The Madison Children's Museum Sale (abbreviated as MCM, and properly known as the American Girl Benefit Sale) is an annual sale (held for the benefit of the Madison Children’s Museum and American Girl’s Fund for Children) that sells American Girl items at a discount. The sale is generally held over a two-day weekend in July.
All items are donated and profits are 100% donated to the Madison Children's Museum, making this their largest annual fundraiser at nearly $1 million dollars each year for Madison Children's Museum and other kids' causes. The sale began in 1987 and is staffed by volunteers.
MCM expressly states not to contact American Girl regarding any information about the sale or items purchased at the sale.
The sale is held in Middleton, WI (a suburb of Madison). Items are only sold on-site and cannot be purchased over the phone or through mail order whatsoever. Frequently, collectors will offer to purchase items at the sale for members who live far away and cannot make it there. Most of the time this cost is no more than the cost paid plus convenience and shipping fees.
Ticketing and Entry
Tickets for Saturday and early Sunday entrance times become available for order at the start of May, with downloadable forms or online forms. Saturday Tickets range in time from 7 am until 2:45 pm. at fifteen minute intervals for a modest price of $8 and a limit of six tickets total per person/household. Sunday morning early-entry tickets for 7 am are sold for a higher price, generally $20-24.
Originally, ticket times were assigned by postmark and not arrival at the office; this meant a person who sent in forms by May 3rd but lives further away was more likely to get an earlier time than someone who sends a later postmarked time but lives closer. Starting in 2017, Saturday tickets became available for purchase online as well and could be picked up on site at will-call. Physical tickets are mailed out prior to the sale.
Starting in 2018, tickets could only be ordered online, with all orders on a set day randomly chosen for various entry times; the earlier the purchase, the likelier chance there was for earlier times. Later, the option was offered to allow a second entry into the warehouse in Saturday afternoon hours.
Starting in 2020, due to venue change, the prices of tickets rose to $10 for all Saturday tickets and $5 for all Sunday markdown sale tickets, eliminating free Sunday tickets. Sunday tickets were also sold simultaneously in the presale lottery.
MCM asks that no one arrive on the grounds before 6 a.m.
Ticketing helps to regulate the flow of people into the warehouse and enforce safety and capacity limits. Times can be delayed depending on the amount of people inside; until enough people have exited, no more can enter. Groups are approximately 100 people per 15-minute interval starting at 7 a.m. and until 2:45 p.m.; at 3 pm on Saturday all purchasers must exit with their purchases and leave the grounds.
Groups were lined up under a large central tent in three groups, with clipboards showing ticket times. Ticket holders may not enter under the line up tent until their time is available, though they may step out of line if necessary. A person does not have to line up to gain entry unless they wish to have immediate entry; if ticket holders arrive after a timed entry has entered, they may enter the warehouse as soon as it is permissible.
Sunday Free Entries (pre-2020)
On Sunday, non-purchased free entry tickets are made available at 8 am and given out, one per attendant; these tickets do not have times and groups are lined up by ticket number from 0-799 and then unnumbered. People are not allowed to line up to get these tickets before 7 am.
Entry is closed after 11:45 a.m. on Sunday; the sale is closed at noon and all purchasers must exit with their purchases.
Starting in 2020, Sunday tickets were no longer free and were sold for $5.
On Saturday, silent auctions are held for rarer items, including retired items donated by volunteers. There are also Buy It Now sales for items and retired or older dolls. Auction bids are taken by writing on silent auction sheets, with set price increments. End times are staggered.
On Saturday, raffles tickets are sold for $1 or a string for a cheaper overall amount. Raffle prizes are donated both by volunteers and American Girl and may include yet-to-be-released products, older collections, and/or early entry times to the sale.
Names and contact information should be written on each ticket. A person does not need to be present to win.
Vendors and Other Booths
Outside the warehouse are personal vendors. Most sell doll accessories, items, and clothes, though anyone can purchase vendor space; some spaces are set up for food purchases or children's activities.
Staring in 2017, UPS set up stations on-site to ship items back immediately.
Starting in 2017, a "doll daycare" was set up to prevent previously purchased dolls of any kind into the warehouse; dolls must be checked in before entry.
Parking is not allowed in the lots of warehouses and businesses nearby. Overnight parking or camping is not allowed. If weather does not permit use of the large parking field (such as from mud/rain), it will be closed. Limited disability parking is available with a valid, currently active parking permit, but may not overflow the lot.
Shuttle buses run from aligned hotels and a nearby ice arena parking lot to the warehouse. This does not run on Sunday. There is also street parking, but this is variant to what is available.
Merchandise Availability and Purchase
Over the course of the year, volunteers repair, sort, and clean items at a different location. Items with major flaws or missing components are sent briefly to American Girl for repairs before being sent back for sale.
Stock at the sale was originally and primarily comprised of returned stock and factory seconds (items with minor flaws in construction), allowing any possibility of items to be found and purchased, ranging from recently retired items to older, harder to find items. Since American Girl has a somewhat liberal return policy allowing items to be returned to them at any time, people can and often do return older items to the company, so nearly any item returned used to be sent to the sale instead of resold to customers.
