The fabled doll company, Madame Alexander, has undergone an ownership change this year. To learn more about what impact that will have, I spoke with Tom Neville who joined the company shortly after the new ownership took the reins.
Prior to joining Madame Alexander Doll Company, Tom was Vice-President at Hunter Products, a manufacturer of multi-category line of toys and licensed sporting goods. Tom began his career at Lego Toys. His other notable toy experience includes BRIK Toy Company, DSI Toys, The Canadian Group (TGC), and Excell Marketing, L.C. He served as founding Co-Chair of the Toy Bank Committee for the Toy Foundation for 15 years. The committee exceeded over $100 million in donations during his tenure.
Richard: Some of our younger readers may not be as acquainted with the Madame Alexander line and story. Can you tell them about Madame Alexander as well as the dolls and company she created?
Tom: Madame Alexander founded her doll company in 1923, and was an iconic figure in the toy industry. She is a great role model for girls because she founded her company in a time when few women ran businesses, and she successfully followed her own vision to build her company. She charted her own course and changed the toy industry as a result. Madame Alexander is responsible for creating the type of doll play we know today. She viewed dolls as valuable learning tools that could teach children empathy, compassion and responsibility. She also felt dolls were valuable in helping children learn about literature, art and the cultures of other countries, broadening their horizons and engaging their imaginations, and she made dolls that did just that. Most of all, she made dolls to be played with and loved.
Richard. One of Madame Alexander's sayings was "The love is in the details." What is the difference between a Madame Alexander product and other dolls?
Tom: Madame was passionate about making high-quality dolls. They were made to be played with and loved. Our dolls have realistic details to encourage engagement and empathy in little ones and inspire passion in collectors. We promote imaginative play with simple accessories, allowing young minds to dream worlds of their own making. Nearly a century of dollmaking expertise ensures that our dolls are made to last, so Madame Alexander dolls can be cherished for years to come.
Richard. Although Madame Alexander is approaching its 100th anniversary, the company was taken over by new owners in January of this year. I understand that they are toy industry veterans. Can you tell us some of the changes they are making?
Tom: Millennial parents are our new target audience. We are bringing our social media presence up to date and making strategic marketing initiatives to build awareness. We also launched a terrific Amazon brand channel, so we can reach consumers where they live.
We are creating new products that address the needs of kids today, but still retains the values Madame founded the company upon.
We engaged with a fulfillment partner with best practices insure our customers receive their orders quickly and flawlessly.
Our goal is to provide unique and special dolls and deliver the highest level of customer service so it puts smiles on kids and their family.
Last, we are already planning and looking toward our 100 year anniversary celebration in 2023!
Richard: How did the Toys R Us closing affect Madame Alexander?
Tom: Not at all. We took over the company in January 2018. There was a Lee Middleton Madame Alexander program with TRU for a few years, but as we were relaunching the brand, we wanted to initially focus solely on our specialty retailers. This is what we have done all year long and we are confident that the Madame Alexander brand is in a great place as a result of this strategy.
Richard: Are you concerned about the possibility that tariffs might have on our business going into 2019?
Tom: The awareness is there, but we are not letting that possible factor interrupt the exciting plans we have in our 2019 baby doll and collectible lines. Madame Alexander Doll Company has been through many events in our rich history that may have been a cause for concern. Madame, herself, is such inspiration in this regard, as she successfully led the company through history making events like The Great Depression and World War II. We will cross that bridge and any challenges as they face us.
Richard. In the past, Madame Alexander had a very strong following in the collector community. Are you looking to turn some of these Millennials into collectors?
Tom: Absolutely! At Madame Alexander, we understand that Millennials may have different priorities than their parents and grandparents, but we honestly think anyone can become a collector if we can inspire the passion! The older collectors we have now all started with one doll, a doll they bonded with and loved, and their passion grew from there. We think Millennials and their kids will feel the same way when they get to know our dolls again. This doesn't mean we are forgetting our existing collectors; we are working closely with our dedicated club following and continuing to produce the classic dolls Madame Alexander collectors have always loved.
Richard. What can we expect to see from Madame Alexander in the way of new products?
Tom: We are building on our strengths while we are looking at a forward-thinking strategy that addresses the needs of contemporary moms and kids. Our veteran Madame Alexander product development and design team has just put the 2019 line to bed. We don't want to spill too many secrets too early, but we are bringing a much wider variety of multicultural dolls to the line in 2019. It's important to allow kids to have dolls that reflect themselves and the world around them! We'll have Newborn Nurserydolls in more ethnicities, meaningful updates to the classic Huggumsline, some great collectibles, new play dolls, and much more!
Richard. We always like to ask this question: "Do you have any toys on your desk and if so what are they?"
Tom: I have a large portion of the Madame Alexander dolls right beside my desk and around my office. I always like to surround myself with our products. Also, I have a Yomega Yo-Yo & Kendama. They are great to play with when I am on a long conference call or webinar and am just listening.