I hate stupid people. I know that’s not a very healthy or Christian-thing to say, and that’s just what the world needs is a little more hate – but why deny it? It’s true, and realizing you have a problem is the best beginning in dealing with it. But my hate of stupid people isn’t really my problem, it’s theirs…because being stupid can easily be corrected…and for the many others who hate them too, we form a collective that is almost obsessed with educating and/or enlightening stupid people so they won’t be stupid, and we won’t have to hate them. Puddings, it’s soooo much easier than just letting it go and not letting it bother you.
There are a number of influences that bring stupid people to my writing, if not recently stupid people who whore on Barbie’s backside to sell their ‘average’ doll that seem to miss the difference between ‘average’ and ‘normal’, but I digress. New doll collections have been in release over the last few weeks, and as always, new collections bring out the most supreme stupid people.
Now…it must be said that just because we do or say stupid things, does not mean we are stupid people. Stupid people do or say stupid things so frequently, that it’s difficult to understand why they haven’t killed themselves from one of many stupid actions. You and I only do stupid things on the rare occasion…and we learn from it. This concept escapes the ‘normal’ stupid person, which already borders on a paradox, that it threatens to rip a hole in the fabric of fashion doll space and time. That’s pretty serious, folks…
Whenever I see new doll collections, I am always first and foremost curious as to why people buy what they do. ‘Why we collect things’ is a vastly discussed topic in sociology and psychology forums, and I’ll save you a huge amount of time by summarizing it in a simple sentence: We collect things because of our hunter/gatherer origins that become a highly personal experience that no one fully understands. The close of that statement is the true kicker – no one really knows why, though plenty of theories exist – they all have plenty of holes in them making Emmentaler practically solid. And when it crosses one of many ‘fine lines’, it becomes hoarding, and that’s a term most collectors abhor (unless the hoarder has some really good shit in their collection – and then we just wait for them to fall on hard times, or simpler yet…to die).
No. One. Knows. That’s the hard truth of it all. No one knows why we buy things we don’t need, or why we collect things, building sometimes impossible to maintain collections that tend to fall into disrepair simply from neglect more than anything else. No one knows. Coercion and mental instability tend to be the forerunners, but even they have caveats.
This last week has been such a good example under this theme as new dolls are released – this is a timing thing that is no longer the norm as once was when doll makers showed new collections at IDEX and then again at Toy Fair. IDEX was a premiere show that gathered doll and teddy bear makers to exhibit their new wares to retailers, and then opened to the public. Why they grouped dolls and teddy bears is mystifying, because they hate each other, much like fashion doll collectors hate reborn doll collectors. And reborn collectors hate fashion doll people because even they will admit a sculpted representation of a sleeping baby wearing couture is bizarre. Maybe it’s because they are all anthropomorphic things based on children’s toys? You got me…never made any sense…unless it’s a hairy gay man doll…now that makes sense!
Toy Fair is trade only, so unless you claw your way in under the guise of a trade-friend, you have to watch the proceedings via the internet. It should also be noted that Toy Fair has really become more of a show for – well – toys, and a few collectible companies here and there still use it as a venue to whore their collectible products out to the public.
I’ve re-written this section prompted by an excellent email from Susan (not my mother) asking curious questions about how doll lines are released (a very general subject as the email was much more detailed than that – thank you, Susan) – but it fits with this post, so I threw caution to the wind and found a spot for it here. Yes, I do take requests…
Doll makers are businesses as I discussed here and here – and as such, they observe annual fiscal cycles that are typically projected based on a plan that outlines expenditures for the year, organizational improvement, growth and anticipated profit. It’s a standard model, but it can be very surprising how many doll makers shy away from the logic that should be paving its yellow brick road. But each also has its own ideals based on real experience on how to develop this plan, and more importantly, how to follow it.
For the creative, discipline is virtually non-existent – so it falls on the ‘business people’ to be the doll world assholes that put a damper on everything we hold dear. And Marketing is one of the most useful tools in your utility belt. Remember, like Batman, most business people have no super powers when it comes to true innovation (that’s why they are business people and not artists) – so they must devise schemes that make it look like their creativity really does have focus, and that they are more creative than they really are – thus you have marketing.
You see, to be a successful business person, you must be a very good liar. This does not mean that business people are liars – it just means they understand lying very well, or in this case – marketing. Think of it this way: to understand pure good, you must first know pure evil (I think that came from Anne Rice) – you cannot have one without the other, because the existence of one begets the existence of the other. The same is true of lying and marketing, though not in such an extreme – if you are going to be good at marketing, you must know how to be a good liar. The same can also be said of acting, if you really think about it. Acting is lying for the purpose of entertainment. In that same vein, marketing is lying for the purpose of building a business. There is no hell for marketing liars (or retail, either)…not in America, anyway.
