Battle of the Dolls

by Maplelea Staff May 21, 2019 4 min read 33 Comments

The following is an article that was featured in "Delivering the Online World" Magazine, Fall 2018 Edition.

How does a homegrown pure play take on an American giant? By doing the one thing that giant can’t – be unabashedly Canadian!

 

For Kathryn Gallagher Morton the doll business has never been more challenging.

As president of Avonlea Traditions Inc., maker of the Maplelea dolls, she’s fighting both for mindshare of girls in a digital era and for more marketshare of a global omni-channel toy industry. But what may be most challenging is finding a way every day to slay a U.S. giant that dominates the battle of the 18-inch dolls – the mighty and ubiquitous American Girl.

Owned by Mattel, American Girl has a hefty line of physical stores, enough money to produce books, movies and digital games, and a massive marketing budget that should render a relatively small Canadian pure play powerless to compete. But compete it does.

So how does Maplelea hold its own against this Goliath? In a few smart ways.

Competing with giants.

The Newmarket, Ont.-based company diligently keeps its prices lower than American Girl, while also ensuring the quality of its products is higher – from the dolls to the fabric of their clothing. But mostly, it differentiates itself by fully embracing its Canadian-ness.

“Canadian companies make their toys generic, which enables them to sell to that larger, international market,” says Morton. “That leaves our kids with few playthings that reflect our history, geography and culture. But there are a lot of parents who want to have something for their children that is Canadian, not American.”

Maplelea targets those parents when designing its products. For instance, the seven core Maplelea dolls each come with journals filled with elaborate stories set in their hometowns – from urban Toronto to far-afield Nunavut – along with local places, landmarks and maps of Canada. The line of accessories include some uniquely Canadian items, such as wooden toboggans, parkas – with insulating layers and flaps that cover the zippers – and hockey gear.

The authentic Canadian themes and high quality of the products help build customer loyalty, which has been a major source of spreading brand awareness. “We don’t have a huge marketing budget,” says Morton. “I can’t tell you how important word-of-mouth advertising is for us.” Word of mouth – and catalogues.

Catalogues to the rescue

When Morton launched Maplelea 15 years ago, she sought to get the dolls into independent toy stores, where customers are more willing to pay a higher price in exchange for quality. However, it wasn’t working. Before calling it quits, she tried a last option. She printed a paper catalogue and poly-bagged it with the popular kids’ magazine Chickadee, so people could read the Maplelea story right in their homes and see the extent of the line.

“As soon as the paper catalogue hit, the phones lit up. We were getting orders from every city and rural town in Canada.”

With the advent of e-commerce,  the growing Maplelea team launched a sales channel on its website, where, in order to protect margins, the product line is now sold exclusively. It offers its online customers a convenient checkout experience, including showing upfront shipping prices, choice of delivery carriers and delivery dates. It also recently switched to Shopify for its platform, which has enabled it to more easily control and update the robust content on its site.

It has also expanded its initial catalogue strategy, placing catalogues in more kids’ magazines, as well as in doctors’ and dentists’ offices where mothers are likely to work and visit, and directly in customers’ mailboxes. Even in the digital era, the catalogue reigns supreme. “Paper catalogues remain the backbone of our marketing program,” says Morton. “We have incorporated digital – but you can blow through a lot of money on a digital campaign. It can cost $1/$1.50 when someone just clicks on an ad. Yet for about the same amount, I can get a catalogue into their home where it gets held and read. It stays around far longer than a digital ad.”

Unique doll accessories help build loyalty among parents who want to buy their children playthings that reflect Canada’s story; the Newmarket, Ont., warehouse is filled with Maplelea’s blue branded packaging that kids instantly recognize.

Digital foes and friends

Of course the digital era is creating challenges beyond marketing strategies. It’s posing real existential questions for traditional toy companies serving kids who are becoming more tech and social media savvy. However, Morton also sees unexpected opportunities from the digital era. She credits it for extending the life cycle of the dolls as teens are now using them as characters in stop-action movies and elaborate Instagram scenes. “We want to be that alternative where girls use their imagination and play in the real world with a tangible object,” says Morton. “Now, they’re doing something in the real world and then showing it off in the digital world.”

When it comes to what’s next for Maplelea, Morton says she’s staying the course. “The product doesn’t need to change,” she says. “But the girls can change how they use it. That’s the remarkable thing about a doll.”


33 Responses

allegra

October 07, 2019

i love all your dolls so much, i love how you pay attention to detail in all the dolls they are all so well made and i am very happy with my two dolls Jenna and leonine i also love reading your magazine and look froward to read the next one. thank you to everyone at maplelea

Lydia

September 27, 2019

My first purchase was Charlsea and full winter gear. I was surprised of their amazingly good quality. These dolls are wonderful and diverse. I would recommend them to anyone.

Jan Stelmack

June 13, 2019

Our first Maplelea doll purchases were in 2011. We purchased Leoni and Jenna. We have subsequently adopted Alexi and Brianne. My daughters are now 18 and 20. Under each Christmas tree since our first purchases to date, there is always an outfit or two for their dolls. My girls are young women now, but they continue collecting Maplelea items for the sheer joy, and hoping to pass on to their children in time.

cutomerservice@maplelea.com

June 08, 2019

mariejpetit@shaw.ca Maplelea is available only online on this website, www.maplelea.com. By being an online only retailer it allows us to keep our prices lower, and yet still be able to serve all parts of Canada, and beyond. We ship from our distribution centre in Newmarket, ON. We do have a small showroom at the distribution centre where you can pick up your order, or view a display of the Maplelea line.

Marie Petit

June 08, 2019

Are these dolls available in stores or just on line ?

Nora Kunopaski

June 04, 2019

I bought Maplelea dolls for my two granddaughters because I wanted them to have wholesome, Canadian dolls that reflected real girls. We started with Saila and Alexi. They loved them so much they wanted me to have one so I could play with them. I purchased a friend doll and named her Martha. Then, my oldest granddaughter wanted another Maplelea doll so I got her a friend doll she named Julia. My Martha went to the care of my youngest granddaughter. They now have 2 dolls each with extensive wardrobes and accessories! Although the girls are now 11 and 12, the Maplelea girls still are part of their quiet play time. Still enjoyed and cared for. A great investment in imaginative play for Canadian girls!

Amanda Jeans

June 03, 2019

I was looking for a doll to reflect a Canadian culture for my granddaughter. I had made her mother’s doll. So I wanted to see what was out there. I was thrilled to see the Maplea catalogue in the doctor’s office. I ordered Brianne for my granddaughter and K11 for my niece in Australia with full Canadian winter gear. My granddaughter has been in the newsletter following a Black Creek Pioneer Village event and my niece’s doll goes everywhere down under. I love these dolls.

Judy Graves

June 03, 2019

Have given Saila and Leonie to my grandchildren. Year after year they continue to be the most played with of all their toys. The dolls have become like family members. The quality of the clothing and shoes far exceeds any competitor. I love designing and making clothing for these dolls, and the joy of opening the the little boxes of clothing, shoes and accessories I continue to order from Maplelea.

Gail Orr

June 03, 2019

I am an adult collector and discovered Maplelea when my adult daughter brought me a catalogue she found in a magazine about 10 years ago. As a very patriotic Canadian I was blown away by the high quality, unabashed Canadianess of the dolls. Their shoes are the best out there. The first thing I bought was Jenna and the wooden toboggan. When Saila came out I bought her right away. Now I have two granddaughters and of course they both got Maplelea dolls from their grandma for their birthdays this past year. Can’t wait to see what comes next.

LInda W

June 01, 2019

I love Maplelea and have bought many items for my granddaughter who receive one for Christmas a few years ago. She has Saila and loved learning all about her way of life.
Although she still loves her doll, she has become fascinated with space and being an astronaut.
I would like to see Maplelea model after one of our astronauts. That would be so cool.

Antonia

May 29, 2019

I am not a collector, but i love dolls and their acessories. I belong to several doll groups and came across Maplelea. I don’t have a doll yet but have ordered from Mapelea. I live in Florida so all i knew was American Girl. I was very pleased with the items i ordered and hope to order more in the future as the quality is very good. Keep up the awsome quality. Oh and tje journals are very interesting.

Crystal Haines

May 29, 2019

Yay Mapelea & yay Canada!
I purchased Leonie for my daughter about 5 years ago [thanks to one of those catalogs in her national geographic for kids subscription!]. I too was impressed with the Canadian representation of the girls, their provincial stories, and clothing quality. Leonie has a close resemblance to my daughter’s appearance, and she was thrilled when the hockey gear appeared one Christmas [being a hockey player herself]. Leonie was on the bench for every game that season – she became the team mascot!
My daughter is now a teenager, but Leone still makes an appearance when her younger cousins visit & will be one of the few childhood toys that is kept for the future.

Janyt Piercy

May 29, 2019

I love Maplelea all the way. I have never cared for the American Girl dolls. Maplelea’s quality is superior and never dissappoints.

Sue Duncan

May 29, 2019

We discovered Maplelea dolls when our first grandchild was coming of age to get into discovering dolls. (She’s now 18!) I think we began ordering them for her when she was 6-7 years old. She was getting the Owl series magazines and that’s where we first discovered them. Her collection of dolls and accessories grew over a few years and they are still sitting on top of her bookcases (along with a few dogs that go with the dolls). Love the Canada outfits, Saila’s accessories and animals, the fact that each of the dolls comes with her own story of where she lives, what her interests and local customs are, etc. The fact that these are Canadian themed dolls kept her interest as she grew a bit older. The dolls had camping clothes and equipment. Our granddaughter has completed the entire Guiding programme, so she could relate and play with the dolls, mimicking her experiences as a Brownie, Guide, etc. She was in gymnastics (and is now a coach) and her Maplelea dolls had gymnastics outfits. Christmas time they were all “dolled up” for the celebrations, and even had the warm winter clothing and ice skates. What a wonderful gift to give to young Canadian girls! Canadian is NOT American. Nice for our Canadian kids to grow up learning about our Country, customs, activities, and not be influenced so much by American Toy manufacturers!
The quality of everything is unbelievable – no matter what we ordered for her. She is now allowing her cousin who is turning 6 to play with them and have all the fun she had with her Maplelea dolls. When I meet young Canadian Moms shopping for or with their daughters for the American Girl in Chapters or toy stores, I always ask if they know that there’s a Canadian Doll for Canadian girls and give them the information so that they can order them too! What a fabulous gift you have provided for Canadian girls over the years! Thanks so much!

CoatCollector

May 28, 2019

I discovered Maplelea about five years ago when I was looking for alternatives to American Girl. Wow, I have never looked back. The quality standard of Maplelea is just about the highest I’ve seen in a toy, with only Pleasant Company in the 1990s being comparable. While American Girl keeps jacking up their prices and decreasing their quality, Maplelea remains affordable AND worth the money. The shoes are the best shoes ever made for an 18" doll, in my opinion. The little parkas with their real-life details – I just can’t get enough. I live in the US and I’ve been telling everyone I can about Maplelea. No other company even comes close. Keep up the good work, Maplelea!

Katie

May 28, 2019

What a great article! I am an American doll collector, and the reason I love Maplelea is also largely because it is uniquely Canadian. I love reading the dolls’ journals and learning about the provinces and history, and how so many of the clothes and accessories have a real sense of place to them – they are often not just clothes, but clothes that tell a story about when and where they might be worn. Saila and her collection, in particular, is truly amazing and so well thought out. The dolls are special and not just another 18 inch doll. And the quality is truly superb – the best 18 inch doll clothes and shoes I have come across, for very fair prices. I’m so glad I gave Maplelea a try and hope to get dolls for my two daughters when they are old enough.

Donna Horyn

May 28, 2019

I too dislike the toothy American girl dolls.
I have yet to see any of their product live up to the pictures on their website. The
Clothing and accessories are made of very poor quality fabrics, and fall far short of
The pictures.
They are very overpriced.
The doll has “football player” shoulders and the neck is ugly too.

Rika Brouwer

May 28, 2019

I always recommend Maplelea dolls to the customers I have, (I sew doll costumes), as Grandmother and as a former teacher ,the Maplelea girls have an educational and a positive social
influence that is unmatched. Keep up the great work.

Roberta

May 28, 2019

I bought Maplelea dolls because they are Canadian and because the American Girl dolls have teeth sticking out and I kept thinking about the cost of orthodontics.

Susan Torne

May 28, 2019

I am a grandma who has bought Maplelea dolls for my 5 grand daughters. I love the dolls and they have a special place in my heart being Canadian through and through and they remind me of being young. I continue to buy clothes and accessories. Thank you so much. Love the dolls.

DEbra MCGuinness

May 28, 2019

Shannon….You have most certainly hit the nail on the head when it comes to Maplelea! I am also an educator who is totally taken by the Maplelea dolls and the potential they offer. I have also learned from them as well! I’ve taken my granddaughters to a few of their events and they are of equal quality and play value to their dolls, outfits and accessories. At age 13, my eldest granddaughter is still talking about going to them! I would really like the company to send me a package of catalogs so I might leave some at doctor and dentist offices and perhaps even do some presentations to the school PAC’s (parent groups). I am that much of a supporter and advocate for them. Debra McGuinness
Mary-Joan Hale

May 28, 2019

two of my granddaughters live in Arizona and have dual citizenship. They go to school there and are inundated with American propaganda, so I like what Maplelea offers which is uniquely Canadian. We have early New France ancestry, so I sent my granddaughters the outfit to illustrate their background.
Thank you

Yvonne Wood

May 28, 2019

I started my 18 inch collection with Chatty Cathy but the exchange was getting worse and worse. Mailing from USA to Canada took a big hit too so the ladies did not want to sell to me anymore.
I had heard of Maplelea dolls from my friend Lucille and being that I grew up in NS and Jenna had beautiful orange hair she was my first. I loved her I bought the tartan outfit to go with her. Man oh man does that bring back memories.
I now have 2 Jenna’s and one of every other girls. Their clothes are so well made. The only thing I can say is that I now wish for 2 birthday’s so I could have more outfits. Great job!

