Tag Archives: Melissa & Doug

Toys R Tariffs: The Melissa & Doug Connection

President Trump’s on-again, off-again tariff decisions have rattled the global economy.

Here in the US, sectors ranging from aluminum to footwear have felt whipsawed by decisions made and remade in the White House. The latest industry is a big one: toys.

Earlier this week, the president delayed a new 10 percent tariff on some Chinese imports, from September 1 to December 15. That gives toy manufacturers some breathing room, before and during the make-or-break holiday season.

Melissa and Doug Bernstein

Westport has an important dog in this hunt. Melissa & Doug was founded in 1988 by Doug and Melissa Bernstein, in his parents’ garage on Guyer Road. Over the past 31 years it’s become a highly respected creator, manufacturer and distributor of educational toys, including wooden puzzles, arts and crafts products and more.

Bernstein breathed a sigh of relief at the tariff delay. But, he said yesterday, the larger question is the entire concept of a “trade war.”

“Wars are not good,” he said. “They cause casualties: human, social and economic. Calling this a ‘war’ is not a good thing.” He would prefer to see trade policy discussed “amicably.”

Like most American toy companies, the vast majority — 85 to 90% — of Melissa & Doug’s products are made in China.

This founders did not set out to manufacture overseas. Years ago, Bernstein said, he brought prototypes to factories across in the US. No one wanted the job.

The issue was not price. Rather, it was the “massive amount of handiwork” that goes into each Melissa & Doug item. “They can’t be stamped out” — and American factories could not do it at a price that would be reasonable for consumers.

A small selection of Melissa & Doug toys.

Over the years, Melissa & Doug built strong relationships in China. Today, around 200 or so employees oversee quality and inspection there. “They work for us,” he said. “They’re not 3rd-party contractors.”

While other companies talk about moving production to other parts of the world — Vietnam and India are often mentioned — Melissa & Doug worries about losing quality control.

“We have 3 tenets,” the co-founder says. “We make educational products for children; we make them with the absolute best quality we can, and we price them as affordably as possible. We don’t want them accessible only to kids who grow up in a place like Westport.”

So — even with higher tariffs — Bernstein and his wife are committed to “not passing on higher pricing to consumers. Other companies say that if the tariffs take effect on December 15, they’ll have to raise prices by 10, 20 or 25% in 2020. We’re working very hard not to do that. We would probably absorb most, if not all, of the cost.”

They’ve already been tested. In addition to toys, Melissa & Doug produce items like chalk and markers. They’ve already been hit with several million dollars in tariffs — and have not raised prices.

Bernstein sounds a hopeful note, though. “Honestly, I didn’t think the tariffs would happen on September 1. And I think there’s a high likelihood they won’t happen on December 15. This is a game of chess, and we’re pawns. No one gains from a trade war. I think agreements will be reached.”

Besides chess, Bernstein uses another analogy to describe the last few months.

“We’ve been on a roller coaster,” he says. “It would be one thing if there were transparent discussions. But for us — and everyone in the industry — it’s been up and down, on and off, 10%, 25%, September 1, December 15.”

That’s one game the Westport toy manufacturer has no desire to play.

Fireworks Tickets On Sale Now!

No one snoozes during Westport’s Independence Day fireworks.

But if you snooze too long now, you’ll have a tough time seeing them at Compo Beach.

Parking at Compo for the 62nd annual fireworks — which, in true Westport tradition, are blasted off a barge not on July 4th but, this year, on Monday July 2 — is by ticket only.

Sales — which began today — are limited, and on a first-come, first-serve basis. Once they sell out, shuttle passes from Longshore are available for purchase.

Tickets are available at Westport Police Department headquarters (50 Jesup Road), and the Parks and Recreation office (in Longshore, near the first tee).

The price is $35 per car (pack ’em in!). Before you bitch and moan: Proceeds go to Westport PAL, to support many programs — and thousands of kids.

And before you complain that the fireworks are sponsored by Melissa & Doug — the international (and locally owned) toy company — remember that because of them, PAL does not have to shell out money for all those firework shells.

Absolutely worth $35!

July 3!

Last year, some hard-to-please Westporters bitched and moaned because the 4th of July fireworks were held on June 30th.

Folks have complained about July 1 and 2 dates too.

