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Bible Dolls Hit the Shelves at Wal-Mart

Posted by vmsalama on August 10, 2007

By Vivian Salama 

Jesus, Mary and Joseph!
They don’t fire lasers or wear trendy outfits, but the newest actions figures set to hit the shelves of Wal-Marts across the nation are sure to put a little spirit – maybe even some Holy Spirit – into playtime.  They’re called Messengers of Faith – biblical icons turned play box pals by California-based One2Believe, a company that prides itself on selling real life superheroes.
The toys range in size and sophistication.  Jesus, the biggest seller of the bunch, recites various Parables and Psalms with the simple press of a button.  Moses reminds children “you shall not commit adultery” and “you shall not steal,” as well as the other Ten Commandments.  Then there is the newest addition – Samson, the strongest man to ever live, according to the Bible, which One2Believe CEO David Socha believes will give Jesus a run for his money.  “It’s a cool looking toy,” he says enthusiastically.  “What little boy wouldn’t want the strongest man to ever live in his toy box?” 
Many of the dolls even recite stories and they come equipped with a start-stop button so children can return to the beginning whenever they want.  There is a full Nativity set – which includes a baby Jesus, a few angels, three wise men and some barn animals to complete the tale.  All the dolls are modestly dressed in the type of robes believed to have been worn at the time of Christ.  They even come with miniature books so children can read along with their story-telling toy. 
Why, in an era when sex and violence sells, have toys in the likeness of Biblical legends gained the confidence – and multimillion dollar investment – of America’s largest discount retail store?  Industry analysts say it won’t take a miracle for these playtime newcomers to hit it big.  “Whether the Messenger of Faith or other such toys sell well in Wal-Mart will likely depend on price, quality of the product and appeal to the target customer, i.e. ‘does my kid want it?’,” says Christine Johnson, managing editor of Christian Retailing magazine. 

In fact, Christian retail is big business having earned an estimated $4.63 billion in 2006 according the Association of Christian Retail (CBA).  That’s up from $4 billion in 2000.   While Harry Potter may be all the rage right now, the Holy Bible remains the best selling book of all time.  In fact, the majority of Christian retail profits come from book sales – an estimated 5,000 to 6,000 titles will be published this year alone.  “Christian books are sold everywhere these days: at warehouse clubs, big-box stores such as Wal-Mart and Target, and Hallmark, which acquired DaySpring, a Christian greeting card company, in 1999,” Johnson adds.
The business has also expanded to include music, gifts, jewelry and apparel.  Television programming is also popular.  Dozens of networks cater specifically to Christian audiences, including the Gospel Channel, available in some 20 million American homes.   
Remember Mel Gibson’s controversial 2004 release of Passion of the Christ?  The film grossed a whopping $610 million worldwide which Socha admits sparked an awakening for Christian retailers. “Passion broke a lot of barriers,” he says.  “We’re trying to bring that same quality to the toy industry.”
Still, the battle for the toy box is fierce with veterans like Superman and Barbie knocking out the competition and virtual action figures luring kids in front of the computer screen.  Ultimately, those working in Christian retail look to offer an alternative to what Socha calls “evil toys.”  He admits his company even thought to introduce characters which represent “manifestations of Satan,” but a number of consultants (mostly Christian clergy and activists) urged against it.  “We don’t want to touch on the violence, the promiscuity – the messy parts of life.”
Socha credits its two year success not just on the quality of his product, but on its disciples working to spread the good word.  A network of 10,000 stay-at-home moms have been recruited as publicists and sales reps around the country selling the toys to neighbors and friends and churches alike.  The moms are sometimes paid a modest fee; other times they are awarded in the way of soccer trips, ballet fees and other children’s activities. 
The Messenger of Faith figurines – which ironically are all made in Communist China – are all boxed up in a Valencia warehouse and set for their August 1 Wal-Mart debut. Many of the shipments – 425 in all –  will go to Wal-Marts in the South and Midwest – the so-called Bible Belt.  Still, Socha is quick to dismiss this as a retail jackpot.  “This is a tremendous blessing but it’s also a challenge because the product has to sell on Wal-Mart’s shelves.”
For now, Socha and the folks at Wal-Mart can only pray that the Greatest Story Ever Told yields a happy ending for them as well. 

2 Responses to “Bible Dolls Hit the Shelves at Wal-Mart”

  1. RITW said

    Great story, did they sell?

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