Balancing Act

Review: Custom Bobble Head Dolls by Bobblemaker.com

During the wedding planning process with the wife, I not only wanted to add something that is fun and unique to the mix but also place emphasis on the small important details that compliments our character and values as a couple. My wife picked up a flyer at a bridal expo which she recently attended that depicted custom bobble heads. The idea is to send your profile photo in and have a custom bobble head caricature sculpted to your likeness. I thought this was the ticket into fun and uniqueness - a fully customized bobble head cake topper sculpted to our likeness. However, I thought the price was a bit high ($119 for a single doll, $238 for a pair), so I looked online for a cost effective alternative.

What I found was Bobblemaker.com and it turns out that the original company that exhibited at the bridal expo my wife attended was just a reseller or an affiliate. Sure enough, the prices are more reasonable by going directly to the source (starting at $89.99 for a single doll, $169.99 for a pair - resin clay). Upon further research, Bobblemaker.com is part of an umbrella of other custom bobble making companies owned by the parent company known as HD Design Center, LLC., which includes webobble.com, hddesigncenter.com, politicalwobbles.com and bigbobble.com. I've also learned, after placing my order, that there are a plethora of sponsored reviews for one or more of the aforementioned subsidiaries of HD Design Center, LLC. posted on various popular blogs, all of them reviewing resin clay bobble heads. So if you are considering working with Bobblemaker.com (or any of its sister companies), this is an unbiased, unsponsored review of my own personal experience working with Bobblemaker.com and their polymer clay bobble heads.

First, there's no doubt that their web site needs a major overhaul. The overall layout of the web site is outdated and needs both a design change and a navigation upgrade. The product line definitely needs to be organized in a neater fashion and the FAQ definitely needs to be made more visible on the site. There's an "About Us", "Need Help?" and "Why Choose Us?" section, but none lead to the frequently asked questions. What is more frustrating than trying to find answers to a frequently asked question, only having to play hide-and-seek with the FAQ page? With that said, the ordering process is actually pretty straight forward, albeit clunky:

  • Pick a body sculpture from hundreds of available design, or even design your own,
  • add to shopping cart and then upload your profile photos.
  • Extra accessories such as hats, watches, change of color of predesigned bodies, pets, etc. can be added for additional fees.
  • There is also a note section where you can type in special requests or special instructions.

There are also different level of delivery time to choose from, i.e. 4-6 weeks, 3-4 weeks, 2-3 weeks, 12-17 days and 1 week. Of course the faster you need it, the pricier it will be. All delivery times except the 1-week option offers free bobble head proof. This mean the sculptor will email you photos of your bobble head along different level of the sculpting stage for you to approve or deny and make changes. I thought this was pretty cool. Since our wedding day is set for summer, I opted for the 4-6 weeks option. With the polymer clay option, which adds an additional 2-3+ weeks to the delivery time, I believe we opted for the maximum time available to receive the item of 9+ weeks. That way, we have plenty of time to review the proofs and make changes. Since these bobble head dolls are customized product, Bobblemaker.com has a strict no refund, no return and no guaranteed delivery time policy. A policy which you need to manually agree to by checking on a box assuring you've read and understood the policy in order to checkout.

There are two type of clay which the bobble heads can be sculpted out of: resin clay or polymer clay. The main difference between the two clay type is that resin clay is sculpted from a singular wad of dark colored clay and then hand painted to match the submitted photo(s) after it has been baked. Polymer clay on the other hand, is entirely sculpted with colored clay. This means that the bobble head's individual details, such as eyes, lips, teeth, hair, accessories etc. are sculpted in corresponding colored polymer clay. The end result is there are no paint used as the clay itself also act as the coloring agent. The polymer clay option adds an additional 2-3 weeks to the delivery time and also costs more than its resin counterpart, but delivers extra details that the resin clay alternative cannot replicate.

We opted for this wedding couple on a scooter base body design with polymer clay option:

Scooter Love Story Custom Bobble Head Doll

Scooter Love Story Custom Bobble Head Doll

Since both my wife and I are Los Angeles Angels fans, we decided to kick the fun level up a notch by ordering baseball cap accessories that sport the Angels logo for our bobble heads. It costs about $40.00 to add the two customized baseball caps to our order, but I feel the uniqueness accentuates our passion for Angels baseball and is worth the additional investment. The bobble head will be in a display case on our mantle once the wedding is over.

After placing our initial order on December 14, 2014, we received an email eight hours later stating that our order has been submitted to a skilled sculptor for production.

Your Bobblehead Doll is now in production.

Your Bobblehead Doll is now in production.

Proofing Process

The proofing process is straight forward, but at the same time, confusing. Confused yet? Depending on what delivery time was chosen, the first proof will show up at varying times via email. For example, since I opted for the 4-6 weeks lead time, I did not see my first proof until about 8 days later. The first proof was just the complexion proof, i.e. skin complexion (for polymer clay). It is basically a wad of colored clay to which the bobble head will be sculpted out of. I had to approve or deny the complexion before the actual sculpting started. For resin clay, the first proof would be a head proof sculpted to the likeness of the submitted photos.

