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?

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?

Breaking the ‘Doll’ color barrier

There’s no really nice way to say it, so I’ll just blurt it out: It’s a crying shame that with 50% of American kids now ‘non-white’ ethnically, it’s still about 100% White in the children’s doll design and manufacturing world.

The numbers are a lot better in the ‘Art Doll’ world, but the Toy Industry as a whole is still pretty much ‘lily white.’

There are exceptions of course, and one, ‘The One World Doll Project,’ is the subject of today’s post.

the Doll designer Stacey McBride

Me with Stacey McBride

The One World Doll Project makes dolls of color. Beautiful Dolls. They’re a young company as far as how long they’ve been in production, so currently there are only two dolls available: Lena, an African American doll, and Valencia, an Hispanic doll (whose back story has her hailing from Mexico City.) In the pipeline are dolls from Africa and India.

Prettie Girl Doll Lena

Prettie Girl Doll Lena

Prettie Girl dolls are built to the 11½ inch fashion doll scale, so there are literally thousands of additional outfits and accessories available for them.

What makes the Prettie Girls special is that they are designed by a woman of color, to represent women of color – for little girls. They have individual personalities and ‘ethnic looks,’ as opposed to the mass produced Barbie Dolls® and her cloned sisters. No one in their right mind would ever expect to meet a woman who looked like Barbie on the street. I see women who look like the Prettie Girl dolls every day. That’s huge in my book.

Seriously, walk down any major Toy ‘Big Box’ retailer… you’ll find plenty of Black  Barbies and her clones. But they all look alike. Prettie Girls look only like themselves, and are beautiful at that. I sincerely hope that this new doll company becomes a tremendous success. Absolutely nothing against Barbie mind you… I’m just a little tired of her ‘look,’ and ready to see real ‘Dolls of Color’ and especially ‘Doll Companies of Color’ take the stage.

Prettie Girl Doll Valencia

Prettie Girl Doll Valencia

Disclosure Notice: The Pattycake Doll Company, as of the date of this post, does carry and sell Prettie Girl dolls. We were not paid nor asked to do this review. It is as the largest Ethnic Doll site on the internet, and as authors of this blog about ‘Dolls and the Doll industry,’ that we wrote this post as a comment on the industry.

Book Review: Dream Doll

Dream Doll, The Ruth Handler Story is an Autobiography. Ruth Handler is the woman behind the Barbie Doll. What makes this book review a little different, and I hope a bit more interesting, is that I decided that instead of telling you what I thought about the book, that I would instead tell you what Ruth thought about Barbie:

“When we began sculpting Barbie’s face, I insisted it not be too pretty or contain too much personality. I was concerned that if she had too much personality, a little girl might have trouble projecting her own personality on the doll, that she would not be as free to role play or fantasize through Barbie.”

“Unlike play with a baby doll – in which a little girl is pretty much limited to assuming the role of Mommy – Barbie has always represented the fact that a woman has choices.

“Beginning as early as September 1959, we received hundreds of letters from little girls begging us to make a boyfriend for Barbie. we were scared to death of boy dolls, and so was the rest of the toy trade. Boy dolls had been tried in our industry dozens of times and they’d always flopped.”

vintage-skipper-dolls

Original Skipper Dolls

“In 1964 we also introduced Skipper, Barbie’s little sister. While little girls tended to perceive Barbie as being six or seven years older than themselves, they saw Skipper as close to their own age.”

“In 1967…we brought out a Black version of Francie. …It was a dud….Was America not ready for a Black fashion doll? …research soon told us. Francie’s looks and personality were already well established in our young consumer’s minds – to them a Black Francie wasn’t Francie. The next year, having learned our lesson we brought out a completely new Black doll, Christie, and she was overwhelmingly accepted. In fact Christie stayed in the Barbie line for 17 years, till 1985.”

That’s all for this post… I only quoted some of the Barbie and other doll stuff… remember, the book is ruth Handler’s autobiography… it’s not just about Barbie or Mattel.

Guest Post: Barbie: Evil or Not?

Phil on JTVGuest Blogger: Phil Wrzesinski is president and owner of Toy House and Baby Too in Jackson, Michigan, recently named “One of the 25 best independent stores in America” in the book Retail Superstars by George Whalin. You can learn more about Phil at www.PhilsForum.com.”

I remember the story my grandparents told about how they were introduced to Barbie© at Toy Fair in New York. They were taken into separate rooms so that they would each give their own opinion without influence. My grandfather hemmed and hawed and wasn’t sure about it. My grandmother walked out and said to him, “You ordered a lot of them I hope?”

