Changing with the Times~
Brick & Mortar and BJDs…
When Paula opened her doll store Denver Doll Emporium in 1992, she never would have imagined that the business would eventually evolve into the busy mail-order establishment it primarily is today. Back then, the shop sold mostly vintage dolls from the 1940’s and 50’s. Now the store, with a vastly smaller showroom and much more storage, sells many BJDs from Korea and China.
“Mom and Pop” doll stores, like many other brick and mortar stores, have struggled to stay open against increased competition with the internet. Recently the attractively decorated, well regarded Angelic Dreamz shop and internet store in Canandaigua, New York closed (although the owner still runs two small websites for Integrity toys and Jamie Show fashion dolls). Still, some other US businesses have succeeded in staying open, and a few are thriving at least in part due to the introduction and popularity of BJDs. A store like Denver Doll Emporium is a perfect example of how the resin dolls have changed their business model.
Denver Dolls began to sell Asian resin dolls 10 years ago. At that time, most ball jointed dolls were usually purchased directly from the companies that created them in Japan, Korea and China. As more people became interested in the hobby, many felt insecure about ordering from a foreign country. The language barrier sometimes resulted in confusing exchanges with the BJD companies. Many also worried about sending hundreds of dollars overseas, wondering whether they would eventually receive their expensive dolls or instead lose their money. Soon, some customers naturally turned to merchants they already trusted in their home countries to carry BJDs, and these included well-established doll stores. A brick and mortar shop also allowed potential customers in the area to actually see these dolls in person. Doll shops were often willing to offer a layaway plan for doll purchases which made it easier for collectors to purchase the dolls of their dreams with less financial stress than sending a large lump sum to a doll company.
Denver Dolls is one of the merchants who have widely embraced the BJD, recently closing out a number of poorly performing dolls of other types to make more room for them. The appearance of the store has also drastically changed in recent years. Paula explained, “We previously had a shop that was 2500 square feet, 1200 square feet of that was showroom space. Over that last 6 years, our web business has increased, and the walk-in retail has decreased. Retail rent is sky high in Denver… and probably everywhere else too. We just couldn’t justify keeping the large showroom that was not giving us a positive return on our investment.”
So DDE now displays a fraction of the dolls that they carry, and the freed space is now devoted to store stock, layaway and shipping. Customers may still purchase in-stock merchandise with the help of a store computer. Items that they are interested in seeing are brought to the counter from the stockroom. 6 or 7 cases still display some dolls, outfits, accessories, books, eyes, patterns and wigs. After the initial shock wore off, DDE’s customers have adjusted to the changes. “It’s takes some getting used to for them, but once they realize we basically have the same merchandise we’ve always had, just arranged differently, they are on board with the changes. Our local customers are terrific!”
The store is also open for fewer hours and only 3 days a week. Despite the shorter hours, Paula disclosed that “We are at the shop 6 days a week and most holidays to keep up with orders and email. I’m in Arizona part of the year and (daughters) Shannon, Kaley and two other part time employees run the shop. My daughters have elementary school age kids that necessitate us closing at 4pm instead of 5pm during the week.”
Another long-time business which has sold dolls and toys for around 20 years is Fabric Friends and Dolls. The Gaithersburg Maryland store started with Tonner, Madame Alexander, Ginny and Marie Osmond collectable dolls, then grew from there. According to Iris, owner of the establishment, Fabric Friend’s first BJDs were from an American company. “I started selling BJD’s when I met Paulette Goodreau down in DC, and she announced her first resin BJDs there. I became one of her dealers.”
Iris later added merchandise from Dollheart and Ruby Red Galleria, but several years ago she plunged deep into the BJD world. “4 years ago I opened my account with Dollmore and became their exclusive US dealer at that time. It grew from there, and I started adding more and more companies. I started my website 3 years ago, because I saw that was where the doll collectors were buying from. For 15 years I had been doing doll shows and had my brick and mortar shop, but I could see the online shopping was growing and I had to join the customers by offering them a way to order from me online. It opened up a whole new world for me, because now I ship all over the world. ”
Currently FF & D carries dolls from about 18 non-American and 5 American BJD companies, recently adding Luts, Maskcatdoll and Darak-i. The store occasionally hosts trunk shows. “Sales in the shop are divided 20% in shop and 80% on website ( sometimes I have more in-store sales with the trunk shows). BJDs are probably 70% of sales, but Integrity is very popular and I usually sell out of those quickly. Probably 70% of the BJD orders are layaways.”
Unlike Denver Dolls, Fabric Friends and Dolls has been able to keep the showroom area. “The way I handle storage for layaways is, I have a backroom to store them in, and the rest go to my home. Iris also attends numerous doll shows. “For the last 15 years I have been doing shows, in Maryland, Virginia, and Pennsylvania, and I go to the conventions in Florida and Chicago. I always attended IDEX (closed permanently as of this year) and I joined several doll clubs… the doll shows helped me get my name out there, and allowed customers to meet me personally. Some of my customers have introduced me to other doll artists.”
“20 years next year! Wow. I didn’t realize that until now,” exclaimed “Dr. Judy”, owner of the Little Rock, Arkansas store The Doll Peddlar. “I sort of stumbled into creating a store – not a logical business decision. Some friends dragged me to a Barbie club meeting. It was a fun break from my clinical psychology practice. Short story: ‘Anything worth doing is worth doing to excess.'”
The shop was soon followed by a website. “It took us months to get our website set up, but I think it launched about 1999. (Most) sales come from our website.” Dr. Judy attends many BJD and doll events as well. “We enjoy meeting our collectors, catching up on the news, partying and playing. We just got back from the Korean Ball Jointed Show in LA. We’re going to A-Kon in Dallas in June. A-Kon is the oldest continually running anime-based con in North America. This is the 25th year and first year to include a doll show. In August, (we have) the wonderful BJDC, Austin!”
Asked about how the business is different from when The Doll Peddlar opened, Judy ticked off a list. “Changes in 20 years? Barbie to BJD, Internet, eBay, Paypal, Very few dolls at Toy Fair in NYC, so many doll stores and doll magazines gone, recasting.” She added, “What’s next? Margaret Mead said something like ‘all you can count on is change’. We just added Mattel’s Frozen and very proudly have Migidoll, Oscar Doll Eyes, Be With You, more Peak’s Woods and I picked up a Sisters Popov in Moscow. Artists and designers are giving us phenomenal designs and integrating technology into creativity.”
While their business models vary, all three of the stores share one thing in common- the willingness to change to suit their customer’s interests. In a tough retail world, such adaptability is necessary in order to thrive. Furthermore, BJDs have become the most popular draw at all three stores, and each strives to provide services to suit their client’s desires. This also benefits BJD collectors, for they feel more secure allowing people they trust to handle their orders and help them fulfill their collecting dreams.
Denver Doll Emporium
5730 E. Otero Ave. #700
Centennial, Co. 80112
(303) 733-6339 phone
(303) 777-0229 fax
Showroom Hours: Thursday – Saturday
10am – 4pm
Fabric Friends and Dolls
6836 Olney Latonsville Road
Gaithersburg, MD 20882
Sunday, Monday – CLOSED
Tuesday – Friday: 12:00 PM – 5:00 PM EST
Saturday – 11:00 AM – 5:00 PM EST
The Doll Peddlar
10 Office Park Dr
Little Rock, AR 72211
(501) 224-9208 fax
“We are at the store daily & open by appointment.”
Regular open hours are Wednesday – Friday 10-4.
Denver Doll Emporium:
Fabric Friends and Dolls:
The Doll Peddlar: