The Madison Children's Museum Sale (abbreviated as MCM, and properly known as the American Girl Benefit Sale) is an annual sale done 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.
To attend the sale, one has to go to Middleton, WI (a suburb of Madison) to purchase items on-site. Items 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 some gas money and shipping fees.
Tickets are purchased for entrance times and become available for order at the start of May before the sale with downloadable forms. Saturday Tickets range in time from 7 am until 3 pm at fifteen minute intervals for a modest price of $8 and a limit of four tickets total per person. Sunday morning early-entry tickets are sold for a considerable amount; generally, $24. All ticket times are assigned by postmark and not arrival at the office; this means a person who sends in forms by May 3rd but lives further away is 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.
Tickets help to regulate the flow of people into the warehouse, as there are safety limits. Times can be delayed depending on the movement of people inside; until enough people have exited, no more can enter. Groups are approximately 100 people per 15-minute interval.
Groups are lined up under a large central tent in three groups, with clipboards showing ticket times. One may not enter under the line up tent until their time is available, though they may step out of line if necessary.
If a person arrives after their group has gone in, they may enter the warehouse as soon as possible.
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 generally over after noon on Sunday, after sale closure.
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.
Outside the warehouse are personal vendors. Most sell doll accessories, items, and clothes, though anyone can purchase vendor space.
Staring in 2017, UPS set up stations on-site to ship items back immediately.
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.
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.
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, 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
- All Doll Clothing and accessories including children's clothing
- Books and/or Activity Sets
- WellieWishers (starting in 2017);
- Bitty Baby and Bitty Twins
- Truly Me dolls (lined up by number order)
Occasionally, other brands and products such as Corolle, Monster High, and/or other Mattel brands are available.
On Sunday prices are dropped; however, availability is based on what was not sold Saturday.
Occasionally free items are given out on exit.
Items are not held on-site for and will be restocked, and merchandise is not staggered or held back; when an item is out of stock, it will not be restocked later. All items are seconds and/or returns by nature and are sold as-is, so no refunds or exchanges are allowed.
Payment is with credit or cash on site; one set of tables are for totaling and the other for payment. Checks are not accepted at all. Tax is charged, and 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 overpurchases; these are per ticket, though this can be regulated 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 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 carrying items 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 with their necessary equipment.
There is no time limit on shopping but a person cannot return after leaving and entry is only once a day. Children under three are not allowed inside the warehouse whatsoever. All entrants must have a 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 and is expressly stated as not to be done. 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; however, this is broken often as after MCM many items show up on eBay for purchase.
To mark that an item has come from MCM, dolls and furniture are marked with black Xes in a non-obtrusive area. Cloth bodied Dolls are marked on the bottom near the butt seam; Welliewishers are marked at the center back of the molded panties, and furniture is marked underneath. Clothing and boxes are slashed through the UPC barcode.
This leads to many eBay sellers noting that items have no Xes to show that they have not come from MCM in the weeks and months after the sale.