For the past 25 years, Scott Coff spent his days as a headhunter, often sitting in a conference room and interviewing the CEOs of major banks and corporations, looking to fill openings among their ranks.He also invented a personal tracking device, a gadget that’s placed on keys or in wallets and beeps when its owner strays too far, and sold it on the home-shopping television network QVC. Additionally, he is the founder of a travel destination website, www.MyPalmSprings.com.
But these days he can often be found playing with dolls—and freely admits that he is enjoying himself.
Truth be told, Mr. Coff and his husband, Ken Price, do not have much time for playing these days. That is because they have been working day and night on their newest venture, S-K Victory, a Sag Harbor-based toy doll company that this week is debuting a national line of dolls that is based on classic fairy-tale characters in their adolescent years, dealing with the pressures common to high school students.
Mr. Coff and Mr. Price grew up together in Oceanside and started out as friends at the age of 10. Splitting their time between Sag Harbor and Manhattan for the past 15 years, the couple bought a house eight years ago and became full-time village residents not long after. They were married last June in a ceremony in the city, and set off in a new direction with their lives that began by quitting their respective jobs just days after tying the knot.
Mr. Coff, who spent two decades with Sheffield Haworth, a London-based executive search and research company for the global financial services industry, decided to call it quits in order to pursue other interests.
Meanwhile, Mr. Price, a fourth-generation toy maker whose great-grandfather started the Victory Toy Company in the 1890s—S-K Victory is a nod to that family connection—decided to leave his position of 10 years as an executive vice president at toy manufacturer Jakks Pacific, where he oversaw North American sales. As part of his departure, Mr. Price had to sign a six-month non-compete clause—which “drove me crazy,” he said—so the couple took a trip around the world to get away from even the thought of work.
When they returned, the two attended a Las Vegas toy licensing show, an expo of sorts for the industry, to meet up with old friends of Mr. Price. It was there that they were introduced to their future.
“We walked around to see if there was anything interesting, and we saw these characters, all different versions of fairy-tale characters, literally hundreds of them,” Mr. Price recalled. “We asked the licensor, The Toon Studio of Beverly Hills, what it was all about, and the guy said they have the rights to the original published books, which are Rand McNally and Junior Elf books.”
After some research, the couple realized there was a legitimate market for the dolls if they could do one thing: differentiate themselves from Disney.
“These stories predated Walt Disney. These stories are from the 17th and 18th centuries,” Mr. Price explained. “The Brothers Grimm wrote some of them, and actually we give credit on each of the packages to the original storytellers, whoever first created the character.”
He then explained what makes his company’s dolls different.
“So, our take is on the original characters, much different from what Walt Disney did to them. Disney has the rights to their own characters, their own movie characters with their specific princess look,” he said. “Their characters tend to skew younger. We decided to take those characters and to age them up and to make them cool and trendy.”
Noting that their target audience is girls age 4, 5 and 6, Mr. Price described the difficulty of making the dolls recognizable from the fairy tales without any princess elements.
“The key for us was, when you take them out of the package with the name of the character on it, will the girls know who they are,” he said. “So they all have distinct elements. Alice in Wonderland has the heart, spade, diamond and club on her vest. Cinderella has glass slippers. They all have a defining feature.”
But their doll line, called “Fairy Tale High,” doesn’t stop there in trying to define itself.
In addition to securing a manufacturer in China, designing the dolls from scratch, rigorously testing them in focus groups and getting the dolls placed in major retail stores around the country—all in just seven months—the partners have also hired consultants to create a continuous online presence for an increasingly online audience. Their website, www.FairyTaleHigh.com, has free cartoon webisodes of the characters interacting at their performing arts high school, and each doll comes with a free E-book download.
“Content is very important to us beyond the dolls, with Facebook, Twitter and Pinterest, and the webisodes and websites—it’s everything,” Mr. Coff said.
“So here’s the beauty,” cut in an excited Mr. Price. “For any other company to introduce a new doll, they have to have a huge advertising campaign to educate kids that now they have a new glowing doll. They already know who Snow White and Cinderella are.
“All we have to do to introduce a new doll is put them in a few webisodes, because we’ve emphasized the content so much and engaged an audience,” he continued.
And the two are excited about the future of their company: They have invested about $1.5 million in their venture and hope to one day churn out an estimated $100 million in sales annually.
“We are very confident that we’ll be making a lot of noise,” Mr. Coff said before describing the $3.5 billion doll market as being incredibly tough to enter, between Barbie and Bratz, the latter being a doll introduced in 2001 “that made a dent” in the market.
“Before we signed the license, we met with a major retailer, and they confirmed our suspicions that the idea was the real deal,” he continued. “Feedback from professionals within the industry, people on Wall Street, family friends, has all been tremendous. But they’re all adults. We can’t wait to see how children react to them.”
They’ll know soon enough with a television commercial airing this Monday in their first market, Pittsburgh, and a national ad campaign airing on Nickelodeon and other children’s channels come October.
But regardless of initial sales numbers, the two are already looking to the future.
“It gets even better, because we have eight characters right here,” Mr. Price said. “There are hundreds of characters going to school at Fairy Tale High. The Wicked Witch of the West goes there, the Three Little Pigs go there, Goldilocks, Tom Thumb, Rumpelstiltskin—they all went there. It’s done very tongue-in-cheek, very clever … ”
“Pinocchio, Prince Charming, Peter Pan,” Mr. Coff interjected. “They’re all incoming freshmen.”
For now, Mr. Price is eagerly awaiting the debut of their line.
“I look at it as the most interesting and exciting and fun commodities business,” he said, noting that they have no employees or outside investors. “It’s a David and Goliath story.”
And without a twinge of irony in his voice, Mr. Coff finished his partner’s thought by stating: “It takes balls to go up against Barbie and Walt Disney.”