An Open Letter to Playmobil:
As soon as we saw your new Pyramid at Toy Fair, we were enchanted. We gave it top billing during our 31 Days of Giveaways in July. A full page in our annual catalog. We assembled it here in our office for the photo shoot (note to Santa: this took a while), and saw first hand how cool it was. Everyone was buzzing about it.
By the beginning of November, Pyramids were flying off the shelves. We realized pretty quickly that this was going to be a hot item. We contacted your sales department to ask about availability and were told it was in stock and available to order. We placed a large order that same day and continued accepting orders online and in our stores. The following week, we were told that, actually, the pyramid was not in stock, but would be available the week of December 4th. We updated our customers and continued to take orders. Then we found out that Playmobil had the Pyramid available for sale on your own website. That was strange. The Pyramid had been in stock the day we placed our order, then suddenly it was unavailable, and yet it was in stock on your own site?
This was frustrating, but we still had faith we would receive our order as promised. December 4th came and went with no shipment and no information. Our customers began calling and emailing, concerned that they hadn’t received their Pyramids. We reassured them. We told them about our great relationship with Playmobil, and we were sure we would be getting our order soon.
But communication from Playmobil stalled. We started calling so often we worried about allegations of stalking. We were told that the container was delayed. Stuck in customs. Coming any day now. For a few days, even Playmobil’s website had no Pyramids to sell. We were promised an update this past Friday. Friday afternoon, they promised to tell us how many we were getting, and when they would arrive on Monday. Definitely Monday. Over the weekend, Playmobil’s website once again had Pyramids to sell, and when Monday came and went with no call, we were pretty sure we already knew the answer.
This morning, we got official word that Playmobil would be prioritizing their own online division over their retailers, even though our order was placed when the item was still in stock. We may still get some, but there’s no telling exactly when or how many.
We have been pouring time and resources into this product for the last four weeks, and now Playmobil thanks us by hanging us out to dry, giving us no option but to refer our customers to their own website in order to get their Pyramids in time for the holidays. I understand the math here, but seriously? Is this right?
The Playmobil brand was built by the specialty toy retailers in this country. Long before we opened Magic Beans, local toy stores all across the country devoted miles of wall space to those big blue boxes. All of us work hard to represent the Playmobil brand every day. We open up the products and put them out on display so kids can see them and understand why they’re so amazing. We make sure that every customer buying a gift for a child over the age of 4 considers a Playmobil set.
2009 has been a tough year for everyone. Having a red-hot product like the Pyramid was a game changer for so many struggling businesses. Instead of sharing the success, Playmobil has opted to keep the lion’s share for themselves.
If every manufacturer did this, how could specialty toy stores stay in business?
Melissa and Doug also has a hot item this year. Their Grocery Cart has been incredibly popular, and they are totally sold out. But guess what? Weeks ago, when they realized supply was running short, they pulled that item off their website, and we received every single cart we ordered. “We’d rather see our retailers get those sales,” our sales rep commented to me today when we were talking about the Playmobil outcome. “We think it’s much better for us in the long run.”
Fortunately, Playmobil is the sad exception and not the rule. Still, what a disappointment.
It’s important to keep perspective at this time of year, and we’re big on having a sense of humor about things like this. But our outstanding orders include a 5-year-old with cancer. All the little guy wants for Christmas is a Pyramid and I promised his mother we’d deliver. We’ll find a way to keep our promise, but I wish Playmobil would do the same.