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Puget Sound Business Journal - Jeanne Lang Jones -  October 18, 2002
Adopted as fan giveaways by sports teams worldwide, Alexander Global
Promotions' Bobble Dobble dolls are keeping the Bellevue-based company's
sales hop, bop, bobbing along.
After introducing the nodding-head figurines three years ago, the promotional
products company now sells between 700,000 to 1.3 million dolls a month.
But as founder Malcolm Alexander has discovered, meeting unexpected success
has its challenges, too.
Bobble Dobbles are manufactured under an agreement with a factory in
Donguan, China, three hours outside Hong Kong. Demand has been so heavy
since the product rolled out that the factory has had to ramp up very
rapidly, expanding from 150 employees to 4,500 in less than three years.
Meanwhile, the company's Bellevue headquarters has also expanded, from
four employees in 1996 to 30 today.
"We were a little bit lucky in our timing. The American economy
was slowing so output from the factories in China was dropping —
so we could draw on a pool of skilled laborers," Alexander said.
"Several years earlier, it would have been a harder thing to do."
Still Alexander has monitored the factory's growth carefully to ensure
working conditions remain good, so the product does not reflect unfavorably
on its licensees.
The first Bobble Dobble — a name Alexander's wife Debbie created
— was a Willie Mays promotional figurine for the San Francisco Giants
baseball team in 1999. The Giants wanted a bobbing-head doll for a commemorative
giveaway because of their popularity in the '50s and '60s. It took Alexander
seven months to figure out how to produce the chunky 7-inch figurine,
whose spring-mounted head wobbled back and forth when tapped.
"I'd never heard of one — I come from Australia," Alexander
said. "They described something I thought was a concept rather than
As a result, the company developed its own approach. Rather than the
bland doll face favored by earlier manufacturers, Alexander hired a sculptor
to model facial features that closely resembled the legendary ballplayer.
Additionally, Alexander said, "We developed a material that's very
malleable in design so that when paint is applied, it has a really nice
complexion rather than a shiny plastic look."
Fans went wild. A Giants executive called Alexander to say, "We've
got a line outside the door like we haven't seen in years."
Other teams quickly followed suit.
Alexander would routinely arrive at work at 6:30 a.m. to the sound of
"When you build something distinctive in the market, people pay
attention," he said.
Now most professional sports teams in the United States have hired the
6-year-old company to produce caricatures of their players. The privately
held company sold 10 million units last year. Sales this year have remained
strong, with 20 percent to 30 percent year-over-year growth expected for
2003, Alexander said. Currently, Bobble Dobbles account for about 75 percent
of the company's sales. Alexander Global Promotions also sells a range
of other promotional products to more than 80 corporate clients, including
Washington Mutual and the Holland America cruise line.
So far, the company has manufactured more than 3,000 individual characters
and has developed a library of digital images that could be used to produce
other promotional products such as player key chains and cups.
A few miles away in Woodinville, rival merchandising agency Bensussen
Deutsch & Associates Inc. also is taking advantage of the bobblehead
fad. Some collectors have paid as much as $150 to $500 for BDA's Randy
Johnson and Ichiro bobbleheads, said vice president of marketing Steve
Avanessian. The company enhances its dolls' value as collectibles by destroying
each mold after their production run.
"Bobbleheads are the new baseball cards," Avanessian said.
"They have enough appeal, they will always be around — though
perhaps not to the same level they are now."
Despite his company's rapid growth, Alexander has not needed to seek
additional capital because the company has a very strong credit line through
Pacific Northwest Bank, he said.
But Alexander figures Bobble Dobbles' popularity is a passing fad. He
estimates the product's cycle at under six years.
"We're in year three in the cycle in the U.S. In Canada, we're in
year two and in England, Spain and Italy, we're in year one. We've got
a layered approach," Alexander said. "By diversifying globally
we have extended the life of the product."
He also has expanded his company's sales channels through a new licensing
agreement with Disney to produce Bobble Dobbles of its cartoon characters.
The company is developing a smaller 4-inch Bobble Dobble that could be
used as a DVD promotion.
Additionally, a new laser-scanning technology enables the company to
produce more anatomically correct Bobble Dobbles. The newest of these
will be a set of Bobble Dobbles of the Rolling Stones rock band. Aimed
at collectors, the Stones dolls will be scrawnier than the company's typically
stubby sports figures.
It might seem a quirky career for a former professional soldier: Alexander
spent more than a decade in an Australian Special Air Service counterterrorism
unit and saw action in the Iran-Iraq conflict.
"It's not a straight line — you can't connect the dots,"
Alexander said, "but I suppose my military background gave me a basis
for crisis management that I bring to business crises and a day-to-day
planning focus that lets me make structure out of what is not apparently
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