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The demand for dolls has fluctuated over time, but they do continue to withstand the test of time. A custom doll maker will handcraft dolls for clients based on either public demand or personalized requests. For example, they may create dolls that reflect current pop culture or political icons, or they may handcraft dolls that resemble the client who ordered it.
Who is this business right for?
Doll makers typically start off as hobbyists who make dolls for their friends, families, or even just for themselves. But a doll maker should also be creative enough to put clever spins on the general dolls they sell or custom requests.
What happens during a typical day at a custom doll business?
The majority of time will likely be spent in a workshop, but doll makers should also devote some time to advertising and interfacing with clients. Brainstorming and communication should be standard practice because it's the only way to give the customer exactly what they're looking for. A dollmaker may also have to negotiate with supply vendors to ensure they’re getting the lowest possible price for their materials.
What is the target market?
Target markets tend to include either collectors or children who are looking for something different than what's currently available. Most people will be either middle- or upper-class, though there are ways to create less expensive custom dolls for practically any budget.
How does a custom doll business make money?
Doll makers will usually double the cost of the materials they used to make the doll. So, if it costs a doll maker to $100 for the raw materials, then they would price it at $200. However, if the doll is particularly intricate or if the doll maker is able to use techniques that no one else is using, then they can charge much more based on their demand.
What is the growth potential for a custom doll business?
There are people who will pay for custom dolls, though it is definitely a niche. Some doll makers will use their custom business as a way to springboard themselves into more commercialized dolls. For example, if a doll maker is getting requests for small dolls based on public figures, they may create their own line of prefabricated dolls to put into stores. In addition, there is always the chance that a doll makers creations will become the next fad in the same vein as Cabbage Patch dolls or Barbies.
What are some skills and experiences that will help you build a successful custom doll business?
People who have experience with high-level crafts will do well in this business. They may have also gone to some type of trade or art school to learn how to use different materials to create durable, quality toys.
What are the costs involved in opening a custom doll business?
Most people can get started without a lot of money. Ragdolls may cost only a few dollars to make, which can be a good way to get started for those who don’t want to take out a loan. Doll makers will also need to invest in advertising, as a professional website can go a long way to drumming up demand for a doll maker’s creations. Techniques like blogging and social media are excellent ways to work your way into the public eye without having to spend any a dime.
What are the steps to start a custom doll business?
Once you're ready to start your custom doll business, follow these steps to ensure that your business is legally compliant and avoid wasting time and money as your business grows:
- Plan your business. A clear plan is essential for success as an entrepreneur. A few important topics to consider are your initial costs, your target market, and how long it will take you to break even.
- Form a legal entity. Establishing a legal business entity prevents you from being personally liable if your custom doll business is sued.
- Register for taxes. You will need to register for a variety of state and federal taxes before you can open for business.
- Open a business bank account. A dedicated checking account for your custom doll business keeps your finances organized and makes your business appear more professional to your customers.
- Set up business accounting. Recording your various expenses and sources of income is critical to understanding the financial performance of your business. Keeping accurate and detailed accounts also greatly simplifies your annual tax filing.
- Obtain necessary permits and licenses. Failure to acquire necessary permits and licenses can result in hefty fines, or even cause your business to be shut down.
- Get business insurance. Insurance is highly recommended for all business owners. If you hire employees, workers compensation insurance may be a legal requirement in your state.
- Define your brand. Your brand is what your company stands for, as well as how your business is perceived by the public. A strong brand will help your business stand out from competitors.
- Establish a web presence. A business website allows customers to learn more about your company and the products or services you offer. You can also use social media to attract new clients or customers.
Select your state below for an in-depth guide on completing each of these steps in your home state.
Where can I find a business mentor?
One of the greatest resources an entrepreneur can have is quality mentorship. As you start planning your business, connect with a free business resource near you to get the help you need.
Having a support network in place to turn to during tough times is a major factor of success for new business owners.
What are some insider tips for jump starting a custom doll business?
Doll makers have to be willing to change with the public in order to stay relevant to their audience. Classic dolls like Madame Alexander’s are still in high demand by the most hard-core of collectors, but for the most part, the traditional dolls aren't as valuable anymore. Iconic dolls like Barbie are no longer on the lips of every young girl because they’re no longer the only fad in the nation.
