Blogging, E-tail & Mobilegeddon

If you read my blog, you know that my wife and I sell dolls on the internet at www.pattycakedoll.com.

And dolls being our passion, we love to share that passion with others. Of course ‘dolls’ is a really huge subject. There is doll collecting, doll history, dolls as an art form. There is doll anatomy, dolls and nurture, dolls and gender. One topic I like to write about is the doll business… where do dolls come from, how do they get into the stores, and how to run an e-tail store on the internet.

E-tailing is a really strange business to begin with, but recently it got a lot stranger. And it’s your fault!  You, the consumer! You who have gone mobile.

Because Google, (who still accounts for more than half of all the searches on the internet, and uses their own special way to figure out if our web store should be shown as the answer to their search), has decided that if someone is searching from their mobile device, then Google only wants to show them sites that Google thinks are “mobile friendly.”

And if your etail store (or blog) is not mobile friendly in Googles estimation, then they won’t show your site – especially if they can serve up your competitors who are mobile friendly.

April 21st was the day the new rules – called algorithims – went into effect. And for those of us who depend on you to come visit our stores and blogs via Google search, that day has been nicknamed Mobilgeddon.

Fortunately, Google has a way to find out if a site is mobile friendly or not, and both our store and this blog are mobile friendly.

Thank goodness, right?

Mixed Kid’s Dolls & E-tail

An Asian, Black and Native American mixed race doll

An Asian, Black and Native American mixed race doll

E-tail is a really interesting word. It means having a store on the internet. And it represents two completely different knowledge bases; the first having to do with everything from Search Engine Optimization to Pay-Per-Click advertising to Google Algorithms. Phrases like title tags, alt image and html 5.

The second knowledge base has a lot in common with normal brick and mortar stores, things like inventory management, product turns and marketing budget; although there are some new concepts like long tail and shopping cart abandonment to know about also.

What both etail and retail have in common though, is customers. How to find them and let them know you carry the products that they are looking for. Although to be honest with you, with etail it’s more like how to let them find you.

One of the main tools etailers have to do that with is called ‘keywords.’ Those are the words that you type into the search box on your computer, tablet or phone screen.

For The Pattycake Doll Company, most of the time that is pretty easy. If you’re an African American mom looking for a doll for your three year old, you would probably type in something like ‘black baby doll.’

If you just came home from the hospital with a newborn baby boy, you might look for a ‘boy doll’ for his older sister to play with.

But what do Black/White parents search for. Or Asian/Black. Or Hispanic/Asian?

I have two friends who are White women married to Black men and with girl children, so I just went and asked them. Surprisingly they both answered the same thing: “We’d look for dolls for ‘mixed kids.’ Okay!

But when I went to my online research tool for keywords, Google and Yahoo didn’t agree; the search volume for that phrase was almost non-existent. Some look for Biracial, some look for Mixed kids, some look for diversity dolls. But not as many as one might think considering that more than half of America’s children are ‘non-white!

It makes my life interesting.

A Taste of Toy Fair

I’ve written a great deal in past posts about buying dolls for the store, and the process we have to go through to get them.

And I’ve written quite a few times about Toy Fair – the annual industry wide gathering held in New York City where all the toy manufacturers, and store owners (From the very largest like Toys R Us and Walmart to the ‘little guys’ like me) meet to see the new toys.

But it’s hard to explain exactly what it’s like to walk up and down the aisles of booths, looking for the perfect products to carry in our store.

So this year, I took pictures. Here’s one of my favorite booths: Madame Alexander.

Madame Alexander Booth Toy Fair 2015

The booth for the Madame Alexander Doll Company at Toy Fair 2015

Like most manufacturers, Madame Alexander shows all their current, and especially all their new dolls.

One new doll is the 18″  ‘I’m a Pretty Black Girl’, coming out later this year. Here you can see the new doll displayed next to the book she is based on.

The new Madame Alexander 18 inch doll I'm A Pretty Little Black Girl based on the book.

The new Madame Alexander 18 inch doll I’m A Pretty Little Black Girl based on the book.

Fortunately I missed the day when Betty was in the booth signing her books. (Unfortunately I was not as lucky at the GUND booth, as the one and only ‘Grumpy Cat’ was there for a day and there was a line to ‘meet and greet’ him? Her? a mile long!)

Also interesting – at least to me:  My first morning at this year’s Toy Fair, I was down on the lower level looking for the ASTRA hospitality Suite. As a member of ASTRA (American Specialty Toy Retailers Association) I can hang up my coat on the coat racks in the suite for free.

