Boyds Collection Ltd. began as a small antique shop in Boyds, Maryland in 1979. However, the Lowenthals found the antique business expensive and confining. They later moved on to other ventures, such as the making of decorative dried wreaths and split oak tables, neither of which proved profitable. The couple next started buying and selling antique reproductions, which were much more affordable than antiques. By 1982, the Lowenthals began to wholesale some of their own reproductions, including their very successful duck decoys. The decoys were hand-painted and available in many different sizes and styles, including a nine-inch teal and a giant three-foot whistling swan. Word of the beautiful ducks spread quickly, and the Lowenthals began filling orders for three dozen ducks a day. Gary, who designed the ducks, later estimated that they painted about 40,000 ducks altogether.
In 1984, the Lowenthals produced their first resin sculptures of minutely detailed miniature houses. These "Gnomes Homes' were a combination of American architecture and Gary Lowenthal's imagination. Around the same time, the Lowenthals' created their first plush teddy bear, which they named Matthew after their newborn son. The merlino-wool teddy bear was a hit, and Boyds was on its way to becoming a leader in the collectibles industry.
The company quickly outgrew its space in the Lowenthal home, and the couple moved operations to an old Sunday school on the same street. When the "Boyds Bears' proved extremely popular, the need for greater space again arose. In 1987, the Boyds company was relocated from Maryland to McSherrystown, Pennsylvania, near Gettysburg, to take advantage of much-needed space and favorable labor markets. The young company also expanded its product line to include hares, moose, and cats in addition to bears.
The company designs, imports, and distributes handcrafted collectibles such as of plush bears and resin figurines. Boyds also offers gift items as glass ornaments and doll accessories.
The company offers 430 different plush animals, which range in price from $4 to $95 each. Most Boyds animals are fully jointed with movable arms, legs, and heads, and their outer coverings are fashioned from a variety of fabrics, ranging from acrylic plush to custom-dyed chenille wool. The company's founder and CEO, Gary Lowenthal, designs each of the plush animals along with a team of artists. Once Lowenthal creates a pattern and prototype, the animals are taken to a seamstress in China, who produces a working model. Each animal is stuffed and embroidered by hand.
Boyds' three major resin products are marketed under the names Bearstones, Folkstones, and Dollstones, figurine lines that include small resin bears -similar in look to the plush animals -resin angels, faeries, and snowpeople, and resin dolls, frogs, and penguins. Each resin piece, retailing anywhere from $9 to $60 apiece, is inscribed with a hidden bear paw -a symbol of authenticity -while the bottom of each piece is stamped with the name, edition, and piece number. Boyds' success is attributed in part to its niche distribution; Boyds sells its products through a network of 23,000 independent gift and collectible retailers, premier department stores, selected catalogue retailers, and televised QVC showcases.
Boyds decided against selling its products to major discount stores and toys chains, preferring to distribute them instead to upscale department stores and retailers. This decision helped Boyds develop close relationships with its retailers, as well as to occupy a strong market niche and establish a distinct brand identity. Gary Lowenthal, who referred to himself as 'The Head Bean', believed the company's close relationship with its retailers helped it identify market trends, predict customer demand, and shorten the lead time for new products. The company also steered away from mass producing its plush animals, deciding instead to continue making each product by hand. Lowenthal went to great lengths to ensure that the company's products were meticulously handcrafted, modifying some of his designs 30 times before completion. Each pattern was either cut by hand or machine, depending on its design, and then hand-stuffed. The plush animals' noses, eyebrows, paw-pads and other features were also embroidered by hand. Before being shipped to retailers, each plush animal was hand-brushed and inspected three times.
Ironically, while collectors were delighted with the high quality of Boyds products, they were dismayed with the low price. Most collectors equated higher prices with enhanced value. However, Lowenthal disagreed, believing that an item's cost did not necessarily reflect its worth. He refused to inflate the price of an item to make it more collectible. Lowenthal claimed that it was more important to put Boyds bears in the hands of kids than to make them more desirable to collectors. He did manage to sustain collectors' interest by retiring about 40 percent of the company's products each year in addition to introducing new lines. New lines had a similar 'look' that made them easily recognizable as Boyds.