Owners may instead want to focus on finding a way to distinguish their dolls. Companies like American Girl have built an empire because they concentrated on a select few girls growing up in different time periods. Their costumes, stories, and desires were all fueled by the time and location in which they grew up. Taking a very different approach, dolls like Bratz celebrate girls who want to be funky and fun-loving.
For a doll maker to find their own niche, they have to be willing to experiment with different types of styles while at the same time sticking to a general business plan. The business plan will have to include milestones for how much money you want to make and how you intend to expand.
How to promote & market a custom doll business
Online advertising is a great way to show off your dolls because most people rely on photos in spark desire. The best way to promote your business will always be word of mouth, but that might not be realistic at the very beginning. Blogging, social media, and a tasteful website can all help get the word out.
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How to keep customers coming back
Creating quality dolls that last against wear and tear is a good way to earn repeat customers. While customer service is less necessary (considering there may only be so much face-time with clients), owners should also be polite and respectful of people’s requests.
How and when to build a team
Most doll makers will begin their business as a hobby on their own before branching out to greener pastures. You should not be building a team until you’re certain you can meet your own financial goals and that you’re unable to handle the total workload. When you do hire, look for people who can either manage the logistics of your many orders, or who can actively help you assemble and create the dolls. Team members should give you more time to focus on new concepts or methodologies for your line of dolls.
State & Local Business Licensing Requirements
Certain state permits and licenses may be needed to operate a doll making business. Learn more about licensing requirements in your state by visiting SBA’s reference to state licenses and permits.
Most businesses are required to collect sales tax on the goods or services they provide. To learn more about how sales tax will affect your business, read our article, Sales Tax for Small Businesses.
For information about local licenses and permits:
- Check with your town, city or county clerk’s office
- Get assistance from one of the local associations listed in US Small Business Associations directory of local business resources.
Maintain Personal Asset Protection
Don’t think that just forming an LLC, or any other type of business, will save your personal assets in case of a lawsuit or other matter by itself.
When your personal and business accounts are mixed, your personal assets (your home, car, and other valuables) are at risk in the event your LLC is sued. In business law, this is referred to as piercing your corporate veil.
Two of the simplest steps that will protect your business, and yourself, are to:
Open a business bank account
- This separates your personal assets from your company's assets, which is necessary for personal asset protection.
- It also makes accounting and tax filing easier.
Get a business credit card
- This helps you separate personal and business expenses by putting your business' expenses all in one place.
- It also builds your company's credit history, which can be useful to raise money and investment later on.
Certificate of Occupancy
A doll making business is generally run out of a workshop or factory depending on the size of the business. Businesses operating out of a physical location typically require a Certificate of Occupancy (CO). A CO confirms that all building codes, zoning laws and government regulations have been met.
- If you plan to lease a location:
- It is generally the landlord’s responsibility to obtain a CO.
- Before leasing, confirm that your landlord has or can obtain a valid CO that is applicable to a doll making business.
- After a major renovation, a new CO often needs to be issued. If your place of business will be renovated before opening, it is recommended to include language in your lease agreement stating that lease payments will not commence until a valid CO is issued.
- If you plan to purchase or build a location:
- You will be responsible for obtaining a valid CO from a local government authority.
- Review all building codes and zoning requirements for your business’ location to ensure your doll making business will be in compliance and able to obtain a CO.
How much can you charge customers?
It’s not unusual for people to pay thousands of dollars for a single doll, depending on the brand and style. However, most people are willing to pay up to $100 – $150 for a quality custom doll.
What are the ongoing expenses for a custom doll business?
Doll makers can keep their expenses low if they’re working on their own and using free advertising strategies such as social media and blogging. They may only need to keep up with the rent or mortgage (usually in the form of a home studio), as well as the raw materials for the dolls. They should also have some type of commercial insurance to cover against potential mistakes.
How much profit can a custom doll business make?
If doll makers are working strictly on an order-per-order basis, then they can make around double of whatever they charge per doll. So if a person is making 100 dolls a year and selling them at $80 a piece, then they would make about $4,000 in profit a year.
How can you make your business more profitable?
A doll maker may eventually want to develop their own line of pre-made dolls to sell in toy stores or online. They can throw (and charge for) tea parties for children to come and host their dolls. Or they can hold workshops for other doll makers on how to make their creations better.