It’s not that I think the regular coat racks are too expensive at $2.00 mind you, it’s that the lines to check it in in the AM, and especially at the end of the day waiting in line to pick it back up when you’re feet already hurt like the dickens can be horrendous!

So I’m walking towards the suite and I see about 200 young men and women in a line in the middle of the hall. And as I get closer I see the sign that tells me why all these young people are lined up there. It’s to get their costumes!

Like this young lady, who was at the Aurora Booth. She was dressed as a ‘Cutie Curls’ doll. In this picture she’s holding her mnamesake Cutie Curl doll (ethnic version).

Notice the polka dot top, the tulle pink dress and of course the bows in her hair. Isn’t she cute? (The doll of course!) ☺

Aurora Model and her namesake doll

I don’t know how much these people make over the four days, but I really feel sorry for them if they have to wear a costume with bad shoes. Can you imagine standing and smiling for 9 hours a day for four days straight?

Of course without actually attending it’s impossible to ever really feel like you’ve been to toy fair, but I hope you’ve gotten a bit of a feel for it from this posting.

Where do Dolls Come From? Pt 2

dolls 1

Have you ever wondered where dolls come from? Not geographically — although that can be an interesting story as well — but where a particular doll started and how it came to be?

I’ll be going to Toy Fair in NYC in a few weeks, and for The Pattycake Doll Company this is probably the biggest link in the supply chain for us. I’ll be making a few posts about Toy Fair, but today’s post is more about ‘where dolls come from part 2,’ a follow-up to last week’s post.

Last week we got from the beginning – an idea or a design up through the manufacturing of the doll. Let’s pick up her ‘journey’ from there:

  • Regardless of whether a doll is made in Spain, or the Phillipines or in China, the next step is to place her in her packaging – the box that she will be in when put on the store shelf.
  • Then she’s put into cartons… from as few as 2 to as many as 48 dolls per case, and then those cartons are put into containers (the trailer part of a tractor trailer), and then the containers are stacked on a ship.
  • Dolls are not flown to the states, they are shipped by sea.
  • There are various ports of entry but the majority of the dolls enter via the West coast ports, and then are sent to warehouses. Most companies do not warehouse their own dolls, but rent space in huge warehouses near the docks that they share with all the other renters.
  • From those warehouses, the dolls will be generally be sent to the stores, but they may also be sent to distribution centers like Walmart’s or Amazon.
  • But before the dolls can be ordered and sent to the stores, they must be shown to the various buyers like myself. That’s where Toy Fair comes in.
  • For the Pattycake Doll Company, I’ll go to The Jacob Javitz convention center in NYC, and over the course of a few days – walking up and down the aisles of three floors of toys, dolls, games and books – meet with almost every manufacturer of dolls.
  • I’ll place my orders, (I will generally spend upwards of $30,000 in just two days – and I’m small potatoes compared to most!), and then return home and wait for the dolls to arrive.
  • The dolls I saw at Toy Fair may or may not yet be ready to ship… I have ordered dolls in February that didn’t arrive until December!
  • I photograph and write copy for the dolls, enter them onto the website, and that’s when you, my dear customers place your orders.

And now you know where your dolls ‘come from!’

Where do Dolls Come From? Pt 1

2

Have you ever wondered where dolls come from? Not geographically — although that can be an interesting story as well — but where a particular doll started and how it came to be?

I’ll be going to Toy Fair in NYC in a few weeks, and for The Pattycake Doll Company this is probably the biggest link in the supply chain for us. I’ll be making a few more posts about Toy Fair, but today’s post is more about ‘where dolls come from’ in general than Toy Fair.

So. Let’s start at the beginning and describe the steps of how those beautiful dolls end up in your children’s loving arms.

