Mattel's prospects not so swell

A toy dog which helped prompt a recall sits in the package of a Barbie Playset after being pulled from the shelf at a Chicago toy store.

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Kai Ryssdal: When we heard about the latest Mattel recall, 800,000 imported Chinese toys this time, we sent a producer out to talk to some consumers to get some idea of how they're feeling. What she came back with is Mattel CEO Bob Eckert's worst nightmare.

Amy Miller: I'm not going to purchase any Made in China products right now because I want to protect my kids.

That's Amy Miller with her 2-year-old daughter on her hip outside a Toys "R" Us up in Glendale, Calif. She and her husband have a 4-year-old as well, and she told us they've already thrown away a box full of toys from Mattel, from Fisher Price -- anything they think might hurt the kids.

Miller: We feed them the right foods. We take them to the right schools. We only do organic stuff, so . . . and here they are, playing with educational toys, and they're getting lead poisoning. So I want to avoid that.

Miller says she's bracing for the next recall, and she's already told her relatives nothing from Mattel for Christmas, please.

Toy companies are bracing for a less-than-jolly holiday season, too, as our New York bureau chief Jill Barshay reports.


Jill Barshay: Like falling dominoes, it's been one toy recall after another since June.

The Toy Industry Association is getting worried, though it says all the recalls don't even add up to even 1 percent of the 3 billion toys sold each year. Joan Lawrence is vice president:

Joan Lawrence: We are concerned the effect that the recalls might have on the reputation of the industry as a whole.

Mattel is a member of the Toy Industry Association. Today, the association actually called for a federal mandate that toys be tested by their makers. And toy makers are working on a standard procedure for toy testing.

Jim Silver is editor of the magazine Toy Wishes. He says this latest recall came from Mattel's desire to rebuild its reputation by retesting its entire inventory.

Jim Silver: You could be proactive and go back and check your items and test them thoroughly, or you could be reactive and wait until another issue comes out. Mattel chose to be proactive.

Silver says right now, the entire toy industry is testing their products for lead and other hazards. That could crimp just-in-time delivery cycles that manufacturers rely on.

It's hard to predict what will be a hit this season, but he says it might not be there when you want it.

Silver: Whereas something might be able to hit the shelves in about two months might take an extra two or three weeks because of the extra steps needed to continually test. Now those items might not replenish until after Christmas.

Hopefully, they'll be on sale then.

In New York, I'm Jill Barshay for Marketplace.

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