Joan Nathanson

May 28, 2019

Keep up the good work! I discovered Maplelea when my granddaughter was turning four: she’s now 12 1/2. Leonie was her first 18" doll, and I’ve been on the mailing list since then. While I have had great fun sewing doll clothes from scrap materials, I really love the amazing accessories – especially shoes, sandals, boots,skates, undies, socks and leggings. The special sets like the ballerina one, or matching PJs and slippers for dolls and “Moms” were purchased for birthdays. I have made sure that new moms and grandmas with girls get Maplelea catalogues. I love the diversity of skin colours, eyes, and hair that Maplelea Friends offer. I enjoy the Keep up the good work, and let all of us who are customers continue to spread the word about this great Canadian company!

Trish

May 28, 2019

I agree, all the reasons above make Maplelea a great company with positive products for Canadian Girls ! My daughter had the opportunity to be a model in their catalogue she will take that experience with her throughout her life. The Maplelea team was so good to her and really made the experience extra special. We continue to sign the praises of a great Canadian company.

Lila Phillips

May 28, 2019

Shannon Gair has expressed my thoughts so well. This quality doll is beyond any other. Every item is of the highest workmanship and will be there to pass on a wonderful keep sake. As a grandmother purchasing the doll, clothes and accessories, gave me such joy and brought back memories of my own childhood. Plus it has given me pleasure knitting and sewing my own patterns for Leonie!!! Keep up your Canadian traditions for Canada. Thanks to all of you at Maplelea.

Mia MacDonald

May 28, 2019

These Dolls are amazing! I’m speaking as a teenager who still plays with her first Maplelea doll. I have made so many accessories and doll clothes for my doll and my sisters dolls. I have even entered my homemade clothes inspired by my Maplelea doll in the Saanich Fair and won first place! I am always looking forward to the new clothes and dolls. It is sooo nice to have dolls that are Canadian! I have friends who have American Girl dolls and honestly compared to Maplelea dolls they do not hold up as good as they could. Will Maplelea be able to, one day, produce movies, magazines, YouTube channels, and more? I sure hope so! I look forward to see what the future brings! Thank you Maplelea for being one of my childhood inspirations

Winter

May 28, 2019

Thank you for creating quality products that honor and encourage children. Your success is well deserved. Hoping Maplelea continues to prosper. I have several doll tutorials your customers might enjoy at www.fauxrealfood.com

Colleen Fonkalsrud

May 28, 2019

Hello Maplelea! Each of my 3 granddaughters have one of your dolls. They adore the matching outfits, the quality of the clothing and the addition of furry friends and accessories. The footwear is adorable and definitely higher quality than what I have seen in Dept stores.
There just is no comparison. Where else can you send your “injured doll” in and get them sent back “fixed” for a fraction of the cost.
You stand behind your product which helps us, grandparents and parents, stand behind it as well.

Patricia Paterak

May 28, 2019

Thank you for delivering such a high quality product. My Granddaughters enjoy them immensely.

Lorna Epp

May 28, 2019

Thank you very much for providing a wholesome toy for my girls to enjoy. We have come to enjoy the Maplelea world because it embraces Canadian culture while upholding current fashion and design. I enjoy being a part of the Facebook group as well. I make sure our girls see these posts to see how others play with their dolls and the adventures that these dolls have together with their owners. Please keep on making these fun, educational, Canadian toys!!

Linda

May 28, 2019

We love the fact that it is Canadian. The dolls. The stories. Teaches my daughter about Canada and she is so in love with the doll.

Shannon Gair

May 25, 2019

Thank you Kathryn Morton and all the Mapleleagirls team. This is the exact reason why I love Maplelea so much. I love love how it is so top notch Canadian. Our country is so big, so diverse, so filled with amazing landmarks and traditions and you are capturing it. Through the dolls there is so much to learn about living the life in our day and time in Canada. As an educator I think the Canadian Mapleleagirls is Canada’s #1 top notch toy. I too have learned so much about our country through these dolls, plus the desire to travel and see the places. I have also learned so much about Canadian fashion and fabrics. The research and care put into this product is phenomenal and then the quality is absolutely superb. There is nothing that is sold from Maplelea that has not been carefully thought out or researched. I love that Kathryn Morton has not been intimidated by the giant companies (competition) but holds fast to her vision of a true Canadian proud group of dolls, and thus created a doll that will outlast my lifetime, and my child’s lifetime and probably be a great contributor to documenting our Canadian history of today. Well done Kathryn Morton and the Mapleleagirls team. Keep up your amazing work!

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