Toy making started from way back. In the 18th century, however, there was an increase in the range and number of toy products that were available on the market. John Spilsbury’s first invention was that of a jigsaw puzzle that helped children learn and understand their geography and it is interesting how Melissa and Doug have similar objectives.
Major industry players have made toys not necessarily to distract kids and keep them busy, but to enable them to learn as they play. The Melissa and Doug toy company is no different. It’s been more than 25 years since they began making toys and they have been able to achieve so much and are proud of the journey they have made. Their humble beginning started from Doug’s father’s garage. There, both Melissa and Doug would design wooden toys that would help kids learn as they played. Theirs is a journey of hard work and determination.
Wooden toys are durable and can withstand wear and tear much better than plastic. Moreover, research shows that wooden toys help children develop both their motor and cognitive skills.
In 1988, when Melissa and Doug were in their twenties and had well-paying jobs, they abandoned their corporate careers – Doug worked in advertising while Melissa worked in banking – to start a toy company. The companies they were both working in were industry players in their respective sectors.
Of course, most of their family members and friends thought they were crazy. I mean, who quits a well-paying job in a well-established organisation to go start a toy company? In their case, however, what they had was a shared passion for children and creative imaginations of what kind of toys they could create. They had just started dating and wanted to pursue something that was in line with their desires. Their passion for children and the fact that they both came from families of educators, was a great push for them to focus on designing products that were for children.
Their first toy was the four-piece farm animal puzzle. Their workshop being the garage owned by Doug’s father. There are nights they cried not knowing whether their venture would be successful or they’d be forced to go back to their jobs. But they kept on. For the two; they had found jobs that they loved and didn’t have to work a day in their life. They mainly focused on wooden toys.
Wooden toys are durable and can withstand wear and tear much better than plastic. Moreover, research shows that wooden toys help children develop both their motor and cognitive skills. Before they got a breakthrough in the industry, Melissa and Doug had to drive the Chevrolet Malibu that was owned by Doug’s father in order for them to deliver their products. They acknowledge their success to the many failures, obstacles, and challenges they faced on the way.
One of such challenges was when they were in search of a manufacturer who would willingly put in the effort to do the right handwork that their puzzle needed. They found none in New England. Asia was where they found one. Additionally, their product lines grow year by year. In a market where most industry players find satisfaction in making all manner of toys that use batteries or require some sort of digital scheme to function, Melissa and Doug have remained true to themselves by making trains, wooden puzzles, blocks and costumes that allow kids to engage in imaginary plays.
Most of their best-selling products and ideas have been created by watching children play and trying to feel a gap that even technology – consider PlayStation – haven’t been able to fill. Their six kids mostly get to test their products first. Their target market is children up to 5 years of age.
According to Melissa, the importance of childhood is to play. That is why their toys are designed to ensure that each and every muscle of a child is flexed during playtime. Their toy ideas also come from simple tasks such as imitating house chores done by adults.
A good example of such toy is the ‘Let’s Play House! Dust! Sweep! Mop!’ the let’s Play House Toy pack comes with a broom, mop, dustpan, duster, a storage stand and a brush. The pieces are suitably sized for children. This set allows children to imitate adults as they go about their chores. This, in turn, instils in them the importance of house chores. Additionally, the Melissa & Doug Counting Ca helps kids with their numbers and can help them become better in counting. The toys also use multiple colours that are catchy and attractive to young children. Children get attracted to bright coloured things.
The most amazing thing about Melissa And Doug is the fact that they have never had to pay a single cent for marketing or public relations in newspapers, TV or radio. They don’t rely on what analysts will say to figure out the direction of their business, and every year, their toy business has grown with over 5,000 products available in the market and over $400 million in revenue.
They have had to adapt to the endless opportunities that the internet provides and make most of their sales online. In all this, Doug acknowledges all the creativity to Melissa while he is the innovator. They have grown their company from nothing to something that is much bigger than they had expected. However, their dream is to build toys that are captivating and not a toy empire. This has seen them acquire or go into joint ventures with smaller companies to enable them to expand their toy business. To enable them to push into new markets, they sold most of their shares to a private investment firm to get enough resources to develop new toy lines.
In their office, Melissa has a wall that she calls ‘the wall of shame and despair.’ The shelves on that wall are of those toys that didn’t become successful in the market. Still, she keeps them and continues to think of ways they can innovate and make them better to suit their target market.
In an era where most children would rather stay indoors and play with all manner of gadgets and barely step a foot outside, it’s good to see how passionate Melissa And Doug are and have stuck to what their passion is. In this day and age, it’s rare to see very many people being driven by their passion and the desire to make better things than with the desire to make profits in large number. The Melissa And Doug story is a clear example of how far you can go to achieve what you want if passion is your driving force.