A Real Toy Story

A Troll Tale

Back in Berrie's manufacturing rep days, one of the companies he represented made impish little plastic dolls called trolls. They met with moderate success, but they weren't successful enough to keep their manufacturer from going out of business in the mid-'60s.

That should have been the end, but Berrie had a soft spot for the little creatures. "I tried bringing them back in 1967 with very minor success," Berrie says. "Then, every five, six, seven years, I'd try bringing them back again. Finally, in 1989, the trolls showed some pretty good sell-through, so we expanded the sales force in 1990. By the time 1992 rolled around, we were doing $250 million just in trolls."

This was not bad for a character with no motion picture deal, no giant ad campaign and, frankly, not much in the way of conventional good looks. Troll mania seized the country, and Russ Berrie had a major stake in the action. There were big trolls and small ones, crawling troll babies, trolls in cars and troll mugs.

"It became phenomenal," says Berrie. "I could not have predicted what happened. All I did was recognize the demand and expand to meet it."

And what demand! Veteran that he was, even Berrie was thrilled to see his fortunes rise higher and brighter than a troll's coiffure. "We just got carried away," he admits. "We were not really watching the marketplace."

Then the inevitable happened. "On April 12, 1993, at 1:32 p.m., everyone in the world decided they didn't want any more trolls," Berrie laments. "The bottom just fell out."

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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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