Love of dolls turns into catalog businesses
May. 30, 1997
BRENTWOOD, Tenn. (AP) _ Kathy Dickinson and her 9-year-old daughter Halea fight over who gets the TLC Doll mail-order catalog first.
Usually, Mom wins.
``As soon as we get it, she's hanging over my shoulder, going `Mommy, I want to see it, but I say `Noooo, I'm looking at it first,''' said Mrs. Dickinson, a mother of two in Averill Park, N.Y.
The TLC Doll catalog, distributed by Patten White from this Nashville suburb, offers more than 1,000 undergarments, dress patterns, jewelry and furniture perfect for 18-inch dolls.
The items are prized by collectors of such dolls as the American Girl, which may come with one dress and few extra accouterments.
White ships throughout the country from the basement apartment she converted to an office and warehouse. She keeps an inventory of 25,000 articles, supplied by seamstresses or hobbyists like herself.
Patterns sell for about $9 while a riding outfit for a doll costs $26. One of the best sellers is a pair of bunny slippers, which sells for $2.25.
The catalogs, updated annually, cost $4 or are free with a purchase.
White got the idea to create the catalog after she purchased American Girl dolls for her daughters. The dolls are tied to historic periods and a series of books, which White also sells.
But she could only get patterns for six to eight outfits from the Middleton, Wis.,-based Pleasant Company that makes American Girl dolls. She thought about opening a retail store but decided she couldn't reach many people. So she followed the example of her father, who created a model airplane catalog and helped her start TLC Doll.
She named the company after her three daughters, Townley, Lindsay and Claire, who are 7, 14 and 10 respectively.
It took White about six months to put the first catalog together in 1994, with friends contributing photos and graphics. And she advertised in sewing magazines.
During the most Christmas seasons, White shipped several hundred boxes a week. Right now she's sending about 200 packages and 150 catalogs weekly.
``This is the third year, and I'm starting to turn the corner. I've been funneling everything back into the business. I'm not getting rich, but maybe in a couple of years I'll be comfortable,'' she said.
The catalog is designed like a department store, similar to the one her great-grandfather operated in Nashville, where patterns are grouped together as are dresses, shoes, purses and the like.
``When I go shopping, I don't want to look all over for purses, I want to see them all together,'' she said. ``It's like a department store on paper.''
Most of her customers are collectors and seamstresses with children. Several of them, including Mrs. Dickinson, have become suppliers who sell their patterns through the catalog.
Most of the items in White's catalog are more contemporary than those attiring the historically accurate dolls.
``A lot of little girls have Felicity (a Revolutionary War era doll), but they're into ballet and they want to dress the doll in a ballerina outfit,'' White said.
TLC Doll catalogs can be obtained by calling (888) 661-DOLL, or on the Internet at: http://www.tlcdoll.com