For a religious toy maker, getting onto the shelves of the world’s biggest retailer must be like dying and going to heaven. So last week, when One-2Believe, the Valencia, Calif., company that makes such scripture-quoting dolls as Jesus, Esther, Moses and Noah, was welcomed by Wal-Mart into 425 of its 3,376 U.S. stores, its 37-year-old chief executive David Socha was understandably chuffed. “We have been really blessed,” says the self-described evangelical
Catholic, who can’t help mixing in a little pride with his humility. “The faith aspect is our No. 1 driver. It’s all about Jesus,” he says, adding in the same breath that his 35 different Bible dolls have no competition in America’s faith community, which spent about US$5 billion for religious products last year.
Well, God helps those who help themselves. To drum up interest, Socha (who also distributes product tie-ins for the likes of SpongeBob SquarePants and Something About Mary under another company name, Beverly Hills Teddy Bear Co.) says he did “a lot of church seeding,” meaning he visited as many as 7,000 churches and gave away his dolls. That incurred goodwill, but it was last winter’s gift of 4,000 of his Bible toys that earned him a trumpet blast of free publicity. Initially, the recipientthe Marine Corps Reserve’s annual toy driveturned the dolls down on grounds that underprivileged Muslim kids, for example, might not appreciate the selection of verses such as Mark 12:30 (“And thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart”). When the story got out, Socha says, “we had an outpouring of support from people who are engaged in their faith.” The Marines took the dolls.
Wal-Mart is viewing the toy line as a test, not a full-scale rollout. Says Socha: “We are trying to be a resource for parents, but also very fun for the kids. Kids are so fickle and they always change their minds.” Amen. M
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