In August 2008, President George W. Bush imposed the world's strictest lead ban in products for children 12 or younger by signing the Consumer Product Safety Improvement Act. As a result, MCM staff and volunteers were then not allowed to repair or refurbish several older items, and older items were not often sold. This later relaxed and older items became to be available again. Still, simply due to age and availability, most items found at the sale are overstock or returns from American Girl's warehouse. Older retired items that are donated are often placed in a silent auction; some are set aside for a raffle.
When a Girl of the Year is retired without selling out, generally any remaining stock of items is sent to the sale instead of sold after December 31st. Items released since the start of the year will not be available until the next sale (e.g. in 2016 Lea's Collection was not available at the sale, but was starting in 2017).
Items are grouped according to type with an internal map given out in line. Major Groupings consist of:
- Historical Characters/BeForever dolls (and Best Friend Characters when available)
- Girls of the Year and Contemporary Characters
- Doll Clothing and Accessories including children's clothing and Mini Dolls
- Books and/or Activity Sets
- WellieWishers (starting in 2017);
- Bitty Baby and Bitty Twins
- Truly Me dolls (organized by number)
Occasionally, other Mattel brands and products such as Corolle or Monster High are available.
Saturday prices are approximately 30% off retail costs. Sunday prices are approximately 50%. Occasionally free items are given to purchasers on exit.
Items are not held on-site for anyone and will be restocked, and merchandise is not staggered or held back; when an item is out of stock, it is not restocked later. (Generally, information is presented stating which Historical Characters, BeForever, and/or Girls of the Year are not available at entry.) All items are seconds and/or returns by nature and are sold as-is; no refunds or exchanges are allowed.
Payment is with credit (Visa, MasterCard, Discover, and American Express) or cash on site; one set of tables are for totaling and the other for payment. Checks of any kind are not accepted. Wisconsin State Sales Tax is charged. Purchasers are encouraged to round up to the nearest dollar on the final amount for donations.
Limits are placed on every item available to prevent purchasing too much by one person; these are per person (the person paying), not per ticket, and the sale reserves the right to deny purchases. Limits are mostly placed on dolls, with the tightest being on Historicals which is often a limit of one per ticket purchase; the most liberal limits are modern (Truly Me) dolls which can be anywhere from 8-10 each per ticket.
Bags are not given out for free; large bags may be purchased on site for $5 each or a person may bring their own personal bags. No wheeled transportation or shopping baskets are allowed such as wagons, wheeled shopping carts, or baskets; all items must be carried by the person(s) inside. People with disabilities are permitted to bring in or come in with their necessary mobility equipment.
There is no time limit on shopping but a person cannot return after leaving and entry was initially only once a day; starting in 2018 afternoon walk up tickets were allowed, though are not guaranteed.
Children under three are not allowed inside the warehouse. All entrants must have their own ticket, including children.
American Girl is not responsible for the condition of the merchandise or the management of the sale; therefore, contacting them regarding items is not advisable. American Girl will not repair, exchange, or replace items purchased from the sale that come with flaws, with the notable exception of silver eye.
Policies state that items are not to be resold; this is broken often since many items show up on eBay for secondhand purchase.
Marks on Merchandise
Dolls and furniture are marked with black Xes in a non-obtrusive area to indicate they were purchased at the sale. Cloth-bodied dolls are marked on the bottom near the seams; Welliewishers are marked at the center back of the molded panties; furniture is marked underneath. Clothing and boxes are slashed through the UPC barcode, and some tags may be slashed. This is to prevent returns to the store or through American Girl.
2020 MCM Online Sale
Due to the 2020 Covid-19 pandemic, the Benefit Sale has chosen to hold the sale online. The following changes were made:
- Dates of purchase were moved from the original dates of July 11-12th , to July 25-26th. This is to give time to facilitate the online system.
- Access to shopping online will be in the same order and weekend day as ticketed entry times. Quantity limits will be in effect, just as at the physical sale, by ticket. A ticket allows one online purchase of a shopping cart of goods, honoring all quantity limits. A second ticket allows another online purchase, with refreshed quantity limits, and so on.
- As with previous sales, on Sunday there will be additional markdowns and limit changes.
- All orders will be shipped to the purchaser. Curbside pickup options will not be available. Shipping costs will be calculated during checkout and included in the purchase total at the time of checkout.
- MCM decided that no additional tickets would be offered for this year's benefit sale.
- Dolls and Friends Pajama Party kits--in lieu of the sleepover that would have held Saturday--will be available in limited quantities. Each kit will include a Bitty Baby doll, special craft project supplies, and an invitation to participate in an exclusive online video party in the fall with exact dates listed in purchase.
Due to the multiple logistic changes, MCM temporarily changed the longstanding refund policy and offered refunds to current ticket holders. Requests for refunds must be made by the 15th of June. There will also be an option to donate any unneeded ticket(s) to the cause, and people may also transfer their unneeded or unwanted tickets to others.