They pour past the chair where Robin Woods sits, drawn to the tables loaded with dolls. Some of them are children, some are women with childhood eagerness still reflected in their eyes. Some are mothers and grandmothers planning the perfect Christmas gift, some are knowledgeable collectors. And don't forget the men, many of whom pause to look.
Robin Woods is autographing her dolls - pulling back the hair and signing in tiny letters behind the left ear. The signature will add special authenticity to the "playmate today, treasure tomorrow" slogan that's the birthright of every Woods doll.It's a proud slogan for a company that has won more awards during the past five years than any other, with many nominations for doll of the year and general excellence. Woods herself has been nominated for entrepreneur of the year by Arthur Young/Venture Magazine.
An avid collector from Davis County pulls out dolls to be autographed from box after box - big toddler dolls, 8-inch costume dolls, beautiful 14-inch dolls clothed as characters of literature.
You might like Anne of Green Gables or Jane Eyre in her bridal gown; Alice in Wonderland, Peter Pan, Tinkerbell and Wendy, Dorothy (of Oz), Snow White, Maid Marian and Robin Hood, Scarlett Sweetheart or Tess of the D'Urbervilles. Or how about the characters from "Winnie the Pooh" or beautiful Anna the ballerina?
Woods' Man Friday, a big, jolly man named Bill Greenman, is everywhere around the exhibit, doing whatever needs doing instantly, quietly and efficiently. He's been in the toy business 25 years as a representative and salesman, and a couple of years ago Woods persuaded him that she needed him full time.
Feeling the stirrings of doll fever, you get interested in price. But don't expect the Montgomery Ward prices of your childhood. These dolls range from $50 to $200-plus for a play doll, and sometimes more for special costume dolls with a trunk full of clothes.
Nearby hovers Katie Rizzuto, whose mother just bought Erin for her. Erin is 21 inches long, beautifully dressed, with a lifelike cloth body, fully jointed arms and legs, flexible neck and pretty baby face, all of fine duralon vinyl. Her thick hair is of kanekalon, a magical fabric that feels and looks like the real thing, and can be endlessly arranged and rearranged. Once you pick Erin up, you will never want to put her down; she's so solid and cuddly, so much like a real baby.
Robin Woods doesn't think $160 is too much for Erin. "She's made to be played with, but carefully," she explained. "A child should learn that this doll is a little bit different, should learn the value of a truly nice doll, which will last her whole life long if she is careful. The heirloom dolls we see being saved today are the durable porcelain dolls of 50 or 100 years ago, not flimsy toys."
When Woods opened her doll factory in Pittsburgh in 1983, she feels her whole life experience came full circle. Not only did dolls lead her into life experiences, life experiences led her back to dolls.
Woods' ancestors fought at the Alamo, and she was raised in western Texas where her imaginative upbringing was greatly influenced by her grandmother, a "distinctive Victorian lady and gifted storyteller," she said. "I always played with dolls and made clothes for them, I treasured a Madame Alexander doll. I wrote stories and poetry, and read all the time - so manybooks, so much poetry.
"I grew up pre-television; my father was a radio engineer, and set up the first television station in Texas. I learned to sew on a White treadle machine when was I was 4, and my first electric machine was a Singer, which I used until 1980."
Woods' accomplishments include bachelor's and master's degrees in English literature from Texas Tech in Lubbock, and a doctorate from the University of Pittsburgh in child development. She also taught in Pittsburgh - public health in graduate school, with the specialty of mother-infant attachment, and did considerable family counseling.
She thinks that loving dolls is important to childhood experience, not just for girls, but boys as well. "Even a 6-month-old baby will smile and reach out for a baby doll," she said. "Dolls help kids to develop methods of coping with the world, relating to people, exercising self-control, nurturing tender, loving feelings, learning to hug and love," she said.
She feels that the biggest issue in toys today is price. "A child needs a doll she can use and enjoy, but prices are too high. The face, hair, clothing, everything is upscale. We in the business want to hold prices to where people can afford to buy, we're trying very hard to keep prices down and quality up."
Though she recently resigned as president of Robin Woods Co., she's still chairman of the board and does a myriad of other tasks. Indeed, Robin Woods dolls are still almost entirely dependent on her talents. She designs all the clothing and all the dolls' faces, working in porcelain clay.
A Robin Woods face is round and subtly colored, with dimpled lips and apple cheeks, and innocent wide eyes brimming with come-hither appeal. When it was pointed out that Erin looks a little like Woods herself, she confessed there's good reason. "I modeled her after my youngest child Mimi's face," she said. (There are five other Woods children, most of them fully grown.)
Woods also does all the public relations appearances for her dolls, averaging 35 showings yearly, such as her visit to Salt Lake City. "But this year I will make about 110 personal appearances in all, paying off some favors I owed," she said.
In 1983 she started out with 12 employees; now she has two factories, in Pittsburgh and Butler, Penn., with 100 employees. The factories handle every aspect of manufacture except forming the heads. "We own the molds, but we contract the making of them to a plastics plant," she said.
Woods produces about 80 styles of dolls in a year, but in 1991 she projects 100 styles. "After two or three years we have to retire a given model, because we use only contemporary fabrics, which may become unavailable," she said.
The dolls come in four sizes - 19- to 25-inch toddlers, usually with cloth bodies, 16-inch baby dolls and 14-inch and 8-inch all-vinyl fashion-character dolls. Some of them comprise special collections, like the Camelot dolls of a few years ago with the characters (Lancelot, Arthur, Guinevere, Merlin and others) as they would have been as children - her most popular costume dolls ever.
The dolls may start out with a specific name and character, but that's only the beginning, said Woods. "You can change any doll to whatever you want, with a little imagination and new costumes."
With only 250 dolls a day coming off the assembly line, Woods dolls sell to the bare walls. "We can never keep up with orders," she said. "Madame Alexander makes 2,500 a day. We need to expand, but we are undercapitalized. It's taken us five years to go from a $1 million industry to $6 million." She has collected some venture capital and does have plans for expansion.