If you became a parent in the 21st century, you know Melissa & Doug. If you can pry that wooden train, truck or puzzle out of your kid’s hands, you’ll see their trademark red oval with their names sweetly inscribed on it. This husband and wife team started making wooden toys out of the basement of Doug’s parents’ house in Wilton, CT, where they were living in the late 1980s. Rumor has it Doug didn’t have the nerve to propose marriage to Melissa so he asked her to dump her law studies at Duke and dive into business with him, and she did. Melissa & Doug is now one of the leading makers of educational toys in the world and perhaps the most private. One wonders sometimes if there really is a Melissa & Doug Bernstein. They don’t do big business interviews. They don’t advertise. With a strong loyal following of parents who appreciate the simple and classic high-quality toys they produce, they don’t need to. It would go against their style, their brand. Even their headquarters in Wilton oozes modesty: it looks like a former elementary school, red bricks and wide windows.
Still a private company, the only revenue numbers Melissa & Doug claim is “double-digit revenue increases for the last 18 years.” The Wall Street Journal published an aerial view of their 30,000 sq. ft. compound in nearby Westport (home of Martha Stewart, Meat Loaf and Annie Leibovitz). It includes a stand-alone ice-cream parlor and yes, a playground. A tax assessor in 2010 valued the property at $19.8 million. Warren Buffett’s Berkshire Partners invested in the company in 2010, terms were not disclosed.