have used a Sootheze product himself when he was first offered the opportunity to take over the business developed by Harry Nizamian, known as “The Father of Garfield” for bringing the first plush Garfield toy to market. “It just so happened I was sitting on the porch with my mother,” he says. “I was struggling because both my parents were sick and I was trying to be a general contractor and be a caregiver.” Nichols had known Nizamian for decades, and though he says, “It wasn’t exactly what I expected. It was very small,” he quickly came to see the power and potential of the company.
“I went to a play therapy conference in Atlanta and did a little research on what play therapists would like,” he says. The products he took sold out in a day and a half. “I knew right there that it was something. A: It mattered, but it was also something people wanted. B: It was effective.”
Nichols rolled up his sleeves and went to work building the business. “Everything we do is 100 percent custom here in Red Bluff,” he says. His late mother was his first seamstress. She taught Nichols to sew as well, and he says, “for two years I was the primary sewer.” That time together was invaluable. “My mom and I were best friends throughout my whole life,” he adds. “I’m a total momma’s boy.”
Still, “as business started getting a little better, mom’s health started getting worse,” he says. Success then depended on Nichols, his wife Tashia and a bevy of friends and family who would come to help. “We’d basically supply beer, wine and pizza,” Nichols says of the early days getting Sootheze off the ground. Local retail stores Dandy Lion’s and St. Elizabeth Hospital Gift Shop sell his products, and local designer Heather Vine has helped him get his online store up and running.
Today, the lineup of Sootheze Therapy Products includes weighted blankets, lap pads and a growing list of plush characters, including Pepper the Pug designed as a collar that’s weighted around the neck. There are squeezable bunnies, raccoons, bears and dogs, and blankets attractive to both children and adults. A lap pad is especially helpful to children. “It’s grounding, it’s calming,” says Nichols. “It’s like a deep pressure therapy.”
The chance Nichols took on Sootheze is now beginning to pay off. “In those last few months of 2017 we did better than we did all of 2016 and we decided we could make this work,” he says. Just as important, he was afforded the opportunity to care for both his parents through their life transitions.
Now, he can take pride in the good his products bring to the world in the way they calm and nurture those who cuddle up with them. “The first time you hand it to someone, between the weight, and the softness and the aroma...” While he may get caught up finishing the sentence, it’s clear he’s glad he took the phone call that fateful day on the porch to build a company he never could have imagined. •
Sootheze Therapy Products