The second proof arrived 7 days later and showed our completed head proofs next to our photos for comparison. We were pleased with the bobble head sculptures. They looked sorta-kinda-like us, in a caricature kinda way The bobble heads are not supposed to be an exact replica. Unfortunately, this proof had to be denied because the hats were not the color we've requested and the cap on my wife's bobble head was too big, making her bobble head look like a construction worker, agree? I've also requested that they change my wife's bobble head's hair color from black to brown to closer match the photo.

Wife's bobble head, first proof

Wife's bobble head, first proof

My bobble head, first proof

My bobble head, first proof

The third proof arrived 6 days later. This time, the hats are in the correct colors, the size of the cap on my wife's bobble head shrunk to conform to the shape of the head and the hair color changed from black to brown as requested. Unfortunately, I still had to deny this proof. I asked that the visor on my red baseball cap be changed to dark blue (to match my favorite L.A. Angels cap) and as noted in my original order request.

Wife's bobble head, second proof

Wife's bobble head, second proof

My bobble head, second proof

My bobble head, second proof

Our body proof also arrived at the same time, which I approved as is.

Our bobble head dolls' body

Our bobble head dolls' body

Finally, the final head proof arrived 3 days after the previous proof and I was pleased with the result.

My bobble head, third proof

My bobble head, third proof

The head proofs have been finally approved, now we await for the final color proof which I suspect will arrive 6-7 days later due to the sport logos and based on our previous experience of consistently receiving proofs every 6-7 days.

Unfortunately, that was not the case and the wait was longer. There was a point where I contacted customer service twice (one via the contact form, and two, a direct reply to my previous answered inquiry) - to inquire about the delay, but received no response. I even re-approve the last head proofs thinking the approval did not get through.

This was where all the bad online reviews regarding Bobblemaker.com's lack of communication and lack of response to voice mails and emails left by anxious customers kicked in, in full gear. I also sent a private message to Bobblemaker.com's Facebook page on 1/26/15 to inquire, again, no response. My message was seen, as indicated by the Facebook Messenger app:

3rd attempt to contact Bobblemaker.com, this time via Facebook private message

3rd attempt to contact Bobblemaker.com, this time via Facebook private message

Fortunately, at this point, we were at the end of the 5th week into the ordering process with plenty of time left on the ETA: 4-6 weeks, plus an additional 2-3 weeks for polymer clay. Figuring there's plenty of time left to get the product and more than sufficient amount of time until our wedding day, I decided to wait a few more weeks before making further attempts to contact.

A day after I sent the Facebook private message, the final color proof arrived - 3 weeks after the last head proof approval with the Los Angeles Angels logo on our caps:

Our final color proof from Bobblemaker.com

Our final color proof from Bobblemaker.com

Despite the feeling incommunicado during the latter half of the ordering process, the final color proof actually looked really, really good in picture. We were pleased and approved the product immediately. Now we play the waiting game: wait for the oversea factory to bake the final color proof, package it and ship it over.

The Product

Considering the package was shipped from China, delivery time is exceptional. 2 days delivered to the greater Los Angeles region from Dongguan, China via FedEx International Priority. My package was shipped a day after I approved the final color proof. At the time of delivery, an indirect signature is required, meaning someone needs to be available at the delivery address to sign for it. If you have a FedEx account, you can sign in and release the delivery through FedEx's Customize Delivery option. Since I live minutes away from my work, I opted for this rather than having to deal with retrieving the package from a FedEx center.

FedEx dropped off the package at around 9:40 AM PST

FedEx dropped off the package at around 9:40 AM PST

The bobble head dolls were shipped in small cardboard box inside a FedEx envelope.

The package

The package

The box

The box

The dolls were wrapped in packaging foam sheets. They were not packed in custom fitted Styrofoam as  shown in their "Watch how we make your Bobble!" video.

How Bobblamaker.com package their custom bobble head dolls

How Bobblamaker.com package their custom bobble head dolls

Once the dolls were removed from the box, we have two separate components generously wrapped in packaging foam sheet:

Packaging removed from box

Packaging removed from box

The smaller one contained the pink and red hearts that secures onto the base:

Detachable hearts for the base

Detachable hearts for the base

The larger component wrapped in packaging foam sheet contains the bobble head dolls, the base and the "Love Story" heart-shaped arch; all of which secures onto the base:

Two individually wrapped packages inside the larger component

Two individually wrapped packages inside the larger component

The rest of the bobble head dolls

The rest of the bobble head dolls

Here's a few product shots to illustrate the fine details:

Our custom bobble head dolls

Our custom bobble head dolls

Close up of the Los Angeles Angels ball caps

Close up of the Los Angeles Angels ball caps

Close up of the dolls' facial feature

Close up of the dolls' facial feature

Our custom bobble head dolls fully assembled

Our custom bobble head dolls fully assembled

Our custom bobble head dolls ready to top our wedding cake

Our custom bobble head dolls ready to top our wedding cake

Our custom bobble head dolls on our display shelf

Our custom bobble head dolls on our display shelf

Since our custom bobble head doll arrived in pieces and had to be attached to the main base by inserting the pins from each component into corresponding holes on the base, the result will not be very secure. To rectify this, I'll be applying epoxy onto the pins and holes to ensure a solid and secure fixture. The parts are shipped as disassembled components obviously to minimize damage during its long trip from oversea. Some of the components are dirty, i.e. smears of dark color here and there and requires a quick wipe with isopropyl alcohol to remove.