Ruth Handler Introduces Barbie

Ruth Handler Introduces Barbie 

While the critics of Barbie© have their points – her unattainable figure and her deep pockets (who can afford a Corvette working at McDonald’s©?) are definite cons, there are also some positives Barbie© has brought to young children everywhere. Two of the most powerful are Imagination and Aspiration.

Imagination: One thing Barbie© has done is ignite imagination. Barbie© didn’t come with scripts or stories or TV shows. Those all showed up later. Barbie© came with clothes and the kids who played with her had to create the stories behind the clothes. Barbie© wasn’t from the traditional mother/daughter world that these girls knew. They had to create the world in which their Barbie© lived. And in that imagination, these kids created worlds that had never existed.

Aspiration: Prior to Barbie©, most dolls were babies. Young girls played with them as caretakers and friends. Barbie© was the first doll that was older than the girls who played with her. Barbie was the doll they aspired to be. Besides being glamorous and fashionable, Barbie© took on the characteristics of the adult females in a young girl’s life. This changed the way young girls looked at the future. Suddenly they saw themselves being and becoming more than they ever thought possible before.

My grandmother saw all that in a private room in New York in 1959. Fortunately, she convinced my grandfather to buy a lot of them.

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.

Where’d you get that name from Pattycake Doll?

When you start your own business, what are you going to call it?

I think that’s one of the most interesting questions ever. Right up there with asking someone “What do you do for a living,” or asking a married couple: “How’d you meet?”

I mean it. I am really interested. And you know what? Once I ask those types of questions, I find that you are really interested too! Unless you’re a spy, or running from your past of course. Most people love to tell you about their beginnings, and most people love to hear those ‘the start of it all’ stories too.

At any rate, in our case, we happened to have an antique porcelain doll handed down through the generations of my wife’s family. It’s of a little girl in a lace dress with her hands out, playing ‘Pattycake.’ (We think. If you have one and your family history tells it differently, we don’t wanna know.)

The Pattycake Doll Company Logo

“Let’s Play Pattycake”

So at the time, knowing that it would be a good thing if our web site url and domain name had the word ‘doll’ in it, and knowing that we would be selling dolls for children, (the main players of the game of Pattycake) and having this ready made doll to use as our logo and such, it just seemed as if fate was telling us: “that’s the path you should follow.”

When fate hands you a bunch of clues, I believe you should listen to her.

And that’s how we became The Pattycake Doll Company at PattycakeDoll.com

From failure to success

Ling An Asian Cloth Doll for Children

The doll that started our business

Our doll business – The Pattycake Doll Company – was an accident. We started as, (and still are) a Graphic Arts Studio!

In 2002, the dot.com crash hurt our ability to give as generously to charity as we liked, and we were looking for a new ’stream of income.’  We decided to try e-commerce and launched HappyBabyBasket.com which featured themed baby baskets.

We had an Irish themed basket with a stuffed Irish Setter with a four leaf clover hanging from it’s mouth; a Jewish themed basket with a Blue Teddy Bear in a kippa and the Star of David embroidered on its paw, and a basket for a newly adopted child with Ling, (shown above, wasn’t she cute?) etc. We failed to sell a single basket. In fact, you couldn’t even find use in the search results we were so far down!

After a year and a half, we decided eCommerce wasn’t in the cards and decided to shut the site down. But since everything was already paid for, and we had six more months in our contract, we decided to take some of the items out of the baskets and sell them individually; to see if maybe we could recoup some of our inventory expenses at least.

Silver piggy banks, cute little custom tee shirts, etc. Now we had slowly been learning more about e-commerce, and we must have done something right, because all of a sudden our Asian dolls were selling. ( Not for a lot mind you, maybe $12.95?… I don’t remember anymore).

Well, one of my favorite phrases is “you don’t learn a heck of a lot from thesecond kick of the mule!” and that was the case here as well. After a year and a half, something had happened, but what? So we called a few of the customers who had purchased with…”hi, this is the Happy Baby Basket customer service follow up call. Thank you for your purchase… did everything go OK… and by the way, why did you buy that doll?”

And we kept hearing the same thing: ” We just came back from China with a newly adopted little girl, and we went into our local stores, and we couldn’t find Asian faced dolls. So we went online and found you!”

We had found a niche market. Underserved customers with a need. ant that was the start of The Pattycake Doll Co., and PattycakeDoll.com selling Asian Baby Dolls, Dolls for Black ChildrenDolls for Boys and Boys Dolls, and contributing thousands of dollars every year to children’s charities.