There are several reasons why we can’t do fireworks on July 4. But this year we’ve got the next best thing.

The 2017 show — produced by Westport PAL, sponsored by Melissa & Doug, with fireworks from the great Gruccis — are scheduled for Monday, July 3.

Tickets for the 61st annual event go on sale tomorrow (Thursday, June 1). They’re available — first-come, first-serve — at the Police Department (50 Jesup Road) and the Parks and Rec  office (Longshore, across from the 1st tee).

Westporters also sometimes bitch and moan that the cost is $35 per car. Well, proceeds fund a ton of PAL programs. And the entire evening is unrivaled for fun, and a community feeling.

Oh, yeah: The rain date is Wednesday, July 5.

We’ve got the 4th surrounded.

Westport’s fireworks, as seen from Hillspoint Road.

 

A Very Merry Bridgeport Christmas

It started with a small request.

Kathy Mahieu — a Westporter who teaches in a Bridgeport elementary school — asked if I could write about the differences between our school district and theirs. I had a better idea: I’d post her 1st-person account. Her words would be far more meaningful than mine.

A Tale of 2 School Districts” provoked a powerful response. Dozens of commenters offered thoughts. Many wondered what they could do to help.

The answer: Plenty. And here’s where this story really gets good.

Catherine Walsh called Kathy, and provided cartons of paper for the Read School. That simple gesture solved an enormous need.

Simultaneously, Jimeale Hede and Carolyn Russo got involved. Using Facebook, they installed “room moms” in every pre-K through 3rd grade classroom. The women published wish lists on their grassroots Brighter Lives for Kids Foundation website. Classroom supplies poured in.

Kathy Mathieu in her Bridgeport classroom. Very few teachers have whiteboards.

Kathy Mathieu in her Bridgeport classroom. Very few teachers have whiteboards.

In just one week this month, over $71,000 was raised. Much of that came from a Cushman & Wakefield fundraiser. The money will pay for the purchase of 90 Chromebooks with educational programs, as well as field trips and a soccer program.

“06880” readers — and others in an ever-widening circle — volunteered to address other needs. Teachers are identifying students who need shoes or a backpack, for example, as well as requesting items like rugs, headphones and books for their classrooms.

Help is on the way Cesar Batalla Elementary School too.

Read Elementary School

Read Elementary School

Watching the generosity unfold brought Catherine to tears. Westport and surrounding communities rallied around the needy school. Importantly, she says, they’ve “committed themselves long-term” to aiding these children and their families.

One of the Westporters who helped with Pamela Long. She heard about a toy drive for the Cesar Batalla and Read Schools. She bought some, but was chagrined to learn that donations were slow.

She asked “06880” for help. Again, I was happy to help. Again too, I asked for the story in her own words.

Pamela was eloquent. “These kids are in desperate situations — the highest poverty brackets, shelters, you name it. 100% of these children are fed breakfast and lunch at school,” she wrote. “Their families have no money for basic necessities — let alone holiday gifts.

“Westport:  We can do better. Every child deserves the joy of opening a gift this season. We’ve got 4 more days to come together as a community and show our compassion, by helping those who do not have our good fortune. Open your hearts and your wallets — and get shopping!”

Westporters — and readers far and wide — responded instantly. Taking advantage of an Amazon link — and thanks to a generation donation from locally based/internationally known toymakers Melissa & Doug — they blew past the goal.

Plenty of people also helped with the logistics: wrapping, transporting, and making the toy magic happen.

Some of the presents that poured in to the Read and Cesar Batalla Elementary Schools.

Some of the holiday gifts that poured in to the Read and Cesar Batalla Elementary Schools.

So — when it’s almost time for boys and girls all over America to enjoy the wonder of Santa Claus — let’s pause to thank the men and women (and kids) of our “06880” community (real and virtual) who helped bring smiles to kids a few miles away.

And let’s vow to keep helping the boys and girls of Bridgeport every day in the coming year.

Melissa & Doug & The Times Business Section

Melissa and Doug Bernstein do things in a big way.

The Westport couple have a big house. A big family. A big toy company.

Melissa & DougNow that company, also named Melissa & Doug — along with their house and family — is featured in a big story on Page 1 of today’s New York Times business section.

The piece describes the company’s quick rise — in 25 years, they’ve reached an estimated $325 million in revenue — as “an anachronism.”