Overall very high quality and highly detailed hand-made product. We're very happy with our investment.

A Word On the Proofing Process

The proofing process works but also needs improvement, especially the communication aspect of it all. The sculpting factory is located overseas in China. This means you'll have to account for the 16 hour time difference. Throughout the entire proofing process, it was always a one-sided interaction. Meaning whenever I denied a proof, I would make comment on the changes. The reply will always be an email with photos of the updated proofs, but no remarks or comments from the sculptor. I was also wondering why the baseball caps on each proof lacked the sport logo we ordered, so I made a request to have it added in each subsequent proof, only to have the proof return with all adjustments done except the addition of the sport logo. Finally, I contacted customer service via the contact form and asked if the logos were supposed to be added during the head proof stage or after the final color proof. It turned out that the logos will be added after the head proofs are approved, and will show up in the final color proof. It would definitely make the proofing process much easier if this was explicitly clarified in the instructions or if the person sending the proofing photos made a comment about the matter.

The Verdict

As mentioned before, the ordering and proofing process needs improvement for a better user experience. From my experience, it seems that when the photos are submitted, only the profile photo is taken into account. The notes field, while it allows the opportunity to make special requests or instructions, is largely ignored. For example, I ordered our bobble heads with baseball caps and L.A. Angels logo on them. In the notes field, I made specific request for the colors of the caps (white on bride, red with dark blue visor on groom) and even submitted example photos of the caps. Instead, the caps on the first head proof were totally off.

2015-02-21-at-10-23-13

Customer service on the other hand is just okay with potential to be superior. Service started out fantastic as I had all of my questions answered within two hours via email. They have a phone number listed on their web site, but I didn't bother and suspect it would probably go into a voice mail since the company is largely a mail order company. I also like to have copies of all my transactions in writing, which is required by Bobblemaker.com anyways. When I contacted Bobblemaker.com again to inquire why my final color proof was taking so long (3 weeks), I received absolutely no response or follow-up. No one answered any of my subsequent questions pertaining to the status of my order until I received the final product and replying to an email goes a long way in customer service.

If you plan on ordering any sports logo to go on your dolls, understand that the logos are printed on what looks like clear heat transfer vinyl. Unless the logo is cut precisely, the residual clear part of the transfer vinyl may contrast differently on the surface to which it is applied on, leaving a visible discrepancy.

For example, the Angels logo look perfect on my wife's white cap, but darken up on my red cap, making it look like a large patch. I'm not satisfied with the result but can live with it. Since I have the tools, I will fix this with my own print resource. If we order additional dolls in the future from Bobblemaker.com, we'll probably omit the logo option and do it ourselves.

Overall all, while there are some bumps during the entire ordering process, we are thoroughly pleased with the final product. It is unique, hand made, customized and truly one of a kind. We placed our order on December 14, 2014, electing polymer clay option and 4-6 weeks delivery time frame and after three revisions, we received the final completed product on January 30, 2015.

Product gets a 5 out of 5 stars.

Service gets a 2 out of 5 stars.

Overall rating: 3.5 stars

I would order from Bobblemaker.com again.

Word of advice

First of all, ignore all the so-called "sponsored reviews" out there on the internet. Of course if a company is going to exchange service for a positive review, they will be at their best behavior, convoluting the actual user experience and skewing general perception of actual service delivered. You can identify most of these sponsored reviews with the inclusion of this or similar line, "this is a sponsored review, however the opinion are 100% mine," near or at the end of the review.

Pay close attention to the delivery date and ensure enough time is available between your target date and delivery date, it will save you from unnecessary disappointment and anxiety. If there are any major problems arising out of using Bobblemaker.com, I suspect it would primarily be receiving the product on time, especially if it's a time sensitive gift. Denying proofs and making adjustments takes a lot of time, in our case 6-7 days for every changes with polymer clay and at 4-6 weeks delivery time. But for us, it didn't matter because we had an additional 7 months before we need it in our hands for our cake designer. Also, someone must be available to sign for the package as Bobblemaker.com requires a signature upon delivery. My advice is to place your order a minimum of two months in advance to your target date.

While a custom bobble head isn't the cheapest gift or cake topper per se, it is unique and one of a kind. Rather than throwing away generic cake toppers, this can be a keepsake and put into a display case for displaying. Bobblemaker.com has promos throughout the year and on most holidays. We were able to snag a 20% off promo code because we ordered during the holidays.

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