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YOUR MONEY | FAMILY FINANCES / KATHY M. KRISTOF

Missing Part? No Need to Throw Out the Barbie With the Bathwater

September 29, 1996|KATHY M. KRISTOF

A relative gave Lisa Smock an expensive hand-me-down toy kitchen set when her daughter was young, but Smock debated about whether to keep it. Stickers marking the different parts of the kitchen were torn and faded, a door was broken and some other parts had come loose.

In short, the toy looked too tired to use.

Still, knowing that the frame was in good shape and that replacing the set would cost upward of $60, Smock decided to call the manufacturer to see if there was a way to renovate the kitchen. A few weeks and about $5 in parts later, the set looked nearly new.

Smock, a Fountain Valley mother of three, discovered one of the little-known, money-saving secrets to dealing with children's toys and games.

Manufacturers rarely advertise it, but many will help you replace lost and broken toy and game parts for small fees--sometimes even for free. Smock has been revitalizing rather than replacing toys ever since.

But she's probably the exception rather than the rule. Parents frequently complain about having to buy, say, an entire Trouble game because the pegs to the board are lost, or a new Scrabble because a few tiles are missing. Mothers grimace when talking about how those troublesome little people that come in the Polly Pocket sets seem to dive into the vacuum. Or how Barbie always seems to lose one of her shoes.

Buy a toy kitchen set and within weeks, you're sure to be missing all the plastic food. Pick up a race set with special cars capable of staying on track, and before you know it, the cars have hit the road.

In short, it's a rare family that doesn't have a section of the garage stuffed with boxes of toys that might be fun if only they weren't missing a few parts.

But it doesn't have to be that way.

"As a company, you don't want consumers to be teed off because they're missing a part. You want them to still be able to enjoy the game," says Mark Morris, public relations manager at Milton Bradley in East Longmeadow, Mass. "We encourage people, if they have a missing part, to write to us. Just be specific about what you're missing."

Milton Bradley, the maker of Scrabble, gets a lot of requests for tiles, Morris says. If you're just missing a few, you'll probably get them for free. (He stresses that this isn't a giveaway for customers who simply want to have spares.) Those who need a whole set of tiles, however, will need to pay between $4.50 and $6.50, depending on whether they have the standard or deluxe model. The prices include shipping and handling.

A set of marbles for Hungry Hippos runs $2, as do the pegs for Trouble. It's $5 to get replacement ships and pegs for Battleship, says Morris.

Fisher-Price, an East Aurora, N.Y., manufacturer of hundreds of toys and games, gets so many requests for small parts that it puts out a "Bits and Pieces" catalog.

Missing a ring for the company's Rock-a-Stack baby toy? You can order another for just 50 cents. Cassette door fell off the kids' $37 tape recorder? The replacement sells for a buck. Xylophone mallets go for 50 cents. The coins from the Magic Money Machine and the bobbing members of the Floating Family can all be replaced for nominal amounts as well. However, Fisher-Price will tack on an additional fee for shipping, so it makes sense to order all the parts you need at once.

Meanwhile, El Segundo-based Mattel, whose toys include Barbie and Polly Pocket, doesn't have a formal program for replacing lost parts and pieces, says Sara Rosales, the company's public relations manager. But if a parent requests a part that the company has in stock, it will send it gratis, she says.

"We send out courtesy parts," says Rosales.

But the company's toy parts are seasonal, Rosales cautions. For instance, Mattel makes new versions of "Working Barbie" each year. One year Barbie may be a doctor, another year a stewardess. If you're missing some part that went with the theme, Mattel will be able to send it only as long as it remains in stock. The company doesn't make more. On the bright side, if you're just missing a shoe, chances are good Mattel will have it.

"Barbie shoes are pretty perennial--they're stock colors and we're likely to have those most of the time," Rosales says. "But, for instance, our new working Barbie is a veterinarian, who comes with a dog and a bone. With something like a doggy bowl, once it's gone, it's gone."

So how do you find out if the replacement parts you need are available and how much they cost? You simply look on the packaging for the manufacturer's name and address. (If you tossed the box, take along a pencil and a notebook the next time you hit the toy store.) Some manufacturers may even include the company's toll-free customer service number. Then you call or write, making sure to be as specific as possible about what you need. Response times vary, but many toy manufacturers say they do their best to get back to customers within a few weeks.

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Need to reach one of the major toy manufacturers? Here are some of their numbers.

Fisher-Price: (800) 432-5437

Hasbro: (800) 255-5516

Kenner/Nerf: (800) 327-8264

Mattel: (800) 524-8697

Milton Bradley: (413) 525-6411

Parker Bros: (508) 927-7600

Playskool: (800) 752-9755

Tonka: (800) 248-6652

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