The great separator is deception…when do companies cross the line? We all know the standard marketing lingo – it’s when this line is crossed that all hell breaks loose.
Ultimately, Darren Stevens was only a successful advertiser because his wife was a witch. Honey, they built a whole franchise on that one simple notion. Occasionally, you will see the mutant artist who is also a good business person, but that just isn’t common. Successful artists usually partner with successful business people to make a financially successful endeavor. In other words, the business people find themselves a witch and make magic.
So you have your annual fiscal plan. The next step is to create a map of the products you will sell to guide you toward your annual goal – or a product/collection plan. This plan maps out how many products need to be created and sold to bring in the amount of revenue you need to pay your bills, fund growth projects, and to enjoy a profit, which is your reward for doing business well. It’s the friendly pat on the rump a business person gives the artist for being a good boy or girl.
But determining your break-even point is tricky, and it takes an unbelievable understanding of your product AND your market to properly project so that absorption by the market is lucrative. When poorly planned, you get factory sales or other clearance tactics. You also get a pissed-off market – and you don’t want that if you want to be creating a fiscal plan for the next year.
This is where IDEX and Toy Fair come in. There was a time where planning your revenue around these shows was a major part (and start) of your business year. Success or failure at these shows serves as a litmus test for actions you may need to stay on plan for the balance of the year. Toy Fair is still important for the toy makers – but it just isn’t true anymore for the collectible companies. Shows like Toy Fair are more brand builders and publicity generators than they are revenue builders for the collectible doll maker choosing this forum to market their goods. But it’s a real ass burner to get all your samples made and photographed during the holidays when everyone is reveling and on vacation and all. Did anyone tell your staff that you are a business? Guess not, because many of those samples weren’t ready by early January when IDEX was traditionally held. Stupid holidays…
Now, before I proceed – it’s imperative you understand that almost everything is fabricated in – or is dependent upon materials/assembly/intervention from – China. And the Chinese have this annoying little thing called Chinese New Year that totally screws with anything in the West because the whole country just shuts down for a couple of weeks (no single Chinese company seems to agree on how long Chinese New Year actually lasts). If you are coming out of a major revenue season like the Holidays and clearing all your leftover shit out of your warehouse so you don’t account for inventory in your annual taxes, you’re left a bit high and dry going into Chinese New Year Hangover, so you’d better have some product planned, designed and ON THE WAY before Chinese New Year begins.
Before the Chinese New Year, workers are overloaded, because after the holiday, the factories have to account for amazing shortages in returning workers (many either go to other factories, or don’t return at all). They face the horrific task of rebuilding the learning curve in new workers to match the productivity before Chinese New Year shut everything down. For some, it’s literally starting a new production line from scratch. It can take weeks…for others, it takes months…and the whole effect on the poor bastards back in the West is numbing at best, because trying to get new product out after Chinese New Year is not only daunting, but it can also leave you literally wondering if you should close your business because you didn’t plan for The Hangover properly. This is also the usual time when most ‘going out of business’ rumors circulate – and for good reason.
And it’s because of this major wrench in the machine work that collectible doll companies experience such a bizarre fiscal cycle. These companies don’t really plan for big sales in the fourth quarter holiday season like the toy makers do. Holiday sales just don’t stack up for collectibles like they do for toys with obvious purchasing patterns brought on by holiday shopping. So collectible companies have to create a fiscal plan that takes timing into account more than anything, to either build a stockpile of revenue (which is rarely the case), or to distribute the revenue across the year so you are not bleeding your customers dry all at once (which is the more likely scenario).
In a collectibles company’s design room, the line plan should be the Big Brother Of Existing – but in many instances, it isn’t. Folks working in the design room largely don’t want to be rushed or pressured…they don’t want to be bothered with forced creativity, budgets, things that affect whether or not anyone in the company will even get a paycheck. They are the most selfish of collectible company employees, because they don’t care about the implications their work product has on the rest of the company. “I make art – it’s your job to sell it.”
It doesn’t matter that most of these so called ‘designers’ aren’t designers at all…they are sample makers. Yeah…tell them that. The designers who made clothing for Ashton-Drake’s Gene Marshall were mostly given photos or illustrations of designs from the 40s/50s and told to recreate it. I am NOT belittling the skills needed to accomplish such a feat – quite the contrary – but it is not design work – it is pattern-making, which in many fashion instances can be even more substantive than design and product development.
