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Melissa & Doug - toy store-y
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  Melissa & Doug
Melissa & Doug
toy store-y
by Mark Miller
June 22, 2009

At some point every parent becomes sick of the ultra-loud beeping, neon-flashing, battery-eating toys that overload playrooms across America. That is why many parents bow toward New England each evening before bedtime and each morning after they wake. Melissa & Doug are based in the town of Wilton, CT.
 
Founded in 1988 in the garage of Doug’s parents—supposedly at a time when Doug was too nervous to ask Melissa to marry him—the company is dedicated to creating educational toys and children’s products that don’t hum and bleep and soak up battery power. These are classic American wooden or plush toys. Stuff that you’re supposed to feel good about having your kid running around the house with.

The Melissa & Doug website, like the company’s toys, gives off a laid-back yet festive vibe with its gentle pastel coloring and seemingly hand-lettered font. Its homepage—with four friendly, waving Muppet-like hand puppets—is the depiction of relaxed fun and welcoming charm.

This pleasant feel is perpetuated throughout different sections of the site—such as Career Opportunities, Customer Service, etc.—with photos of staffers at barbecues, on Halloween and smiling goofily while on the phone ostensibly helping customers on the other end. Such unpretentious design, which also includes multicolored stars and headline lettering at the top of each section, is sweet but can go so far as to make one feel that he or she is looking at quirky, even awkward, outtakes from The Office.

One photo, for example, features two employees (could one be Doug?) and a large stuffed giraffe sitting atop a picnic table that is nearly covered with water due to a flood of some sort; the caption jokes about company-mandated lifeguard training. Another photo features members of the M&D design team all dressed us as Mister Rogers as if to say that every day is just a barrel of laughs at Melissa and Doug’s. Talk about the Neighborhood of Make-Believe.

The photos may be a little campy but they do support the site in delivering that saccharine “we’re all family here” feeling, which is the clear message being promulgated by a privately held brand that not only claims double-digit revenue increases for the last 18 years, but also has won an adult-sized boatload of prizes from parenting magazines and toy retailers such as FAO Schwarz and Toys“R”Us. Melissa & Doug is currently expanding to address a whole new market of parents in need of a break from electronica in the United Kingdom.

The site is simple and straightforward, much like the company’s toys. Melissa & Doug’s offerings fill a multitude of pages under the Shop link at the top of the homepage. There, website visitors will find information on hundreds of products in addition to pages upon pages of adorable eight-piece ice cream sets, 16-piece traffic sign sets, wooden vehicle sets, eight-piece castle character sets and so on. Thankfully, the site organizes the products according to 14 different, and sensible, categories.

 
 
Melissa & Doug One savvy effort the site makes in these rough economic times is to feature promotional copy that leads readers to Special Offers, where products are discounted up to 35 percent. There is also free shipping available for those who order US$ 60 or more from the site. There may be only 12 items discounted, but promoting the sale on the homepage clearly expresses an effort to entice budget-minded parents—as long as those parents are of the ilk that hanker for a discounted US$ 129.99 four-foot-tall stuffed T. Rex.

Whether you and your kids lean more toward Melissa & Doug’s down-home style of toys made from simple materials or prefer the plastic-wrapped, Made-in-China, batteries-not-included toys, all parents across the globe want what is best for their children. And Melissa & Doug, and their brand-consistent website, are certainly not what is wrong with the world.

 

Mark J. Miller writes a daily sports column for Yahoo! Sports and is a contributing writer to Crain's BtoB's Media Business magazine. His work has appeared in National Geographic Adventure, ESPN, The Washington Post, Salon.com, I.D., and Glamour, among others.

*Due to the constantly changing environment of websites, some reviews may no longer reflect the current website for this brand.
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