The year is 1983, and all my sister and I wanted from Santa was a Cabbage Patch Kid doll. We had been dying for one for months, and my sister and I even dressed as Cabbage Patch Kids for Halloween that year (see picture proof included). If you were a little girl (and some boys I’m sure too, fess up boys!) around this time, you likely asked for the same thing from Jolly old St. Nick that year. If you were not part of this craze, let me tell you it was not a logical fad during the home computer and video game revolution of the 80’s. Cabbage Patch Kids were homely fabric dolls with yarn for hair, and each one was unique and came with a name. During a time when toys were continuing to get flashier and included electronics, these basic dolls were the hottest toy going that Christmas.
These dolls were manufactured in Asia and typically shipped by boat. While this was a cost effective shipping method, the entire supply chain planning system wasn’t fast and took four to six weeks for the dolls to arrive on the West Coast. In the weeks leading up to Christmas of 1983, the Cabbage Patch Kids craze was at its height. It gave rise to something that we are all too familiar with now – the shopping frenzy and in-store brawls over a toy. Display tables were knocked over, fights broke out. All of this chaos was caused by the shortage of the dolls. Once the company saw that they were not going to have enough supply to cover demand, they tried to fly the dolls rather than ship by boat, but their long lead times prevented them from manufacturing enough of the dolls to cover this unforeseen demand.
I am not exaggerating when I tell you that these dolls were extremely difficult to come by. My mom recently told me she read an article at the time that there was a Santa at a mall in New York that was regularly explaining the concept of supply and demand to children asking for the dolls, so that they wouldn’t get their hopes up. My parents were fortunate to have an inside scoop – my grandmother was working at Sears at the time, so she was able to snag two of the illusive dolls for my sister and I.
The minute she went in for her shift, she grabbed the only two left, as most were also snagged by employees. No wonder no one could get them, they barely even made it onto store shelves! But even with this advantage she was not able to get two girl dolls, but one girl and one boy. Not ideal for two little girls, but I’m sure my parents thought they were golden having snagged exactly what we wanted for Christmas when so many couldn’t get their hands on them.
Since I was the oldest, it was determined that I would be the recipient of the boy doll. On Christmas morning, as I opened the big box and I saw the Cabbage Patch Kid, branding I was so excited that I went nuts as only a 4-year-old can at Christmas. That is until I got the wrapping all the way open and saw the short brown haired boy doll staring back at me, and looked over to see my sister’s long blond-haired doll in her hand. Oh my friends, I can tell you my shouts of joy turned quickly into jealous tears of heartbreak. “How could Santa have thought I would want a boy doll? I should have been more specific in my letter to him and this tragedy could have been avoided! I will cut all the hair off my sister’s doll and then it will be fair.” These are the actual thoughts that went through my child brain. My poor parents were not prepared for this unexpected reaction to what they believed was going to be the best gift ever. My short brown-haired Cabbage Patch Kid named Ruben was not a hit (I even hated his name).
I got thinking about this dramatic tale recently while watching the television coverage of Black Friday shopping chaos. It’s pretty funny when I think of this story now, because I see it from such a different light; the RapidResponse supply chain geek in me can only think, “if they had RapidResponse, they could have simulated a few different options and found a possible solution to their problem, and if they had, maybe the first Christmas toy craze would have never come about.”
I ended up loving my homely doll whom I renamed JoJo. I dressed JoJo in dresses and decided my doll was a girl with short hair. However, many woke on Christmas to even more bitter disappointment than I did. My coworker Wendy did not have the same happy ending, as her mom tried to make her a similar doll since she couldn’t get the real deal. Her attempt was commendable, but the result was not a great success (see picture). As you can imagine, Wendy had a bitterly disappointing Christmas morning like so many other kids, all because of the flaws in the supply chain planning system for the toy.
Do you have a Christmas toy shortage story to share? Comment below and let us know.