A Real Toy Story

From wild-haired troll dolls to nostalgic teddy bears, Russ Berrie has the gift market all wrapped up.

Russ Berrie is still swinging. That's how he knows he's successful--not because his Oakland, New Jersey, gift and novelty firm, Russ Berrie and Co. Inc., posts more than$375 million in annual sales. And not because he's masterminded some of the best-selling gift items in popular memory, ranging from that little plastic statuette from the '60s who, with his arms outstretched, proclaimed "I love you this much!" to, more recently, the troll doll, which enjoyed a formidable comeback in the early '90s. With its top-rated line of baby gifts and accessories, its nostalgic "Bears From the Past" teddy bear series, and a menagerie of other familiar gift items, Russ Berrie and Co. enjoys more than its share of major hits.

Berrie, 64, is understandably pleased with these accomplishments. But it's the longevity of his 34-year-old company that pleases him most. "There are not many companies around today that were here in 1963," Berrie says. "In this business, things are always changing, but we're still around. And it's been fun every step of the way," even though it hasn't always been easy.

In a consumer environment where entertainment tie-ins and mammoth advertising campaigns seem to dominate, Russ Berrie and Co. rides trends the old-fashioned way--by tracking customer interests and responding to them. It is not an exact science. "I'm not going to say to you that every product we've made has done well," Berrie admits. "But batting average is really not the question. It's making sure you get the right hits at the right time and, of course, whether or not you win the game."

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This article was originally published in the September 1997 print edition of Entrepreneur with the headline: A Real Toy Story.

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