Matt Richtel writes:

In a time when major corporations dominate the industry, making toys with all manner of batteries, digital gimmicks or movie tie-ins, the Bernsteins keep making money in wooden puzzles, coloring pads, blocks, trains and simple costumes (the police officer, the princess, the pirate). They hatch many of their ideas by watching children at play — often among their own brood of six.

They do little public relations and don’t advertise in magazines, or on radio and television. They don’t put coupons in Sunday newspaper inserts. They don’t rely on big hits, industry analysts say, just a steady stream of variations on classic toys mostly for children up to the age of 5.

It’s an intriguing story, about an interesting company and the Westporters behind it. (Click here to read the entire piece.)

And — in keeping with the “big” theme — a very big photo of Doug, Melissa and 2 of their kids sprawls across the entire top half of the Sunday Business front page.

Doug and Melissa  Bernstein, with 2 of their children: Nate (age 5) and Sydelle (9). (Photo by Christopher Capozziello/New York Times)

Doug and Melissa Bernstein, with 2 of their children: Nate (age 5) and Sydelle (9). (Photo by Christopher Capozziello/New York Times)

Staples Students Challenge Obesity

Which is more incongruous:  58 teenagers volunteering to spend 12 hours working at school (on a Sunday!), or chowing down junk food while trying to solve the problem of obesity?

Both happened earlier this month. The event was Staples’ 2nd annual Spectacular Student Challenge. For $12,5000 in prize money, 12 teams of students sacrificed sleep, engaged their brains, pooled their wits and downed enormous quantities of chips, soda and other obesity-inducing delights.

Early Sunday morning — alertly remembering the start of daylight savings time — 12 teams assembled in separate classrooms.  Each team received this year’s topic:  America’s alarming increase in overweight children and adults has wreaked havoc on health, health costs and the economy.

The “Challenge”:  design a persuasive campaign, a “pitch” and a researched report to convince the Westport community to follow a plan encouraging lifestyle change and healthy living.

The report had to answer questions like:

What factors contribute to a rise in obesity levels in the U.S., as compared to other industrialized countries?

How has obesity impacted society so far?  How will it do so in the future?  How is that effect quantifiable?

What realistic steps can schools, the Westport community, town and state governments, and private groups take to solve the problem?

What obstacles will your plan encounter, and how will you address them?

How will you measure your plans’ effectiveness over time?

Campaigns would be judged on creativity and well-analyzed data.  The information had to be well organized, and bibliographically cited.  Visual and multi-media aids were strongly encouraged.

Taking a rare break from their work (from left): sophomores Marcus Russi, Judy Feng, Robert DeLuca, Martha Whammond and Amanda Wildstein.

Stopping only for food, the students went to work.  They researched numbers, and dug into history.  They analyzed data, synthesized ideas and modeled solutions.  They thought outside the box, tossed aside the boxes that didn’t work, and dove into snack boxes.

They created pitches, argued over the best way to present them, came to consensus, then had to actually design them — in a variety of media.

It was education at its core.  And it spoke directly to Staples’ school goal:  understand a local theme with much larger real-world implications, and work collaboratively using math, science, social studies and English skills to craft a solution.

Senior Cole Manley’s group, for example, came up with a plan that included making bike lanes in Westport more expansive and convenient; eliminating all trans fats in Westport restaurants; making student lunches healthier through more diverse offerings (and more fruits and vegetables), and revising the phys. ed. curriculum to get more students exercising.

This group included (from left) Jeremy Rubel, Michelle Mastriani, Petey Menz, Michael Menz and Cole Manley.

Finally — 12 hours, and many Cheez Doodles and pizzas later — the 12 teams were done.

Cole’s team sent their paper off with 5 minutes to spare.  Interspersed with calculus graphs of obesity percentages were Norman Rockwell drawings of youngsters exercising.

Now, a team of teachers is reviewing all 12 papers.  The top 6 teams will make a presentation to a panel of judges on April 26.

Members of the winning team get $6,000, to be used as scholarship funds for college.  The next 2 teams will share another $6,500.  Prize money was donated by the Gudis Family Foundation, and the Melissa & Doug educational toy company.

Then the winners will go out to celebrate.  With a dinner at Whole Foods.