430 First Avenue North, Suite 500
Play is discovery and exploration, and joy, and growth, and learning, and so much more. And for us play is serious work. So when we bring play to life, we do it with a commitment to the finest in craftsmanship and creativity. All of our products, from the newest concepts to our time-tested classics, are innovatively designed to inspire imaginative play and delight our consumers large and small. Play is not only fun, it's essential to a child's cognitive, emotional, and social development. Our design process blends science and whimsy to produce toys that offer children a rich array of visual and tactile stimulation and unlimited opportunities for imaginative exploration.
Manhattan Group, LLC, which conducts business as Manhattan Toy, is tiny compared to such toy manufacturing giants as Mattel and Hasbro. However, by creating several high-quality stuffed toys sold only in specialty stores, Manhattan Toy steadily increased its sales throughout the 1980s and 1990s. The company's first toys were partially stuffed to give the toy a floppy quality that stood out from toys that were stuffed to full capacity. Manhattan Toy's brands include Whoozit, Manhattan Toy Baby, and Puppets. The company's most successful line, targeted at girls between the ages of 3 and 12, are Groovy Girls stuffed dolls, referred to as "the opposite of Barbie." The dolls are marketed with a line of modest and tasteful outfits that encourage girls to develop their own individual clothing styles. The company also offers a web site for fans of Groovy Girls to socialize online. Other Manhattan toys are targeted at infants, toddlers, and preschoolers of both sexes.
The Early Years, 1978-1986
Before Francis Goldwyn was known as the founder of Manhattan Toy, he was famous as the grandson of Hollywood studio mogul Samuel Goldwyn. Growing up in the Hollywood environment, Francis Goldwyn spent many of his weekends watching movies at his grandfather's Beverly Hills mansion. After a few years of working in the movie industry, Francis Goldwyn became an accountant and left his family's Hollywood legacy for New York. "I like to say I was run out of California because I wasn't mellow enough," Goldwyn said in a February 1990 interview with Nation's Business. He explained, "I was always raised with the attitude that you're a Goldwyn, you've got to do better. I said, as I looked around the country, where is the competition toughest? It was New York. It's very kind of in-your-face competitive here, and I like that." Once he moved to the East Coast, Goldwyn was hired at the accounting firm Coopers & Lybrand (later PricewaterhouseCoopers).
In 1978 Francis Goldwyn ended his Coopers & Lybrand apprenticeship to found the Manhattan Group. Instead of borrowing money from his family, Goldwyn independently approached a New York investor who loaned him the needed seed money. A toy line called Oids was the first of many floppy stuffed toys made by Manhattan Toy. It was also the company's first financial flop. For the first half of the 1980s, Manhattan Toy struggled to stave off bankruptcy. After repeatedly borrowing money from more New York investors, the company finally produced a hit in 1984 with its plush dinosaur (plush being a style of soft fabric made from polyester). The dinosaur's availability was limited to top-end retailers such as Neiman Marcus, Bloomingdale's, and F.A.O. Schwarz.
Manhattan Toy's plush dinosaurs eventually bolstered the company's profits after such a grueling beginning. In 1985 Manhattan Toy reportedly generated $200,000 in sales. Goldwyn remained inspired by the budding signs of success and continued making toys. In an interview with Nation's Business, Goldwyn recounted the time he shared an elevator with a father accompanied by his young daughter. After noticing the girl's yellow dinosaur, Goldwyn said, "'Hey, that's some dinosaur. What kind of dinosaur is that?' She said, 'That's a triceratops.' I said, 'You like that, huh?' Her father said, 'It's her favorite toy. She won't let it go.' I said, 'That's really neat to hear. I make those.'"
Rising Sales: 1986-1999
Goldwyn's persistence paid off. Thanks to the toymaker's mainstay plush dinosaur, Manhattan Toy sales reportedly climbed to $5 million in 1986 according to the Wall Street Journal. Much larger companies began to take notice and generate similar plush products, among them Gerber Products Company. In 1987 Goldwyn filed a claim that a new and less expensive stuffed dinosaur made by Gerber infringed upon Manhattan Toy's copyrights. Goldwyn was quoted in a June 15, 1987, edition of Wall Street Journal as saying, "the big companies take the following attitude: 'We have the money. These little companies don't have the resources to fight us.' Unfortunately, they're right. This time, though, the puppy dog they kicked, bites."
