Mold-A-Rama, the Brookfield-based company known nationwide for its brightly colored molded plastic souvenirs, has always been old school.
If you wanted one of their blue dolphins or red panthers, you’d have to go to Brookfield Zoo or one of the other tourist attractions the company serves, plop your two bucks in the machine and experience the magic.
But on Nov. 11, Mold-A-Rama entered the digital age when it opened up an online store via a link on the company’s website, www.mold-a-rama.com.
Mold-A-Rama owner Paul Jones announced the arrival of the online store on Facebook the day before it went live, saying the inventory comprised molds that were no longer in production.
The initial stock included about 150 pieces, Jones told the Landmark in a phone interview. The store nearly sold out within hours of going live.
“We sold 70 percent of our inventory in the first three hours,” Jones said.
As of Nov. 16, there were about 25 items left in the store, including blue trains from the Henry Ford Museum and Binder Park Zoo, a few red rhinos that were part of a limited edition run for the company’s 50th anniversary at Brookfield Zoo and a couple of other molds.
Jones said that he’s not sure exactly what molds will appear in the store at a given time. The company has all kinds of molds that haven’t been in production for years – the Astrodome, pirates from a Field Museum exhibit six years ago, busts of every president up to John F. Kennedy, Disney characters, a Cupie doll.
“They might show up,” Jones said. “You never know.”
The online store even sold out of a mold that wasn’t very popular when it was unveiled in the 1970s — the Brookfield Zoo wombat. Jones had a few test molds leftover from a special request to make some available for National Wombat Day (yes, there is such a thing, at least in Australia) in October.
“It sold out in a half hour,” Jones said.
But any of those might appear in the store, because the company runs test molds every time a machine is repaired in the shop or when machines are installed at zoos and museums to make sure they’re working right.
Jones said that there was some thought about keeping a couple of the machines out of general circulation in order to use them as molds to keep the store stocked, but he ultimately decided against it.
“If I have working machines, I’d rather put them out in the field for people to use,” he said.
The only trouble with the online store, at least right now, is making sure the inventory stays stocked. Mold-A-Rama is a small, family-run operation. Paul’s wife, Sue, set up the online store after working on it for about six months.
“It’s a lot of work,” said Paul. “You have to take photos of every mold you’re selling, and once you sell them, you have to ship them and do collections.”
At $5 a pop plus about $4 for shipping, the molds selling online are a bit more expensive than the ones you can buy at the zoo. But that hasn’t deterred collectors.
“It took off,” Jones said.
And in the future, the store may carry other Mold-A-Rama merchandise, like T-shirts and other items. Similar items were sold at Brookfield Zoo at the special Mold-A-Rama tent this summer during the company’s 50th anniversary celebration there.
“We had seen the success at Brookfield Zoo and thought, ‘This is something we can do,'” Jones said.