Sporting an electric yellow Oregon Ducks hat and a beaming smile that could be seen from miles away, Paul Moore reached across his dining room table and picked up a square see-through plastic container that contained a bright blue baby toy in the shape of a narwhal.
The 41-year-old Kodiak commercial fisherman described what a narwhal was — the unicorn of the sea — before pointing to a label on the bottom of the box that read: “Company: Smily Mia, LLC. Address: 3984 Harry Nielsen Ave, Kodiak, AK 99615.”
Moore’s trademark smile widened as he talked.
“Everything that goes out over the world says Kodiak, Alaska,” he said.
Moore is one of four owners of the up-and-coming company Smily Mia, which produces a variety of silicone stimulation toys for toddlers. In less than a year after launching the company, Smily Mia products are a hit in Europe and Asia and are soon to be in retail stores in the United States. People all over the world can buy Nora the Narwhal, Norman the Dinosaur and Nick the Hippo — the company’s three signature pieces — on Amazon.
“It is going a lot bigger than we had planned,” Moore said. “It has taken off very well.”
Moore was introduced to the world of business after graduating from high school in Coos Bay, Oregon. Instead of continuing in college — he took classes at Southwestern Oregon while still attending high school — he opted to enter the workforce as an assistant to a family friend who owned a computer company. That job landed Moore in China, and he soon realized he was working for an extremely wealthy man. Moore, 19 at the time, met Versace and traveled around the globe doing trade shows, staying in five-star hotels and dining at fancy restaurants along the way. He traveled to over 20 countries on three continents — Asia, Europe and North America.
“I had passports that would fill up and I would add pages two or three times,” he said.
That was a change of pace for Moore, who was raised by a single mother who had to post-date checks to make ends meet.
“She never made us feel poor but, looking back, I realized how poor we really were. I never felt it growing up,” he said. “We scraped our pennies together but we always had pennies.”
Moore’s father is from the Philippines and his mother, who died in 2013, was from the United Kingdom. They met in California. Wanting out of Los Angeles, the family — Moore has an older brother and two sisters — set forth for Seattle. They never made it to the Emerald City.
“We hit Coos Bay on a beautiful day and stayed there,” Moore said.
Moore’s dad left the family when he was young, but came back into his life when he was a teenager. He lives in Florida and has stayed in touch with his son through the years.
Moore was in China when the Bamboo Curtain was raised. He said he would go three months without seeing another foreigner and the technology was slow.
“I would send a 70-page fax and it would take me three and a half hours from the international hotel and it would cost $300,” Moore said.
Moore worked for the family friend until his daughter, Madison, was born. The time Moore spent with that man was invaluable.
“I learned so much from him,” he said. “My parents told me that was a smart move because I learned so much more from him than I did any institution of education.”
After leaving the computer industry, Moore joined Open Fairways — a golfing discount program in Europe and Asia endorsed by professional golfer Nick Faldo. It was there where he met his current business partner.
“We built this company from scratch and recruited hundreds of courses in the program,” Moore said.
He built a lasting friendship with his future business partner — they both had young kids. When Moore moved back to stateside to help his ill mother run a nursing care facility, his partner at Open Fairways left the golf industry for a baby product company.
A few years ago, Moore and his business partner started bouncing ideas off each other about building their own baby product company.
“We had built a trust over the years, working with each other, knowing each other’s ability and what we could handle. It was a great fit for us,” Moore said. “We both had kids at this point, so we both understood the product.”
Having heard horror stories about liquid teethers, they settled on silicone teethers. They added another partner who owns a silicone factory in China. Production started and the narwhal, hippo and dinosaur teethers debuted at a trade show in Germany.
“We realized that the three animals that our kids liked playing with hadn’t been taken yet. We wanted something that was unique and original,” Moore said. “We all had the vision that we wanted a safe toy and something that was going to stimulate development in a kid.”
Finding the right color for each product ended up being the most challenging aspect of designing the teether.
“We went through so many shades, they all started to look the same,” he said.
Shortly after the trade show in Germany, the products hit the shelves at Toys R Us in Poland. That was a huge milestone for the company.
“That was neat for me because growing up you want to be connected to Toys R Us,” Moore said.
Moore connected with a retail store — he did not disclose its name — in the United States at a recent trade show in Las Vegas. He hopes Smily Mia products will be on shelves in the states soon.
“We wanted to be in retail within three years and we did it within six months,” Moore said. “That is a great goal that we achieved ahead of time.”
He said the question he fields the most at trade shows is why is Smily is spelled without an E.
“It looked cleaner in marketing,” he said. “We combined our stories together. Her daughter’s name is Mia and I’m always smiling.”
Being a commercial fisherman does pose a few challenges when operating Smily Mia. While on the water, he scores through emails, video chats with his partners and creates barcodes for every product — they also offer silicone straws — until the boat sails out of cell phone range. When the boat is offloading fish in Kodiak, he catches up on emails in the upstairs office at his house on Spruce Cape. Then it is back on the water.
“So far, the first year I don’t think I have spread myself too thin,” Moore said. “It has been quite a bit of a challenge — a single parent with a teenage kid and being a fisherman. It is interesting.”
Moore never thought he would sell baby toys, let alone fish for a living. Growing up, he was fixated on music and was good at it. He played bass and tenor saxophone and was in 10 performing groups his senior year. He was his high school’s recipient of the Louis Armstrong Award.
“I love music. I was going to be a music teacher. I had a music teacher that told me if you live music and you like money, don’t be a teacher,” said Moore, who still has enough musical instruments to start a garage band.
Moore’s mother died in 2013. After her death, he was going to move back to China but, with a buddy’s recommendation, he ventured north to Alaska and carved out a spot on the F/V Laura in Kodiak. He has been on the Laura ever since.
“I enjoy it,” he said. “I don’t like being away from my daughter but she knows the life and has been involved with it for several years. I make all her events at school. She is a pretty active kid.”
Moore’s personality is as big as his smile and that is the way he lives his life — always happy and looking for the next big invention — an appearance on the television show “Shark Tank” could be in his future.
“I’ve had three different people tell me if I could bottle your smile, I would be a millionaire,” he said.
He said his life has been comprised of random events and that even his friends do not know how to introduce him to others.
“I went from making computer cables, golfing, fishing and now doing baby products,” Moore said. “You never know where life is going to take you. You just have to enjoy it.”