Preorders or in-stock dolls? A doll enthusiast's dilemma

by Alison Rasmussen


Last week, I received a notice from TONNERDirect, delivered to my email. Basically, it announced a production delay in its Vintage Revlon™ dolls, whose production has been set back to May 2011. That delay, and the recent crazy release of the Integrity Toys line, got me thinking about the nature of pre-orders and why doll manufacturers use them.

I understand the need for expensive or made-to-order ball-jointed dolls, which can only be poured during certain times of the year, or according to a company's cash flow, and have a long wait and lead time. After all, the doll is being made to your specifications. Still--it seems some items, such as a standard body and several head sculpts, might be kept in stock, as inventory for the next customer's order. But I'm not familiar with the process, and perhaps the parts risk yellowing or damage.

When it comes to vinyl massively-produced dolls, I also understand the excitement a manufacturer's design team must feel when they see a completed prototype. It must be extremely difficult to keep a prototype under wraps till its release date. I'd be proud of my work, too. However, for me, as a private person, I don't pre-sell dolls. I wouldn't sell a pre-ordered doll until it was in my possession. What if the doll were damaged in shipment? What if the actual production doll looked significantly different than the prototype? What if there were a production delay?

Tonner's Fall/Holiday 2010 release had some significant fabric changes. I understand there can be unexpected changes sometimes. Manufacturers have an easy, yet radical, solution to this problem. That would be to stop pre-orders and previews of dolls. 

Of course, there are pros and cons to this approach. The benefits would be: 
  • Production delays would become invisible to the customers, as long as dealers didn't discuss delays with customers. This might benefit the company's image, as it would appear to be more reliable. 
  • Second, last-minute fabric and body changes to the prototype would also disappear, since customers wouldn't have seen the prototype. Therefore, griping about lesser quality fabric and disappointment in the actual production doll would also be less.
The cons might be too costly, however. 
  • First, the way things are now, doll companies have an excellent change to see how each seasons' dolls are received, before placing a single one into production. They can make changes to price, fabric and face paint, before starting the production process. 
  • Secondly, manufacturers require dealers to front money (with pre-orders) and alleviate cash flow issues (especially with the limited editions of dolls that are suddenly all the rage these days) by forcing collectors to decide whether they want to risk a pre-order now, or wait to see the produced doll in real life and risk it selling out before getting a chance to buy it upon its release.
  • Third, there would be no additional feedback time for manufacturers to collect feedback from collectors on specific dolls or outfits, and to decide whether to cancel a specific production doll or line.
  • Trade shows would require that manufacturers actually have to show produced dolls now available for sale, and not just prototypes. They would become larger and a much bigger deal than they are today.
I was wondering if either of these options would be better or worse for collectors. Perhaps we have a bit more influence over the design of the doll the way things are currently. (Doll manufacturers, believe it or not, really do want to make things collectors want to buy. That is how they make their living. Keep that in mind during the next big release--and then you'll see if you're that company's target customer or not.) 

The issue came up because I tend to over-order on pre-orders, and then budget my doll allowance according to the date the orders are supposed to arrive. If the dolls don't arrive on time, it often looks like I have more money than I actually have, and I end up spending it twice. (At least, that's my excuse.) It's annoying. Well, not that annoying, I have to admit. 

Ideally, the system I would like to have is this:
  • Prototype doll (one collection line at a time, posted monthly)
  • Suggestion box on how the doll could be better/worse via an online comment form, posted at the same time as the doll's release.
  • Manufacturer actually takes the comments into consideration upon production.
  • Pre-orders are allowed, and edition size and price is determined by the number of pre-orders. 
  • Doll is released within three months.
  • In the meantime, the design team should have another doll or line up the following month.
I think we'd all win then. But is that too friendly for doll collectors? Would it take the "value" out of dolls? Who knows? Just my own humble know-it-all opinion. Just send me some more Steffie-faced dolls, and I'll shut up.