Not so in the doll world, sweetie – because the designer is a product developer that is not only creating wardrobe, but also an entire character, its look and its market appeal. Sample/pattern makers don’t do any of that. They sew…a lot. For instance, look at Mel Odom – he is not a doll sculptor, but he is a doll designer because he designed and developed Gene Marshall using a team of sculptors, sample makers, and marketers to put his creation into the marketplace. There used to be a relevant significance in being the doll artist/sculptor, but not any more – you need to have the savvy to assemble the right team to create your vision…and unlike a simple business person, this vision realization requires a talent for innovation, and not simply creativity. And Gene was innovative, to say the very least.
However, many others dolls can’t say the same. They do not represent innovation – they are merely incarnations with morosely long and drawn-out storylines borrowing similar themes from each other. It’s like they are shadowed doppelgangers who seems like they live in each other’s allegorical attic. It should also come as no surprise that many collectors hardly even bother with the stories anymore…also because they are not innovative. Detailed storylines for dolls are dwindling outside of play toy lines anyway, because they take time and creativity to write and maintain. Most doll makers would rather be using that time to make dolls, rather than write the stories themselves – or worse – pay someone else to do it. That’s all…
So for many companies, getting things out of the design room is like passing a wrecking ball through your ass. What makes this even worse – the design people know this. They don’t give a damn if it’s talent, skill, or dark magic – they have what is needed, and they will use it to their advantage. They know how complicated and crippling it can be to replace a pattern/sample maker or designer, and because everything they touch they think is the most magnificent piece of art the world will ever see, there is no incentive to better themselves, to push themselves to meet deadlines, or to create efficiency in their work process that will help the company’s bottomline – because they don’t care. Just pay them, stroke them, fluff their ego…and they are pigs in shit. Pity, really…because you can clearly see this effect on any creative business by examining their products. I can assure you companies like Mattel and Integrity are what they are because they don’t put up with this nonsense. The first thing to do, is to kill all the designers…yeah, right.
Yes, yes…let me also say that not all designers are like this. I get it…some have a strong sense of work ethic, and a burning loyalty to their respective brands. I even know some of them…and to you, I enthusiastically applaud your work. But you are not the norm. Listen to any company with a creative team bitch about their designers – and you’ll understand.
So when you match a holier-than-though design team with Chinese New Year, you are now a business person who has to find clever ways to make your market go ape-shit crazy every time you release something new – and you must expend herculean efforts to work around these annoying realities to make sure you have a business that will stay afloat. In short, you have to put it all on the sales and marketing people to bring home the bacon, because your design team thinks that even when they take a crap, the world is swooning over the bowl to see what they created. And if the product doesn’t sell, do you think the design people get any blame or share any responsibility? Oh hell no…it’s the sales and marketing people’s fault. Design people of this tribe and type are just mean girls…ironic that they work in plastics.
So you place the release of your products strategically around your year to compensate for timing, and to ensure that the money keeps rolling in. If you are one of many companies that hosts an annual collectors’ convention – that is not only a huge (and hopefully reliable) influx of cash…then you must know it is also the biggest strain on your company’s ability to maintain a flow of new designs streaming to your factories to ensure new stuff is right around the corner to sell. Because while they are designing and making all that shit that will be sold over the course of a long weekend, they aren’t doing anything else to be sold the rest of the year. And the really sad point is, many don’t even plan product in the middle of all that convention hoard to sell to the people not going to the convention. It’s like walking and chewing gum at the same time, I guess.
Where do you think the priorities lie? Would you rather not risk pissing off a few hundred of your more serious collectors who have paid above and beyond the norm to travel across the globe to exclusively buy your shit…or the agoraphobic who never travel, sit at home and bitch online about the size of a fashion doll’s head like every human being has the same size head? You do the math…
Planning the release of any product is tricky, because if just one thing goes wrong, it can delay or even cancel a product’s arrival into your warehouse. Think of what companies must experience when something is produced incorrectly, or it doesn’t match your approval sample – and the best the factory can say is ‘sorry for the inconvenience’. The product must then be corrected, and probably sent by air freight rather than slow boat from China (exponentially much more expensive) and screwing your production costs yet again.
