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Collectible Dolls Market: What Does The Future Hold?
The Economy and the Collectible Dolls Market 

This year may prove an interesting year in the world of collectible dolls.  Collectible dolls and other non-necessities* of life face a sagging economy for the first time in over 20 years.  For many doll collectors, doll retailers and companies, they face a sagging economy for the first time EVER, since the collectible doll market is a relatively new phenomenon, not even 25 years old.  

Of course, we are not referring to doll collecting in GENERAL, we are specifically referring to the collectible doll market.  Doll collecting has been around for well over 100 years--throughout the past century collectors amassed antique and vintage dolls and dolls intended for children.  No, instead we are considering the market for collectible dolls--dolls made solely for adult collectors and never intended as children's toys--dolls manufactured  as collectibles.  THIS phenomenon really took hold in the 1980s, with very popular dolls like Barbie really joining the collectible doll bandwagon in the late 1980s.

So, this collectible dolls market hasn't really faced a strong economic downturn during its existence, at least not since its infancy in the early 80s.  Doll companies have been used to growing legions of collectors, doll stores have been used to increasing profits, and collectors have been used to having a growing variety of dolls available to them, as well as their disposable income available for their doll purchases.  

What Effect Will The Economy Have?

We've already seen some ill effects of the down economy on the collectible dolls market in the last year.  Venerable old doll companies such as Effanbee and Knickerbocker have gone bankrupt (although both were purchased by strong "players" in the doll field--Effanbee by Robert Tonner and Knickerbocker by Marie Osmond).  Several lines of dolls have cut back their offerings, most notably the Gene Marshall line by Ashton Drake this year.  Over in our sister market--manufactured collectible bears--its been a real bloodbath, with less and less mohair and deluxe product available in the last year (Knickerbocker has left that market almost entirely with its bankruptcy; Cottage Collectibles has been downgrading lots of the fur used, etc.)

Doll retailers have certainly noticed the downturn as well--many have supplemented their doll offerings with more traditional "gift" product to weather the downturn, others seek out new customers via the Internet.  Some doll retailers are just not stocking as deeply.  As for collectors, they also have to be more careful with their doll budget with jobs disappearing or being cut back, or with savings and 401Ks down from their 1990s highs (ah, those were the good old days...).

That's the bad news--the good news is that no matter WHAT the economy, collectors continue to collect--its their "vice" so to speak (or their joy!).  Doll collectors are happy to leave cigarettes, gambling, jewelry, drinking and fast cars to others--all doll collectors want to stay happy is, well, more dolls!  The question is HOW will collectors collect during 2003 and during the downturn in general, and what doll companies and doll retailers can do to stay competitive and healthy in this new (and, we hope, temporary) environment.

Ways To Survive and Thrive

There are many things that doll companies, doll retailers and doll collectors can do to survive and even thrive during 2003. 

--Don't Over Produce!  Doll companies need to realize that MORE is not necessarily better.  Nothing can kill a doll line quicker than, well, overkill.  If 10 new styles of a doll in a line are great, 20 new styles the next year from the same line are not necessarily better.  Often, it leaves the collector confused about what they NEED in a line, or with not enough room (or money) to keep up with releases.  And, eventually, even the most devoted collector of a line of dolls does run out of room.  

--Keep Lines Limited.   Limited is best. If your doll is "collectible" you shouldn't produce 20,000 of them (unless you're Mattel with Barbie...).  If everyone can have one, why is the doll so collectible?  Even worse are "open ended" editions.  WHY should a collector buy any open-edition doll with their limited doll money if they can wait until next year...or even worse, the year after that.  There have been some companies that will keep the same collectible doll in their line for 3-5 years.  NOT good.  Ideal numbers in an edition depend on the type of doll--many of the smaller collectible companies keep their dolls HOT with between 1,000 to 5,000 pieces per doll. Larger companies such as Marian or, of course, Mattel, can sell out with greater numbers.  The maximum  number of dolls in an edition should truly be no higher than the number of THAT doll the company can expect to sell within a year.

--Innovate!  Come up with the next with must-have line of dolls.  And, when you DO create that new, hot line, don't overproduce it!

--Convince Collectors That Collectible Dolls are Worth It--Doll companies have to SHOW collectors the value in their dolls again.  With so many dolls selling on eBay for at or near wholesale, it makes it harder for collectors to part with their well-earned money for dolls.  SURE, most collectors are not in it for the money.  But, especially in a down economy, who wants to see the immediate value of their collectible doll fall and not rise?  SOME modern collectible dolls DO maintain or rise in value, but the percentage seems to still be on a downward trend.   Companies and retailers together must work to combat this.

--Do More With Less!  If you are a collector who has been bitten by the economy bug, enjoy the collection you already have to the fullest.  Buy the dolls you already HAVE more clothing or some accessories (even if the manufacturer doesn't make additional clothing for your line of dolls specifically, you can often find things specially made on the Internet). OR, sew for your dolls!  Find new ways to display them.  Spend time on the fantastic doll bulletin boards on the Internet and exchange ideas with other collectors (we have two great bulletin boards here at Doll Collecting at About.com--The Doll Collecting Forum and The Barbie Doll Collecting Forum).  And, to keep things fresh, if you can afford it, don't stop buying dolls and doll related items completely.  If you can swing it, make a few well-thought out additions to round out OR expand your collection.  If you are a doll retailer, HELP your collectors by giving display ideas, and showing what can be done with the doll that has clothes and accessories available.  Doll retailers should also offer lay-away on more expensive items.  If you are a doll manufacturer, now is NOT the time to cut back on the extras--continue to offer clothing and accessories, and teach your shops HOW to market them.

Of course I'll have a better idea of the doll market as a whole, the players in the market and where we are all GOING after seeing the new doll releases AND collectors reactions to them at IDEX 2003 and Toy Fair 2003 in the next month, so stay tuned! 

*Yes, I KNOW we all think dolls ARE a necessity of life, but I think your general economist would disagree.  I just wanted to add this footnote to avoid the reader e-mails... 

 

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Denise Van Patten--your Guide to Dolls
Article, Graphics Copyright © 2001 Denise Van Patten

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