August 2007 | Vol. VI - No. 8
Blackall Associates Crafts a Masterpiece
Realism and Respected Artists Support Limited-Edition Dolls
The unique and lifelike Masterpiece Dolls by Blackall Associates were an instant success when Shirley Blackall introduced them in 1998. She told TDmonthly Magazine how she navigated the mail-order doll business, learning new ways to sell the dolls and keep her customers interested:
As director of marketing for the Gorham Doll Company in Providence, R.I., in 1978, I brought out the collection that started the doll collection craze in the United States. Before that, you could only get nondescript foreign dolls. You couldn’t get dolls by direct mail or gift stores.
In 1985, I started my own management consulting company, Blackall Associates, which evolved into a company that focuses on product development. We were doing development in dolls, perfume and jewelry when we started an offshoot that became Masterpiece Dolls.
MAKING IT “REAL”
Whether they’re babies, toddlers or young children, our dolls look alive, and people like that. We’re always trying to do something different, and this has contributed to the success of the line.
For example, we developed a medium called silicone vinyl that has made the babies look more real and feel very soft to the touch. We’re now into rooting the hair.
HOME SHOPPING GOES ONLINE
For years, Masterpiece Dolls were primarily sold through the Home Shopping Network. That’s where most people began to know the brand. But in December of 2004, HSN decided that they were no longer going to sell dolls.
People were asking for the dolls, so I had to figure out a new system for selling them. This required me to think about how to structure the business and to decide what made sense. I redid my website, which had been a promotional vehicle, so the dolls could be sold from a shopping cart.
The most challenging part about the business is the constant need for product development — expanding what we do — and finding and developing new artists. We have a broad range of very successful sculptors nationwide, and each artist has a following.
Every three months, we introduce 12 limited-edition dolls. Once we finish selling them, they’re never produced again. This contributes to the collectibility of the line. In May, we introduced our first kit dolls, which are bought by retailers or reborners who want to paint the doll and root the hair.
TYPING AND TRADING
In the beginning I just sold to collectors. I added retailers in 2005 and it has continued to grow. I find retailers by going to trade shows. I had a booth at the major shows — Expo East in DC and IDEX in Florida.
We don’t use sales reps, distributors or an in-house sales team. Someone assists me on the outside and I have factories in China. We work really hard here. We type very fast.
We advertise in Doll Reader Magazine and do co-op advertising with our retailers. Doll Reader gives awards, and this year alone, we’ve received seven Doll of the Year nominations. We’ve received more than 40 nominations since our inception.
HALFWAY DOESN’T CUT IT
If you’re starting your own company, no matter what industry, you have to fully commit yourself and believe you’ll be successful. Don’t be discouraged when things don’t go as planned — just find a way to overcome it.
And have fun. For me, this is fun every single day. Some days are more fun than others, but I wake up every morning ready to go.
See some Masterpiece Dolls below:
This line of kits features materials to recreate dolls made by well-known reborning artists. Each kit includes silicone vinyl arms and legs, a special doe skin soft body, an exclusive doll face and a certificate of authenticity. To create the baby doll, a reborner paints it, selects its eyes, roots its hair and dresses it. A section of the Masterpiece Dolls website presents the baby dolls with notes and information about the kits from the popular reborning artists. The company offers three varieties: Piper by Cindy Musgrove, Taylor ($89.95) by Marita Winters and Grace by Heather Boneham. Launch date: May 2007.
ToyDirectory Product ID#: 12683 (added 5/7/2007)
Mix 'N' Match Girl Awake by Laura Tuzio-Ross by MASTERPIECE DOLLS
Other products from MASTERPIECE DOLLS
This preemie-size 18" baby is one of the Mix 'N' Match Twins. The two are sold separately, but customers can also choose a customized set of twins, i.e., two boys, two girls or a boy and girl (awake or sleeping or a mix). The boys wear a yellow-trimmed printed undershirt and diaper, and the girls wear a pink-trimmed printed undershirt and diaper with a coordinating headband with a pink bow (blanket not included). Each baby has a huggable cloth body, legs sculpted up into the hip socket and arms sculpted above the elbows. Each baby also has "hand-rooted" mohair for a beautiful newborn, lifelike look. The sleeping baby has blond hair and the open-eyed baby has blue eyes and brunet hair. The twins are a limited edition of 350 pieces each.
