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Manufacturers struggle to meet demand for ‘Frozen’ merchandise

Catch the Brose family at a red light and you’ll hear the five Brose children (and even mom and dad) belting “Let it Go,” the Oscar-winning song from Disney’s smash hit “Frozen.”

Back at their Cheektowaga home, it’s all Frozen all the time. The four girls – ages 1 through 11 – take turns pretending to be Princess Anna and Queen Elsa, act out scenes from the movie and watch the DVD on a loop.

But even though mom Jamie has been scouring stores for Barbie-type Anna and Elsa dolls since the film came out in November, her search has left her out in the cold.

Outfitting her two daughters’ Frozen-themed birthday party last week “was like pulling teeth.” She was able to secure paper plates and napkins through a special order three weeks in advance, paid more than double the manufacturer’s suggested retail price for a cake topper on eBay and had a friend hand-make dresses emblazoned with Anna and Elsa’s faces.

Though she searched for Frozen-themed gifts for months, all she ended up finding was some Frozen bedding (bought at a premium on Amazon) and lucked out with two Frozen guitars she grabbed as a Toys R Us employee was stocking shelves.

It’s a scene playing out in families across Western New York and around the world, as the unexpected and overwhelming popularity of the movie has resulted in a nationwide shortage of Frozen merchandise.

“We’ve had people waiting outside the doors,” said one Toys R Us employee at the Amherst location. “Within an hour of being open, the shelves are scarce.”

Indeed, at the Amherst Toys R Us, stacked shelving four feet wide is designated for Frozen-related toys. But it was completely empty on a recent afternoon except for two 6-inch plastic ice skating Anna and Elsa figures on a twirling round base. Shelves at Target on Delaware Avenue were empty, too, save a smattering of sad, plush Sven reindeer. At Walmart in Amherst, there were just two Frozen Swirling Snow Sled toys. The shelves where Frozen merchandise should have been were filled in with suddenly second-rate princesses, such as Rapunzel and Cinderella.

Disney’s sold-out Anna and Elsa dolls are selling for upwards of $5,000 on eBay, and counterfeit Frozen knockoffs have cropped up all over the Internet. Disney Stores have held lottery-style drawings to sell their limited inventory of insanely popular Elsa princess gowns. Even Disney theme parks have been devoid of Frozen merchandise.

Networks of moms in Western New York and around the country check their stores religiously, keeping other consumers informed on social media when Frozen-related products do appear and where they can be found. But what little stock is replenished online and at retailers is snapped up almost instantly, despite limits set by some stores on the number of Frozen items customers can purchase.

California-based Jakks Pacific, one of the companies that makes some of the popular Elsa and Anna dresses, shoes and toddler dolls, said the company has been working hard to get more of its most popular Frozen merchandise into stores.

“We are continuously shipping our Frozen products to retailers, but they sell out as quickly as they hit the shelves,” said Anne-Marie Grill, a spokeswoman for Jakks.

But it looks like parents may soon have a steady supply of Frozen products to choose from, as manufacturers catch up to customer demand. Reorders are trickling into stores, will pick up full steam in July, and Frozen dolls and dresses should be back in regular rotation by August at the latest.

An entirely new line, including light-up dresses and an Olaf the snowman snow cone maker, will hit stores full force in fall. East Aurora-based Fisher-Price is rolling out a line of Frozen-inspired Power Wheels Mustangs in the second half of November.

Still, moms like Brose can’t understand how a company as big as Disney could miscalculate so dramatically.

“If you’re going to create all this hype, you’d better have the merchandise to back it up,” she said. “These kids are crazed.”

Disney has said the movie’s success has far exceeded its expectations.

“This is a fad, and no one can predict a fad,” said Chris Byrne, content director at Time to Play magazine. “The best numbers they had to go on were from the movie ‘Brave,’ which was successful, but I don’t think anything prepared them for how popular Frozen was going to be.”

When manufacturers and retailers realized what a hit they had on their hands, they stepped up production, but there was nothing they could do to get immediate results.

“When demand is initially underestimated, the long lag time from factory to store shelves in the case of international production agreements likely exacerbates the issue,” said Chuck Lindsey, a marketing professor at the University at Buffalo’s School of Management. “It can take up to one quarter to replenish store shelves.”

Merchandise sold quickly after the movie was first released in November. Once the DVD hit stores in March, inventory had been picked clean.

The timing couldn’t have been worse.

“We began to put in re-orders for product with our factories shortly after the holiday sales,” said Anne-Marie Grill, the Jakks spokeswoman. “However, orders were delayed due to the Chinese New Year holiday, which closed factories for the entire month of February.”

Jakks “significantly increased production” right away and started working with additional factories. Still, it took time to create the additional molds that would produce the extra product and to secure a wide range of materials from vendors, not to mention how long it takes to actually manufacture the dolls. Then there was the matter of shipping the finished product overseas from China, which itself takes six weeks.

But now that manufacturers are catching up, the hope is that the movie will still have enough momentum to keep sales brisk by the time merchandise is restocked.

Toy expert Byrne doesn’t think that will be a problem.

“The good news is that Disney creates brands, it creates characters with longevity,” he said. “So even if you order a few extra costumes, they’ll probably sell through. Nobody wants to leave money on the table.”