One recent addition under Article III of the U.S. Constitution had hedged Manhattan Toy's litigation. In 1982 the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit had been established. It imposed a uniform appeal process that leveled the playing field for smaller businesses infringed upon by conglomerates like Gerber. Later that year a federal court banned the dinosaur made by Gerber. Manhattan Toy was also paid for Gerber's profits that resulted from Gerber's imitation dinosaurs. Manhattan Toy's attorney, Norman H. Zivin, said that the payout was in the "six figures" according to a June 15, 1987, edition of Wall Street Journal. In the same publication one Gerber spokesperson said that his company did not "see this settlement as a win for either side." The spokesperson continued, "We don't agree that it's a win for them. It was never established that there was a true copyright infringement and if there was, we were an innocent bystander because the foreign supplier who furnished us with the product said he had the rights to the design."
In the late 1980s Manhattan Toy's sales of plush dinosaurs began declining. The company released other products like its animal-themed hand and finger puppets. Goldwyn wanted all Manhattan Toy products to appeal to both parents and children. He referred to this approach in Nation's Business as making "classic" toys that would outlive other toy fads. The puppets' simple designs allowed children and parents to operate them; typically only the puppets' mouths moved. They were also partially stuffed to give the toys a dangling quality similar to other Manhattan Toy products.
In 1998 Manhattan Toy released a line of stuffed dolls known as Groovy Girls, which would eventually become a huge hit. The dolls were created as wholesome alternatives to such doll brands as Mattel's Barbie and MGA Entertainment's Bratz, both of which more closely resembled supermodels than young girls. Targeting females between 3 and 12 years old, Manhattan Toy sought to encourage girls to discover their unique fashion styles through a variety of outfits, furniture, environments, and vehicles sold as Groovy Girls accessories.
Roger Bildsten, who previously served as a vice-president at Anagram International, Inc., a manufacturer of Mylar balloons and party products, became CEO of Manhattan Toy in 1998. The new executive was a major advocate of Groovy Girls. "America has literally and figuratively embraced the Groovy Girls. Fans of the dolls have actually become the inspiration for additions to the Groovy line," Roger Bildsten proclaimed in a Manhattan Toy press release. "Groovy Girls are a very special brand. You can look forward to some amazing innovation as their world continues to grow," he continued. Under Bildsten's guidance, Manhattan Toy continued creating Groovy Girls dolls with body shapes and ethnicities to reflect the realistic diversity among young American girls.
Brand Expansion, 1999-2004
In 1999 a licensing partnership between Manhattan Toy and Dr. Seuss Enterprises sparked the creation of stuffed Dr. Seuss plush toys and puppets. In anticipation of the 2000 release of the motion picture The Grinch starring Jim Carrey, Manhattan Toy released a selection of Grinch dolls and other toys based on characters from the movie. Similar stuffed toys were released in August 2003 for the November release of The Cat in the Hat starring Mike Myers. Other Dr. Seuss characters such as Fox in Socks, the "mossy, bossy" man-like creature titled Lorax, and the blue elephant Norton materialized as Manhattan Toy stuffed toys. Norton was released as a 52-inch-long Dr. Seuss Sit Upon toy that small children could, as the name implied, sit upon. Other Dr. Seuss toys, including Hug Arounds and puppets, were created to encourage children to physically interact with Dr. Seuss characters as they read about the characters in Dr. Seuss books.
Product launches after 2000 were in excess of 100 products per introduction and across all brands. Besides new additions to Dr. Seuss and Groovy Girls lines, the company released new products under such other brand names as Whoozit, Manhattan Toy Baby, Manhattan Toy Plush, Manhattan Toy Puppets, and Manhattan Toy Dolls.
