American Girl Founder Gets Mackenzie-Childs Catalog Off the Ground

Whimsical ceramics manufacturer/marketer Mackenzie-Childs is now a cataloger as well. The Aurora, NY-based company dropped its first catalog to an undisclosed number of both house file and rented names on May 17.

The 36-page catalog sells approximately 300 SKUs of the Spanish and Italian majolica tabletop ceramics that Mackenzie-Childs is known for, such as salad servers, platters, and large serving bowls. Prices range from $25 to $450. Each edition of the catalog, says vice president of marketing and product development Jennifer Ellsworth, will focus on a different area of the home or garden, such as furniture, lighting, or rugs. The company in February launched a line of garden ceramics such as garden pots, urns, and tables, which will be available in future catalogs. It has not yet decided how many times a year the catalog will mail but Ellsworth says that for the second drop in September, Mackenzie-Childs hopes to double the book’s circulation.

Founded in 1983 by Richard and Victoria Mackenzie-Childs, the company just a few years ago was on the verge of financial collapse due to poor management during intense growth, says Ellsworth, and it filed for bankruptcy in November 2000. “To some extent, I think it’s fair to say that Victoria and Richard were exemplary creative people with a brilliant designing sense, but when the company grew very rapidly, they didn’t have the strong financial and business leadership people in place to help with the growth,” she notes.

The company came out of bankruptcy in June 2001, when Pleasant Rowland–founder of Middleton, WI-based cataloger Pleasant Co., which makes the American Girl dolls — bought it. Rowland, who sold her company to Mattel in 1998 and retired in 2000, paid about $5 million for the ceramics marketer and began turning it around. “She put a strong group in place who had a lot of depth of experience in their respective fields” such as production, marketing, and IT, says Ellsworth.

Rowland launched an interactive Mackenzie-Childs Website in 2003 and the catalog followed about a year later. “Direct was the one channel that we hadn’t really taken advantage of,” says Ellsworth. Rowland’s recovery and growth strategy seems to be paying off: The company is now projecting growth of 30% a year.

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