  • Dolls start as an idea. Whether it’s an entrepreneur who thinks they’ve come up with something new and innovative that the doll market just needs to have, or a long time doll manufacturer like Madame Alexander or Kathe Kruse that wants to freshen up their line or reissue a classic doll for today’s children.
  • Next comes the design. A doll artist or doll sculptor or a doll design team starts making sketches and drawings. What could the new doll look like? What will it wear? What features will it have? How detailed shall it be?
  • Here is an example of a doll proposal: A 13 inch doll with open and close eyes that has a cloth body and soft vinyl head, arms and legs. We want it to be machine washable. We want one of the hands to have a thumb that will fit in the doll’s mouth so that it ‘sucks it’s thumb.’ We want it to be able to sit by itself, so we want a beanbag insert in the butt. We want it to be for a 12 month old or older. It will need to pass The European, Canadian and US safety regulations so that the one design can be sold in all three markets.
  • Once a design is finalized, negotiations begin with the factories. Most dolls are made in China, but quite a few are made in Spain, Eastern Europe, and Pacific Rim countries like Malaysia and Indonesia. Longtime manufacturers will have their regular factories established already, but every year there are new company start-ups who will have to establish their own relationships with the factories. Alibaba is one way for these new doll companies to locate potential manufacturers.
  • Costs are agreed upon, samples are made and either returned for correction or approved. There will be a mold made, and then various different colored vinyls will be used, different eye colors will be inserted, the finished features will be decided – like painted cheeks or what color paint for the hair… things like that.
  • Clothing will also be decided on at this point. A couple of different outfits will be hand sewn to fit the doll. Safety rules will need to be followed here as well. Using our example of a doll safe for 12 months old, there will probably not be any buttons, bows or ribbons that can be pulled off and swallowed.
  • The doll by now will have been named and it’s features settled on, so now the packaging designers will start their part of the process.
  • The new doll is manufactured, dressed and packaged.

Next week we’ll pick up from there… the journey from the factory to your child.

Why Do You Do What You Do? PtII

            It’s an interesting question, and one we had to think about for awhile to answer: Why Do You Do What You Do? Here’s how we finally answered it:

            Why do Adrienne and I run The Pattycake Doll Company?

            Let’s start with how we got started. Believe you me, when we were children and someone asked: “What do you want to be when you grow up?” We never said: “Be the country’s largest online specialty doll store owners.”

            So we have to admit that how we got here was as much of a surprise to us as to anyone else. But to make a long story short, we tried something else, (gift baskets for parents of new babies) failed miserably, (never sold a one), and before we shut down the store, tried selling some of the stuff ‘inside’ the gift baskets separately. Surprisingly, an Asian rag doll named ‘Ling’ by the Russ Berrie company, sold out almost immediately.

Ling An Asian Cloth Doll for Children

The Doll That started our business

            We made a few ‘customer service’ follow up phone calls and asked: “Why’d you buy the doll?” (This was back in the very early days of the internet, and not so strange as it would be today, when you get emails after you buy.)

            We got the same answer several times: “We just got back from China with a little adopted girl, and couldn’t find any Asian dolls in the stores, so we came online and found Ling.”

            Aha! Here was a need!

            So instead of continuing along with what we wanted to do – sell Baby Baskets – we decided to do what ‘they’ wanted us to do – sell multi-cultural and ethnic dolls for children. And then a few years later, we discovered that there was a pretty big demand for boy dolls so we added them too.

            So that’s how we got started. And we found that we loved it!

            The other part of the question of “Why do you do what you do?” is probably: “So why are you still doing it?”

            There are three parts to that answer:

            First: We had a family to support, we loved our work, so yes, part of it was to make a living so we could support our children.

            Second: We love what we do because we understand that we’ve helped create happiness and joy for thousands and thousands of people!

            When a child unwraps a doll, and sees its face for the very first time, the sheer joy and pleasure that child feels was – just a little bit- caused by us. And the smile on the face of the Mom, or Dad, or Grandma, or Auntie when they see their child’s joy; well… we’ll take a little credit for that as well. We’re in the happiness business.

            And finally, Third: We donate 10% of all of our company’s profits to charities that help children. So in addition to the thousands of families that have purchased and gifted our dolls, there are hundreds of children who needed help who got help from our tithe. So the bigger we build our business, and the more doll happiness we can create, the more charity we can give to children who need it.

            That’s why we do what we do.

Why do you do what you do?

I was asked to answer this question recently in a survey for small toy store owners.

Why do you do what you do?

I knew how I had gotten into my online doll store, ( our adoption stationery business added a few dolls for adopted kids)  but I had to think for a while about why I had stayed in the doll business, especially as, in the beginning, it wasn’t making me a whole lot of money.

And there were certain points after that rough beginning, where I could have / should have shut it down… but didn’t. And that’s where I started my self-discovery journey. If I could have ‘escaped’ from this little profit – lots of hours business, why didn’t I?

It took some soul-searching, but I finally realized why I loved this business so much.

It was the kids.