In 2004 Manhattan Toy launched its Groovy Girls website at www.GroovyGirls.com, allowing girls to create online accounts and create their own digital doll figures. After their digital dolls had been dressed virtually on the Internet, website members could enter virtual rooms and text-chat with other girls around the world. Cyber parties allowed the girls' dolls to dance and have "Slumberrific Sleepovers." The site also allowed girls to create wish lists, from which parents could purchase items. The online chatting was touted as child-friendly, meaning that only prewritten questions and answer combinations accessed from a user-friendly database could be used to communicate. A typical online chat would begin, "What do you usually do on Saturdays?" To which a girl could reply, "Sometimes I go to the movies on Saturday" or any other prewritten response to the question. The structure kept girls safe from online predators. "It's wholesome girl fun," Amy Susman-Stillman, a developmental psychologist at the University of Minnesota and occasional Manhattan Toy consultant, said in a February 3, 2005, edition of the Saint Paul Pioneer Press. She added, "It's not about girls and boys, just girls doing girlfriend things." Manhattan Toy hoped its web site would create an advantage over giants such as Mattel's Barbie and MGA Entertainment's Bratz dolls, whose web sites, Manhattan alleged, offered little in entertainment and served more as online stores.
In 2004 Manhattan entered into a licensing agreement for Groovy Girls with Scholastic Corporation, the children's publisher and media giant. The partnership resulted in a series of Groovy Girls books and magazines that encouraged girls to develop their own personal style and to learn about the power of friendship. The publications were sold through a monthly book club that was launched September 2004. The book club continuity program targeted girls from third to fifth grade. At the time, over 100 different Groovy Girls dolls were available in more than 5,000 specialty retailers worldwide. Manhattan Toy also began licensing the brand to other select companies that could make Groovy Girl doll fashion accessories, sleepwear, jewelry, activity kits, fashion toys, games and puzzles.
In December 2004, Roger Bildsten left Manhattan Toy to become the president of Grand Toys International, Inc. Manhattan Toy filled his position seven months later by hiring Arete Passas, an executive with previous leadership positions at brands such as Oil of Olay, Crayola, Scholastic, Dixie, and Mattel. Passas also served on the Board of the Girl Scout Council of Greater Minneapolis. In early 2005 Manhattan Toy's infant brand, Manhattan Baby, was updated with a series of educational toys including Big Top Sounds, an interactive toy using motion-sensored sounds.
Retail Expansion: 2004 and Beyond
Thanks to a new relationship with the Target Corporation, Manhattan Toy brands were sold by more than 10,000 retailers in 2005, which was double the amount reported by the company in 2004. For the first time in Manhattan Toy's history, a limited selection of its Groovy Girls and Whoozit branded toys appeared inside the large retailer Target Stores, representing a drastic change from its exclusive availability in specialty toy retailers. Some owners of some small retailers reportedly felt betrayed by the new Target relationship. Many had a vested interest in Manhattan Toy after promoting the brand for over two decades. "We worked hard building that brand, and Target's reaping the benefit," Sonya Kalajian, owner of the Toy Shop in Connecticut, said in a September 2005 edition of TDmonthly, a trade publication for toys, hobbies, games, and gifts.
Hugh Kennedy, the vice-president of business development for Manhattan Toy, explained that as Target increased the popularity of Manhattan Toy brands, the sales inside specialty stores would also increase. The price of Groovy Girls dolls was the same in both Target and specialty stores. New Groovy Girls dolls were released to specialty stores six months before they were made available at Target.
In 2005, the Groovy Girls products expanded to include Groovy Girls Minis, a 2.5" miniature version of the larger Groovy Girls doll. The new Minis included a range of accessories. Launched in January 2005, they exploded in popularity in both specialty stores and later in mass channels. Following this brand extension was the April 2006 launch of Groovy Girls PetRAGEOUS!, a line of "funky fashion pets" that were as diverse as their doll counterparts. Capitalizing on the fashionable pet trend going on in the celebrity world, the new stuffed animals and their accessories were a successful addition to the Groovy Girls products.
Manhattan Toy consistently gave back to the community with large product donations throughout the year. Toys for Tots, a charity organization, received more than 100,000 toys between 2004 and 2006. Less than a year after becoming Manhattan Toy's president, Passas oversaw the donation of more than 60,000 Groovy Girls dolls to girls who survived Hurricane Katrina. With the help of the Girl Scout Council of Greater Minneapolis, Groovy Girls were first given to displaced hurricane survivors who relocated to Minnesota. The remaining dolls were distributed throughout the Gulf Coast. The relief effort was also overseen by the non-profit Hope for the City organization.
Gund, Inc.; Hasbro, Inc.; Infantino, LLC; Learning Curve International, Inc.; Mattel, Inc.; MGA Entertainment, Inc.; Toy Quest; Ty Inc.