Argue with the factory all you want, but you still have to keep your revenue flowing, especially if it’s a big bread winner product that customers are just dying to get. This is where marketing helps. You’ve heard a million reasons why something changed during production (and conversely, not even a peep or mention of any change which is even more criminal if you are relying on pre-sales through prototype images). I’ve always maintained it best to be honest with your customers – but even then, there are the harpies who won’t have any of that – you had damn well be perfect, and don’t even think about deferring to little things like human error when it comes to MY doll. Selfish bitches…we are only human, after all. A shame I can’t say the same of such relentless critics…because even if you tell the truth, these cretins won’t believe it and would rather stir up everyone’s blood pressure with conspiracy theories. It should delight them that some of those theories were true…but just to fuck with them, I ain’t spilling…
Planning a doll plan in a sea of competition takes the most perceptive peripheral vision. It’s not only about timing, but it’s also about diversity and variety in your products. How many basic dolls, how many dressed dolls – of those, how many high-end dressed dolls? How many accessory packs – white shoes v. black shoes? How many people will pay $49.99 for a miniature hand-knit sweater – how many won’t? Would it surprise you that a well-tailored suit can cost as much as a ballgown? Yet because of many stupid people and their lack of appreciation for the work that goes into a suit – the ballgown looks bigger and prettier, so it MUST cost more. And so many companies are happy to oblige your perception, and charge you more for that ballgown because it LOOKS like more. Oh, please…
Ergo, it’s the sales and marketing people who have to compensate for all these factors so you, the customer, don’t see the ugly side of running a creative business. Sales and marketing are the smoke and mirrors at this wizard’s show – and sometimes, it’s good to just run with it to see what in the hell they’ll come up with next. And THIS is called being swayed by marketing (see below)…and it’s not an easy thing to do with most doll collectors, because we are pretty smart people. Sometimes we are blinded by obsession/compulsion, but that’s not really a sign indicating lack of intelligence. It just means we’re easily distracted by sparkly things…
With the internet, I don’t have to be a psychologist, I only need to read lots of articles like this – and in doing my research for this post (yes, I do actually research my stuff), I came across Alain Samson’s article that gave me the framework to discuss stupid people as it is relevant to doll collectors – so thank you, Alain (and you’re cute, too – which doesn’t hurt). It all begins with the seven reasons why we buy things we don’t need, which is already kind of stupid, because everyone knows we need dolls.
We’re Swayed By Marketing – That is, we believe the bullshit projected by business people who have to deal with neurotic artists (see everything above).
We Copy Other People – Peer pressure – we all know what it is – whether it’s real or perceived (not unlike big ballgowns)…and you’d be lying if you said it’s never affected you. But for the Lemmings, this is all they know, because they have such little self-esteem or confidence in their choices. I remember my early days of collecting Alexander dolls where I fell into this and justified it as learning. Well, sweetie – I learned a lot – just not so much about the dolls. Note however, that there is a difference in learning from other people to build our understanding so we aren’t just merely copying. Instead, we are making informed decisions for ourselves that just may happen to match someone else’s…which usually turns into a doll club, and that’s not necessarily a bad thing considering how many doll shops have closed over the years. You gotta see those dolls somewhere!
We’re Impulsive – Well, DUH! I’d just like to know how many of you tried to create a rationalized plan this week to obtain Kingdom Doll’s Brighton, or JAMIEshow’s Madra/Violet offerings because they were so limited and certain to sell out quickly? Don’t blame the makers for this – they know how to sell their products, thank you very much. And it would have killed them if their dolls were terrible. But they weren’t – and they are relying on the impulsiveness of their customers to make their revenue dreams a reality – that the doll will sell out quickly (see below, also).
Oh sure, these are really expensive dolls…they’re not for everyone…probably not. But there are certainly enough people out there that will want them, if the maker’s cards are played correctly. Make yourself feel better by telling the world these aren’t for you, if you please – whatever – no one cares. I even considered prostitution to grab some extra cash for them…but I just can’t turn a trick at 50 like I used to…so by the time I’d even taken a good hot bath, they would probably be sold out anyway, so I went and bought a $12 Barbie instead. Ahhh…life’s little pleasures…
We’re Tempted by Certain Products – Yes and no. Sometimes it’s not just the product – it’s the edition size (or rarity) that makes us question if we should get it. After all, if I don’t like it, I can sell it, right? Pretty much…yup! But think twice about that edition size for a second. Are they really going to make that many in the first production run? Some companies don’t want other companies to know what they actually make at a given time…so editions sizes may be pumped up, not only to give an inflated sense of success for that product, but to also give a company an upswing should the first production run sell out. It’s what I call ‘killing two birds with one stone‘. I will say that most collectible doll makers will honor a published edition size and not make more than they announce – but there are always methods around this, thanks to the business people (where did you think “back by popular demand! came from?).
