Dolls, Figures & Playsets
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Founded in 1945, in a garage workshop, by Harold Matson and Ruth and Elliot Handler, Mattel (a combination of the letters of their last and first names,) is now a worldwide leader in the design, manufacture and marketing of toys and games. It was listed on the New York Exchange in 1963 as a public company and now has 4 subsidiaries: Fisher-Price, Mega Brands (Mega Bloks), HIT Entertainment and Mattel Playground Productions.

The 1950s significantly saw its initial collaboration with Disney, uniquely product placing its toys on the Mickey Mouse Club TV show and Ruth’s creation of Barbie. The late 70s saw the launch of their brand Hot Wheels with the 80s and 90s bringing strategic acquisitions including Corolle S.A., Corgi Toys, International Games Inc., Fisher-Price and Tyco Toys. The Company also renewed strong relations with the Walt Disney Company as well as acquiring the Nickelodeon Licensing Agreement. Brands available from Mattel’s nominated UK nursery wholesaler, Baby Brands Direct include: Fisher-Price, Mega Bloks, Barbie, Thomas and Friends, and toys in Disney licences including Frozen and Cinderella.

Playing with dolls could give children the skills they need to land a coveted job. It may sound far-fetched, but a recent survey of CEOs said that the most important skills they looked for in future employees are problem solving, critical thinking, innovation and creativity. All skills children can learn by playing with dolls, action figures and playsets.

Most adults have a favourite doll they remember from their childhood, whether it’s a baby doll that they pushed around in a pram or an action figure such as Action Man. Dolls serve a significant purpose – they can act as a reflection of a child and help them to understand themselves and the wider world around them. With the global market in dolls and stuffed toys set to grow annually by 3.5% until 2023, according to Statista, it’s a market that retailers can’t afford to miss out on. The most recent NPD figures, meanwhile, show that Dolls out-performed the market. Action Figure sales were up 11%, and Action Figure Play-sets and accessories up 21%.

Baby Brands Direct prides itself on supplying top-quality brands such as Barbie – the most famous fashion doll in the world, Playmobil, Mattel and Fisher-Price Little People.

Dolls, Figures & Playsets

Baby Brands Direct became an appointed wholesaler of Mattel brands in 2009 and has been distributing its baby and nursery products to the independent retail sector since. It is a valued supplier for the wide spectrum and variety of high quality branded and licenced toys and nursery goods it provides. The Company is appreciably the Number 1 Toy Company in the UK holding 10.8% market share (source NPD YTD Nov 2014). Retailers can have confidence in the industry giant’s position, particularly with its statement, “At Mattel, we are Creating the Future of Play.”

Why dolls, figures and playsets are so popular

Fashion dolls topped the class in US retail sales in 2019 according to NPD, closely followed by action figures, particularly licensed toys, so it’s clearly an important category that retailers should be watching closely. In addition, the ‘Kid Powered’ trend announced by The US Toy Association at Toy Fair New York in February 2020 continues to rise in popularity. ‘Kid-powered’ toys see the children themselves taking control of the play, helping them to learn critical-thinking skills, creativity, confidence, leadership and discipline. Open-ended toys such as action figures and customisable dolls both fall into that category.

Taking control

Baby Brands Direct stocks quality brands in this category including the much-loved Playmobil and Fisher-Price Little People sets. Creating imaginary scenarios using these sets and figures can help children to understand others, learn how actions can have consequences and develop important skills such as empathy. Children live in a world where everything is bigger than them – people, chairs, cars, TVs – everything is built on a large scale. Being able to shrink real-life situations down to child size with dolls, activity sets and action figures can help little ones to make sense of the world around them and learn to cope with situations that they may find difficult. It takes away the loud, chaotic feeling of the real world and brings it to a place where they are in control. Powerful stuff!

Learning to nurture

Dolls also encourage the development of nurturing skills – an important skill for both boys and girls to learn. And when they use their dolls to create or recreate real-life situations, they can learn about conversation, developing their communication skills, learning how to solve problems and develop empathy for others. Dolls also encourage self-expression, something that can be missing from traditional ‘boys’ toys. Encouraging emotional intelligence is a vital part of a child’s development, and a life skill that is becoming more and more important in our world. For pre-schoolers, playing with dolls can help to improve fine motor skills, as any adult who has tried to dress a fashion doll can testify! It can also improve communications skills, and help them learn how to interact socially.

Diversity and inclusion

On the other hand, action figures encourage children to use their imagination to the full. Imaginary or creative play is really important. It helps to develop language skills as they give their chosen character a voice, invent a story and act it out. All valuable skills to learn that will be useful in literacy work at school. Away from the fantasy figures, modern dolls reflect the world that children live in. They can also help children learn more about diversity and inclusion. Brands such as Barbie (the second-biggest property in the category in 2019) have made great inroads into representing a diverse range featuring different skin tones, disabilities, and body shapes. It’s a brand and range that Baby Brands Direct is particularly proud to stock.