When the original team behind ’80s doll phenomenon Cabbage Patch Kids cultivated a rebirth for the brand at the new Times Square Toys ‘R’ Us store last November, they weren’t quite sure what to expect. But the seven-rows-deep throng of parents, kids and collectors milling around the Cabbage Patch Kids concept shop at the flagship store’s November 17 grand opening proves that the re-purposed CPK brand promises shades of the original’s former glory. In 1985, at the peak of the property’s popularity, Cabbage Patch Kids generated more than US$1 billion in sales, and upwards of 65 million units had sold through by 1990.
To reposition CPK for today’s consumer base, the property had to hearken back to its one-of-a-kind pedigree. In the late ’70s and early ’80s, Cabbage Patch Kids were available exclusively at BabyLand General Hospital, a Georgia-based adoption center run by the property’s owner Original Appalachian Artworks. ‘When you went to BabyLand General Hospital, the question wasn’t whether you were going to adopt, but which one,’ says Al Kahn, CEO of 4Kids Entertainment, agent for the CPK brand.
Thus, in late 2000, Kahn approached TRU in an effort to develop a middle ground between BabyLand General and every toy shelf in North America–namely an in-store CPK environment that serves as a combination baby hospital, nursery and adoption center for custom-designed dolls (US$ 64.99 to US$79.99). The idea was to create new product in the spirit of creator Xavier Roberts’ original line, but different from the hyper-produced SKUs developed by successive license holders Coleco, Hasbro and Mattel.
According to Kahn, the property’s upscale selling point–one-of-a-kind collectibility–gave way to something more mass-market over the years. Cabbage Patch Kids became mere dolls, rather than ‘kids’ to adopt, thus alienating the collector fan base that had triggered the line’s popularity in the first place. This time around, quality was the defining factor in determining the size (21 inches rather than the 16-inch version Coleco produced), the amount of hair, the clothing and the accessories for the new crop of Cabbage Patch Kids. ‘I think we’re going to get [the collector base] back,’ says Kahn.
To that end, postcards were recently mailed out to collector groups to bring them back into the fold. And since many kids who adopted CPKs in the ’80s are now parents, efforts are underway to appeal to that segment through market-by-market TRU ad campaigns–in-store, print and broadcast–localizing the dolls and their accessories. For example, NYPD and New York Fire Department Cabbage Patch Kids will debut this spring.
As evidence that the brand is already hitting the mark with consumers, TRU senior VP Andy Gatto claims BabyLand General Hospital is one of the most successful areas of the store–surpassing opening day sales expectations at the Times Square location–and that Cabbage Patch Kids play a strong second to mega-brand Barbie. By the end of 2002, there should be exclusive BGH sections in every TRU in roughly 20 North American markets–full out in the ‘A’ stores, with scaled-down versions in smaller outlets.
An extensive, slow-build licensing program is also in the works, with 4Kids in talks with prospective licensees in publishing and apparel to release the first wave of product this fall. While publishing will be aimed at the mass market, apparel may be kept slightly more upscale. The license may go to Kids ‘R’ Us, or possibly to another manufacturer with a stipulation for initial rollout through Kids ‘R’ Us stores. The plan is to develop retail concept shops in places like TRU Times Square for non-TRU-exclusive ancillary product.
Home videos (licensee to be determined) and a stop-motion Christmas special currently in production at Original Appalachian Artworks round out initial entertainment plans for the property. And with 2003 marking the 20th anniversary of the CPK brand, licensing, cross-promotional and tie-in opportunities abound.