LI company's doll line success proves to be no fairy tale
A Sag Harbor-based startup company has taken eight classic fairy-tale characters and turned them into teenage dolls with their own signature style in an attempt to break into the $3 billion doll industry.
S-K Victory launched the Fairy Tale High doll line last year, featuring Snow White, Rapunzel, Belle, Sleeping Beauty, Little Mermaid, Alice in Wonderland, Tinker Bell and Cinderella as modern high school teens toting cellphones and sporting hip hairstyles and designer clothes.
"We re-imagined these characters to make them current in today's world," said Scott Coff, president of S-K Victory, created in 2012. "For 5- or 7-year-old girls -- they aspire to be teenagers, and they love the princess stories. The [dolls] have lipstick . . . funky clothes, little shoes, streaks in their hair, all that notable stuff that these girls can relate to. . . . We wanted to keep them edgy, but not slutty."
The doll line was created by Coff and his husband, Ken Price, both 51, who met when they were 10 years old living in Oceanside. They've been married for two years.
The two purchased toy rights for Fairy Tale High for three years, with automatic renewals up to 10 years, from The Toon Studio of Beverly Hills, an entertainment licensing company that bought the publishing rights to the classic storybook tales. Contrary to popular belief, Disney does not own the intellectual property rights to the princess characters it made famous.
"They are public domain as long as you don't replicate the visual look and branding of Disney," said Richard Gottlieb, president of Global Toy Experts in Manhattan.
Price and Coff had the idea for the dolls after seeing Toon Studio's "Fairy Tale High" book at a licensing show in Las Vegas in June 2012. After signing the licensing agreement, the pair relocated in December 2012 to Hong Kong, where they designed and developed the 11½-inch dolls in two months.
Toon Studio "gave us a picture of what they would look like, and that was it," said Price, now an adviser to S-K Victory. "We took that idea and expanded it into life."
With their concept created, Coff and Price still had to fight for shelf space at major retailers, a daunting challenge for any newcomer in an established industry.
"It is hard to get real estate for new dolls in stores because if you are a retailer, you want it to be a successful product instead of an unproven product," Gottlieb said. "Fairy Tale High has gotten placement because that type of product has been popular with girls."
Price said he took advantage of the connections he made in the industry while he was executive vice president of sales at Jakks Pacific Inc., a $600 million toy and entertainment company based in Malibu, California. Price recently became president of global sales and marketing at Summer Infant, a $200 million juvenile products company. Coff is the former director of the wealth management division in New York for Sheffield Haworth, a London executive search firm.
"We had to get a showroom in Hong Kong and make sure all the customers came in to see us from around the world," said Price, a fourth-generation toy professional. "That's where my past relationships of over 30 years in toys came in. I had the contacts, so we had over 100 appointments . . . My relationships got us the appointments with the right buyers. The execution of our dolls ultimately led to the accounts buying them."
After finding buyers, Price and Coff were able to start shipping the dolls, which retail for about $17.99, to stores in July 2013 in time for the holiday season. The dolls are now sold at Walmart, Toys R Us, Sears, Target.com, Amazon and BJ's Wholesale Club, among others. So far, they have generated almost $4.4 million in sales, they said.
The fashion doll industry has been dominated by Mattel's Barbie, Monster High and Ever After High lines, along with competitors such as Bratz. Barbie generated $1.2 billion in sales in 2013, and experts estimate Monster High grossed $500 million. Sales of Bratz peaked in 2005 between $800 million and $1 billion, industry analysts estimate.
Fairy Tale High sales are a "respectable number for a startup, but as you can see [they're] dwarfed by Barbie and Monster High," Gottlieb said. "A decent TV campaign costs a couple of million dollars, so they are not in a position to go that route. They should be developing apps, books, cartoons, video games and interactive websites to deepen the consumers' relationship with the brand."
DOLLS WITH STORIES
Price and Coff have begun to do just that, in addition to using social media to promote the dolls. They created a series of webisodes that complement each character's teenage story. The animated shorts, along with e-books written by Toon Studio, are featured on the Fairy Tale High website.
Based in a performing arts high school, Fairy Tale High sets the scene for the trendy teen characters as they become friends and develop their talents in music, dance, art and acting classes.
This holiday season, S-K expects to boost sales by 20 percent by offering new outfits for the dolls, Price said. Next year they plan to introduce new characters, including Pocahontas, Prince Charming, Peter Pan and the Wicked Witch of the West, and to bring out a Classic Princess Collection of dolls resembling the original fairy tale characters. They also hope to expand into Canada, Mexico and Latin America.
"There is an endless possibility of characters and stories," Price said. "Our ultimate goal is to create a television cartoon series and then a movie."
At a Glance
Name: S-K Victory, Sag Harbor
Founders: Scott Coff and Ken Price
Sales (2013): $2 million
Sales (2014, so far): About $2.4 million