ToyDirectory Product ID#: 12541 (added 5/1/2007)
Mix 'N' Match Boy Sleeping by Laura Tuzio-Ross by MASTERPIECE DOLLS
Other products from MASTERPIECE DOLLS
This preemie-size 18" baby is one of the Mix 'N' Match Twins. The two are sold separately, but customers can also choose a customized set of twins, i.e., two boys, two girls or a boy and girl (awake or sleeping or a mix). The boys wear a yellow-trimmed printed undershirt and diaper, and the girls wear a pink-trimmed printed undershirt and diaper with a coordinating headband with a pink bow (blanket not included. Each baby has a huggable cloth body, legs sculpted up into the hip socket and arms sculpted above the elbows. Each baby also has "hand-rooted" mohair for a beautiful newborn, lifelike look. The sleeping baby has blond hair and the open-eyed baby has blue eyes and brunet hair. The twins are a limited edition of 350 pieces each.
ToyDirectory Product ID#: 12530 (added 5/1/2007)
Laura has created her first 10" babies in silicone/vinyl. David and Julia are adorable twins, and each is sculpted with a beautiful, happy smile. The legs are sculpted right up into the hip so they can wear any type of outfit, including a diaper. The arms are sculpted above the elbow. Each wears an adorable shirt with bow closures. David is in blue and Julia is in pink with a matching bow in her hair, and each comes with a coordinating blanket. Each cuddly baby has a cloth body filled with soft pellets. David has brown hair and hazel eyes, and Julia has blond hair and blue eyes. Their hair is a faux mohair baby-fine wig. This numbered edition is limited to one month of production.
ToyDirectory Product ID#: 12539 (added 5/1/2007)
Per collectors' request for another Monika Peter-Leicht "large" baby, the company produced 31" Sarah. This lifelike doll has a head circumference of 19" and is made of silicone and vinyl for a realistic feel. Her arms are sculpted above the elbows and her legs above the knees. She has beautiful brown eyes and a lovely human hair blend brunet wig. She wears a cute pink shirt and denim skirt with a coordinating headband, as well as pink shoes (bear not included). This is a limited edition of 350 pieces.
— "Dolls by Masterpiece Dolls," are best-sellers in the store of Faye Kitchens, owner of Dolls & Stuff in Social Circle, Ga.
— Although Kitchens was the only retailer of 62 who cited Masterpiece Dolls as a best-selling doll brand, she also said, "We sell Masterpiece before they even come out. I just sold 35 Masterpiece dolls yesterday."
— "Our new doll kit and limited edition collections will be available at the IDEX show in Las Vegas. All our dolls are realistic looking [and] great quality, and we limit what we bring out every three months," said Shirley Blackall, owner of Masterpiece Dolls.
ToyDirectory Product ID#: 12537 (added 5/1/2007)
Rebecca is Monika's first-ever 39" standing vinyl doll. She has "new" legs that Monika sculpted further up above her knees so she can wear even shorter outfits. Also, her "new" arms go into the shoulderplate so she can wear a sleeveless outfit as well. She has a cloth body, beautiful brown eyes and a lovely blond soft wig styled with two pigtails. She wears a springtime outfit with a coordinating necklace and bracelet that add to her overall charm. This is a limited edition of 350 pieces.
ToyDirectory Product ID#: 12535 (added 5/1/2007)
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Writer's Bio: Elizabeth Greenspan edits and writes for trade and technical publications. She has interviewed and collaborated with some of the top practitioners in their fields. She lives in Philadelphia and travels extensively for her work. Read more articles by this author
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