My job brings a lot of happiness to a lot of kids. Kids all over the world receive our dolls as gifts, and I know that when you give a kid a new doll, they get happy.

So I’m making a living making kids happy.

And that’s a good enough reason for me.

Start a Doll Business? – Location

Notice: If you have no interest in how to start, how to run, or what goes into owning a doll store, you can skip this post!

About once a week, someone sends us an email asking how they can start a business like ours. But the answer is not so easy to put in an email, so I’ve decided to start peppering this blog with that information, so that in the future, I can just say, read the blog – it’s mostly there!

Thank you for Support

Here are 4 (more) things you need to know to start a Doll Store (in no particular order):

  • Location, Location, Location. You want to own a Doll store? Where are you going to open it? Across the street from Toys R Us or Target? Toys R Us is bad, but maybe not Target. Believe it or not Target doesn’t have a full doll store in there, Toy’s R Us does.
  • How about next to the specialty Ice Cream store? It makes sense that Moms will bring their kids into your store after! Why not? Of course your sticky fingered dirty merchandise bill will be astronomical, but at least you’ll get traffic right?
  • Is there safe off-street parking? Or will Mom be leaning over her baby in the car seat with her ass sticking out in the traffic?
  • But really, the main question about location is:
    • Do you have any competition? No? Why not? Doll collecting, Doll Gifting, Doll Making and Doll Dressing are all parts of the same huge hobby. There are dolls for kids and dolls for collectors. There are Doll Shows and Collector’s Conventions all over the country. BUT! Are there enough people in your community to support your store?

Where do babies (dolls) come from?

I wonder how many children ever ask where dolls come from. I’m pretty sure that they almost all get curious about where babies come from, do they never wonder where baby dolls come from? Maybe because they’ve all seen them in stores they’ve already figured it out for themselves.

Maybe they think that the mailman makes them? Seeing how more and more people shop online and such.

But I know for a fact that most adults have no clue where dolls come from. I know because The Pattycake Doll Company get lots of calls and emails from folks who want to start their own doll stores; they’re thinking they can get their dolls from us.

So then we explain that we neither wholesale nor export dolls. Invariably they then ask the next question: “Can you tell us how we can set up a store just like yours so that we can compete with you and maybe steal all your customers and put you out of business?” Of course they don’t word it exactly that way, but that really is what they’re asking.

But Addie and I are nice people who don’t believe that the customer pie is a finite resource, so we tell them where to get dolls:Toy Fair Logo

Actually, if you want to open any kind of toy store, Toy Fair is the best place to go. Because this is where dolls come from. From approximately 1500 Toy Companies, and the 400,000 square feet of the Javitz center, and the 30,000 people in the Toy Industry who all come to Toy Fair. This is where our ‘babies’ come from.

Javitz Convention Center, where Toy Fair is held

Javitz Convention Center, where Toy Fair is held

PS: For those of you who want to know where our babies are made… mostly in China, but a lot in Spain.

Start a Doll Business? 4 (More ) Things to Know

Notice: If you have no interest in how to start, how to run, or what goes into owning a doll store, you can skip this post!

About once a week, someone sends us an email asking how they can start a business like ours. But the answer is not so easy to put in an email, so I’ve decided to start peppering this blog with that information, so that in the future, I can just say, read the blog – it’s mostly there!

Thank you for Support

Here are 4 (more) things you need to know to start a Doll Store (in no particular order):

  1. It’s called “Black Friday’ for a reason. Of all the businesses you can start, the Doll Business is definitely skewed towards Christmas Sales. At the Pattycake Doll Company, 60% of our business comes in during the last 6 weeks of the year.
  2. Why are we in the red before Black Friday? Because if you want to sell $100,000 in dolls for Christmas, you have to buy that inventory beforehand. And not a week beforehand, but months ahead of time. So you have it. In your warehouse.
  3. The dolls you sell during the year are different than the dolls you sell for the Holidays. The dolls you sell for the holidays are generally more expensive.
  4. Never trust the manufacturers to ship you the right products in the right quantities. Check the purchase order against the packing slip. Does what you received match what you ordered? Then confirm the packing slip. Did you actually get everything they claim they shipped? Then check the invoice. Are they charging you the right price for the right quantities? Remember, there are seven people involved in every order. Salesman vs Buyer, Pick-pack vs receiving, and Accounts Receivables vs Accounts Payable. Add the shipping company, (shortages and damages) and you can see all the places where mistakes can be made.