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IIBMS – Pleasant Company

CASE: V   Pleasant Company


Samantha Parkington fights for women’s suffrage. Addy Walker escapes from slavery. Kirsten Larson builds a life in the frontier. Characters from feminist novel? No, these plucky heroines are part of The American Girls Collection, a line of historical dolls that are the darlings of 7- to 12 year-olds. Christmas orders piled up so fast at Pleasant Co.—the privately held doll-maker—that company vice presidents had to pack boxes in the warehouse.

Former president, Pleasant Rowland, who began the company with royalties she received from writing primary school reading books knew her vision had to be broad. Simply launching a me-too doll would have meant failure.

Before Rowland got her idea she went shopping for dolls for her two nieces. All she found were Barbies that wore spiked heels, drove pink Corvettes, and looked as if they belonged in strip joints. Though industry sources told her she couldn’t sell a mass market doll for over $40—some Barbies cost less than $10—Rowland gambled that boomer parents would pay more for one that was fun and educational.

Each of Pleasant Co.’s five dolls represents an era of American history. Addy is from the Civil War, and Samantha is described as a “bright Victorian beauty.” Parents can also buy historically accurate replicas of clothes, furniture, and memorabilia, such as the June 6, 1944, Chicago Daily Tribune headlined “Allies Invade France, made for Molly McIntire, the 1940s doll. The 18-inch dolls cost $84; add in all the accessories, including $80 dresses for the doll’s owner, and the price exceeds $1000. Every doll also stars in its own series of novels, with titles like Kirsten Learns a Lesson Samantha Saves the Day. The heroines go on adventures and cope with moral dilemmas; for example, Felicity Merriman, a colonial girl, has to decide whether to continue her tea parties while her father fights King

George Ill’s tea tax. Says Rowland: “We try to give girls chocolate cake with vitamins.”

            Pleasant Co. decided early on not to compete doll to doll on toy store shelves. Defying industry wisdom, Rowland began selling only through her own catalog. She counted on her dolls’ being so different that word of mouth would take care of sales. She also coddled her customers. Pleasant Co. opened a “hospital” for broken dolls, so when brother sticks a pair of scissors through Molly’s head, Mom can return her to Pleasant Co. for repairs. For $35 the company does the surgery then mails Molly—now wearing a hospital gown and carrying a certificate of health form the house doctor—home to recuperate.

Will Pleasant Co.’s dolls have legs? Rowland says movies, CD-ROMs, and theme parks aren’t out of the question. But she’ll expand only as long as she can keep the business special. She refuses to license her products on T-shirts and lunch boxes, fearing that too much exposure would cheapen the doll’s image. Says Rowland: “It never hurts to play hard to get.”

In 1998, Mattel, Inc., purchased Pleasant Co., which continues to operate as an independent subsidiary. During the same year, American Girl Place, the company’s first retail and entertainment site, opened in downtown Chicago, and a second store opened in New York in 2003. The stores are a little girl’s delight. Visitors can purchase dolls, books, and clothing; view a musical revue; and have tea, lunch, or dinner at the Café at American Girl Place. The Chicago store sold $35 million worth of products in 2003.




  1. Why do consumers pay $84 for a Pleasant Company doll when they can buy other dolls much more cheaply at retail stores?
  2. Considering money, time, cognitive activity, and behavioral effort costs, are Pleasant Company dolls more or less costly than dolls that can be purchased at retail stores?
  3. What recommendations do you have for Pleasant Company to increase sales and profits?

IIBMS – Pleasant Company

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