Wednesday, June 12, 2013

Melissa & Doug & Classic Toys

In a recent New York Times article about Melissa and Doug Bernstein, who founded the Melissa & Doug toy company, the family (including a 6-year-old daughter and a 9-year-old daughter) is playing with toys being considered as new products.

The younger girl says she likes a set of princess slippers--but the older sister doesn't. "You're not the target market" for the slippers, Melissa tells her daughter.

And she should know: for 25 years, Melissa and Doug have been producing and marketing hands-on toys that are fun, durable, and classic (meaning non-electronic). Once the firm identifies "classic play patterns," Melissa says it looks for products that will "make them more enticing in all kinds of ways."

The company is rarely featured in media profiles, but its quality products are popular in independent toy stores, specialty stores, and chain stores nationwide. Started in a garage, it now has an estimated $325 million in annual sales, gaining revenue momentum in recent years despite challenging economic conditions.

One reason is their emphasis on toys that are timeless, well-made, and interesting enough to engage kids in active, entertaining play. The founders test products on their own children and ask two dozen other families to test and report their reactions to new items. No, Melissa & Doug have no plans to license famous characters or brand franchises, or to go high-tech, although they regularly receive proposals for electronic alliances.

Although the company focuses on traditional toys, it is highly social: Check out its Facebook page (163,000 likes), Twitter account (nearly 25,000 followers), Pinterest pages (192,000 followers), and YouTube channel (156,000 views). It's also on LinkedIn, where it recruits for open positions.

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