Archive for Sunday, June 13, 2004

Toymaker to relaunch Cabbage Patch Kids

Chubby-faced ‘80s dolls to return in August

June 13, 2004


— Remember your Cabbage Patch Kids doll? More to the point, do you have a child of your own who might want one?

The one-of-a-kind, chubby-faced dolls with yarn hairdos and individual names are trying for a comeback, with a relaunch set for August. The Cabbage Patch Kids' new manufacturer, 4Kids Entertainment, hopes the nostalgic toy trend that has revived Care Bears, Strawberry Shortcake and other toys of the 1980s will lead to big sales.

It has been a long time since parents fought over the dolls in toy stores across the country, but in Cleveland, a small town in the northeast Georgia mountains where they were created, Cabbage Patch Kids are still in style. A museum here called Babyland General has remained open long after their heyday, sometimes attracting more than 200,000 visitors a year.

That lingering interest in Cabbage Patch Kids makes them an attractive investment for marketers -- the dolls have a ready-made familiarity with parents, many of them young enough to have played with Cabbage Patch Kids as children.

"It's far easier to reintroduce a toy than to create a new one," said Tim Coffey, an industry consultant and co-author of "The Great Tween Buying Machine."

"Seventy percent of today's parents are Gen-X parents. They grew up with these products so they're receptive to them."

So are today's grandparents. Pat Betz, from Aurora, Colo., came to Babyland General on a recent morning to "adopt" a doll for her granddaughter.

Betz remembers scrambling for a Cabbage Patch Kid in 1983 for her daughter, now 30.

"We couldn't find 'em in Denver, so I got my sister in Wyoming to get me one. Nobody could believe I found one," Betz recalled. Now Betz has a 3-year-old granddaughter and wants her to have her own Cabbage Patch Kid.

"They're just so ugly that they're adorable," she said, throwing herself into the full Babyland General act by watching a "delivery" from the magic Cabbage Patch, a fake tree surrounded by cabbage leaves that are pulled back to reveal the dolls.

Becky Campbell prepares Cabbage Patch doll Sierra Evangeline for
"adoption." She worked on the doll May 24 at the Babyland General
Hospital in Cleveland, Ga. Cabbage Patch Kids are preparing for an
August relaunch.

Becky Campbell prepares Cabbage Patch doll Sierra Evangeline for "adoption." She worked on the doll May 24 at the Babyland General Hospital in Cleveland, Ga. Cabbage Patch Kids are preparing for an August relaunch.

After the birth, the Cabbage Patch "nurse" weighed and measured a doll named Sierra and gave her a first shot, an injection of TLC. The whole thing is a pretty saccharine affair, but some people love it.

"People have a special connection to Cabbage Patch Kids," said museum publicist Margaret Strong. "When you talk to people, they always still have them. How many toys do you keep from your childhood? It's a pretty cool thing."

But industry experts say the Cabbage Patch brand needs careful management if the dolls are to return for more than a short retro splash.

"There's no such thing as retro to a kid," said Coffey, the marketing analyst. "It has to be something they really want to play with."

Even 4Kids Entertainment concedes the doll line is scarred from many years of neglect.

No one knows better than Al Kahn, CEO of 4Kids Entertainment. Kahn was an executive at Coleco in the early 1980s when that now-defunct toy company bought the rights from creator Xavier Roberts for a mass-market Cabbage Patch Kids.

In those heady days, when the dolls flew off shelves, company executives hustled to make more and more Cabbage Patch Kids. The result was that more than 90 million were sold worldwide, and market saturation followed. By the end of the decade, few people were buying Cabbage Patch Kids because most already had one -- or more.

"This is a brand that could've been sustained for a long, long time, but there was oversupply at some point," Kahn said.

After Coleco folded, the brand was sold to Hasbro, then to Mattel. Sales slowed even more, and industry watchers considered Cabbage Patch Kids an '80s fad not to return.

Now 4Kids hopes to establish the dolls as perennial favorites for little girls.

"Kids don't really change that much over time," Kahn said. "I still believe that the desire to be a mommy is as strong as it was 20 years ago."

Back at Babyland General, three youngsters recently showed a long-term revival might be possible.

Five-year-old Alyssa Harding was there with her parents, older brother and baby brother to pick out a doll to adopt. The children, along with parents Denise and Pete Harding, were downright mesmerized by the hundreds of dolls on display. Alyssa was so overcome she could hardly answer questions about what kind of baby she wanted.

"She wants a girl, right?" Denise Harding prompted. Alyssa could only nod, eyes glued to the doll in her father's hands.

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