I will say I am insanely curious how JAMIEshow is going to pull off the “will not be produced again” of Madra Lord and Violet Waters. Do they mean as dressed dolls? The character sculpt, itself? Are they developing vinyl/hard plastic versions (that’s my guess)…but they’re clever, so I trust them. Hey…as long as they have Mel’s approval and they’ll develop their own molds…they can do anything with Gene they want – right, Integrity? Get ready to be tempted, methinks…
I’m always amazed at the differences in published editions. Some say it’s limited to a year, but don’t say how many. Some will give you an actual number, but make a fraction of that amount – and among those companies, some will rightfully say ‘first’, ‘second’ or so ‘production run’ up to the actual edition size. Even others will just say ‘limited edition’ and never even suggest a number – which is the smartest thing – because nothing is in perpetual production, so everything is a limited edition. If you are buying what you love, edition size shouldn’t matter much except to get the lead out of your keister when deciding to make that purchase. But fear not…there will be another you’ll want soon enough. I guarantee it…
Aside from edition size, we doll collectors can easily be wowed by a new products – especially so of fashion doll collectors. Just try to not shit your pants when you see some new couture laden beauty bedazzled in sparkles and wearing killer shoes with such a smacked-up face that makes Prada look like Walmart – just try, and we’ll talk.
We Succumb To Our Moods – And how! By nature, we are a consumer that is so driven by our moods that it is one of the most defining characteristics that stereotypes most doll collectors. Think about it. We reward ourselves when we’re good – cheer ourselves up when we’re down – acquire something new when we’re bored. A new doll pretty much fits the bill in any of those instances. I can’t really think of a mood that can’t incite a doll purchase, except when I’m having sex – and then grabbing my iPhone to make a purchase isn’t exactly the move I’m looking to execute. Venus Butterfly, anyone – (and if you remember that without checking the link, I want to know)?!
We’re Affected By States of Mind – Yeah, I suppose so…which is why you should never play with or shop for dolls when under the influence of alcohol, drugs or any Tudors marathon.
We Don’t Like Change – I’m not 100% certain even I get this one. I understand what it means…but when applied to dolls, the relevance becomes fuzzy. I suppose it’s like loving Alex just because you love Madame Alexander – your judgment is blinded by the offer of something better or new from someone you love as opposed to a stranger…or something like that. This seems more relevant to the action figure collector who just wants anything because it is made under the brand or license of a character they love, such as Superman or Wonder Woman. Does this mean that Batman is the Alex of action figures because he has no super powers? Feel free to discuss amongst yourselves…
Despite your insistence to only purchase the dolls you collect, the release of a new collection always invokes such amazingly dichotomous reactions. This is where the stupid people come in. One such example, I’ve outlined before – someone inevitably denounces a maker’s quality not by examining something that is actually in one’s hand…but because it’s made from microsequins, or it’s another red gown. Still others will defiantly proclaim that they didn’t ask for these dolls offered in a new collection, so why did the doll maker present them for his/her approval? The stupidity in the latter borders on insanity.
With that being said, it is interesting to see what doll makers think we want when you view new collections, often by countering complaints with ‘you still have the rest of the year, wait until you see what we have in store for you next!’ I call bullshit on that one. If the timing and production planning were that sharp, these makers would be offering top picks in each collection, instead of the afterbirth from the previous year tied up in a poly satin bow.
It is interesting to see fashion doll collectors react when products such as child dolls are introduced. To many such collectors, they are baffled at such a thing. It is true that fashion dolls are the only dolls that matter, but there is validity in collecting child dolls, too. To answer a markedly profound observation I heard from one such collector, “I didn’t realize that child dolls sold that well.” They don’t. Even with Tonner’s new Patsy marching out of the gates, the collection cooled quickly, and is now simply one of the many recycled heads on the 10inch Ann Estelle body or the 8inch Betsy McCall body. Half Pint…really? But when you look at the landscape of child dolls that aren’t BJD-expensive, or grossly overused, decorated and whored up like Wendy from Madame Alexander – you have to give Tonner points for trying to keep child dolls fresh and one morbid step away from extinction.
So what have we learned today, boys and girls? We’ve called out the stupid people and tried to help them be less stupid, or say less-stupid-things. We’ve analyzed the fiscal plan a business desperately hopes will keep them solvent within a given year. We discussed the reasons we buy shit we don’t need. And in the end, we’ve had a chuckle or two along the way at the expense of others. I can’t think of anything more satisfying, except maybe actually getting that doll before she sold out, right? But don’t worry, there will soon be another offering that you will want, and you may actually get her, admire her…and banish her to the dusty shelves with her fellow inmates to perhaps be noticed once or twice in the next year until the next collections are released – and there’s a new doll you want even more.
It will happen…you are a doll collector. Resistance is futile. It’s a vicious cycle that never ends until you die, or successfully emerge from therapy as a recovered addict. Or better yet…just accept it, and move on to another fabulous doll…