Dolls have been around for eons, but the way to purchase a doll is changing rapidly. At one time, it was a simple matter of strolling to one’s neighborhood toy store! I remember when I was growing up, we had Thrift Town, a sprawling bunker-type building that sold every kind of game and doll imaginable. It was sheer “child with spending money” nirvana! Independent mom-and-pop shops like Thrift Town are shuttering their doors. Even the big boys (Big girls? Don’t want to be anti-feminist) are closing up and shutting down. Case in point: Toys R Us and FAO Schwarz. That’s why Frances Cain of A Girl for All Time in the UK is taking matters into her own hands. She’s figured out a way to involve collectors from the moment of conception to factory creation. A Girl for All Time is paving the way with crowdfunding campaigns.
Cain, who is a visionary and an entrepreneur, has watched her colleagues withdraw from the collectible world. It is a sad fact of life that many beloved doll brands are going the way of the Von Trapp Family Singers. These well-regarded companies are bidding us a heartfelt “so long, farewell, auf wiedersehen, good-bye” as they retire from the doll world. We’ve watched Robert Tonner’s doll company ride into the sunset, as well as his spin-off business, Phyn & Aero. Tonner is now going to pursue his craft under the auspices of an on-demand, 3D-printing business model. Frances Cain is looking to produce her A Girl for All Time dolls via crowdsourcing. The crowdfunding campaign allows Cain to see if a doll or accessory has the necessary interest to get produced and collected.
“By running our own crowdfunding campaigns, we can run them whenever we want, as often as we want. It means that we will be able to bring many of the designs that we have sitting in our very large binder to life through successfully funded campaigns,” Cain explained. In the brave new world, it truly is survival of the fittest. The dolls that fit within a collector’s price range and personal desires will survive and flourish.
Six months ago, Cain came to this economic epiphany. She realized that the “old way of manufacturing and selling toys in general, and dolls specifically, was just not working anymore.” Cain points to the upward spiraling costs of marketing, warehousing, and manufacturing. Additionally, the responsibility of taking out costly loans or overdrafts to pay for the inventory has become a bruising reality for many company owners. Rather than creating dolls and the goodwill attached to the hobby, many doll company proprietors are figuring out how to simply stay afloat and deal with creditors. The art of playtime has become the business of the bottom line. Cain was determined not to have A Girl for All Time drown in the high-cost demands.
“We are going to be hosting crowdfunding campaigns directly on our own site. It’s been a lot of work to get it set up, but I think we are nearly there,” she told me. “As you know, we have already successfully completed two other campaigns via the large commercial platforms of Indiegogo and Kickstarter. Because of this, we have a very good grasp of how to run a good campaign.”
Cain also believes that her company’s seven years of manufacturing experience is a production plus. A Girl for All Time has developed a sterling reputation for its quality dolls, costume designs, customer service, and attention to details. “I think we have a very good chance of making our own crowdfunding campaigns work,” she said. “That will mean growth for the brand and expansion of our product range.”
Starting in mid May, A Girl for All Time will be unveiling its first seven crowdfunding campaigns. The first items are the Max, Your Modern Boy doll; Max’s blue satin jacket; Lydia, Your Georgian Girl doll; Lydia’s jacket, skirt, and straw hat; Matilda, Your Tudor Girl doll; Matilda’s Golden Court dress; and Amelia’s tea set.
The opportunity to be part of the crowdfunding campaign means that an interested collector is ensuring the lowest price for their doll, costume, or accessory. By being first in, collectors are assuring themselves of a deep discount.
A crowdfunding campaign, therefore, is a way for companies to raise the revenue needed up front to pay for the manufacturing of the dolls. It is the ultimate give and take between a collector and a company. Since A Girl for All Time has distinguished itself as a historical doll company, it’s fitting that this arrangement resembles a patron-artist relationship. Over the centuries, royal families, rich merchants, art-loving luminaries have funded the creation of great art. They have helped to underwrite the artistic process. In a way, that is what A Girl for All Time is doing.
The cost of the dolls and accessories will be broken down into three-tiered pricing. The lowest one is the crowdfunding price. “This deep discount is an incentive to get people to order before goods are manufactured. Think of it as raising lots of funds from lots of people to fund the production costs,” Cain shared. “If the minimum required number of units is not reached, then the item will not be manufactured. If a person is interested, the best thing is to purchase at the crowdfunding level. It is the best price and the best way to guarantee that an item will be purchased by them, and will be produced if enough people fund at this point.”
If the crowdfunding campaign is a success, Cain will request that additional items are added to the factory order. This is done because of the potential of human and machine errors. “If my goal, let’s say, is for 300 dolls, then I will produce more than that, but not by very much. This is done because some can arrive damaged, some can get lost, and the warehouse can miscount.”
The dolls that go beyond the crowdfunding campaign pledges will be offered for sale. This batch of dolls is tagged at a pre-sale price, or a second-tier level. “This is a discounted price, but not so deeply discounted as crowdfunding. Once the factory order has been placed, I cannot add any more units to my factory order,” Cain stated. “So this is a traditional pre-order. Once goods are sold, there will not be any more from this production run. There will be at least a nine-month wait before the next one.”
Finally, there is the third-level price. This is the amount that is charged on the website. It represents the full price of goods once they are back from the factory and stored. “All of us have seen too many stores close and brands shut down in the last 18 months. I am determined that A Girl for All Time won’t be one of them,” Cain vowed. “It’s been a lot of work to get the crowdfunding campaigns set up, but I think we are finally there. We have also launched a new-look website as well, and that is looking lovely too.”
It’s heartening to think that a doll brand that established itself as a salute to British history is staking its future existence on crowdfunding. It is taking a modern stand in an ever-shrinking doll world. We all will follow the crowdfunding campaign with great interest. A Girl for All Time reflects what the modern entrepreneur has to do in these difficult times. We will keep you posted!