April 22, 2006

Multi-ethnic doll store American Girl opens in LA

By Alexandria Sage

LOS ANGELES (Reuters) - Mattel Inc.'s American Girl is
opening its third U.S. store in Los Angeles as the world's
largest toy maker, whose blond Barbies have been losing their
luster, expands a boutique chain known for multiracial and
historical dolls.

American Girl's sales rose to $436 million last year, a 15
percent rise over 2004 which is in contrast to Mattel's iconic
blond, Barbie, whose sales fell 13 percent in 2005 amid
competition from hip upstarts Bratz dolls.

Seeking to maintain its cachet among 7- to 10-year-old
girls and their mothers, the new Los Angeles store at the
outdoor mall The Grove is only American Girl's third behind
Chicago and New York.

American Girl is "cautious about growing too fast" and has
no targets for future store openings, said Wade Opland,
American Girl's vice president of retail.

The brand, which started as a catalog in 1986, continues to
sell its dolls, accompanying books, clothes and accessories via
catalog and on the Internet.

Besides the $100 dolls behind glass cases already smudged
by the nose and hand prints of little girls, the store features
live theater performances, a cafe with doll-sized booster
chairs, mini cheeseburgers and pink lemonade, a bookstore with
such titles as "A Smart Girl's Guide to Manners" and a photo

There is also a doll hospital. Because "sometimes brothers
cut hair and puppies eat arms," girls can send in dolls for
repairs, said Opland. Healthy dolls return to their owners
wearing hospital gowns and plastic hospital bracelets.

The store had one satisfied customer in Grace Halpern, 7,
whose doll Marisol was seated in a miniature salon chair
wearing a smock and getting her long brunette locks styled at
the store's doll salon.

"It has all the clothes and it has matching outfits for
your doll and you," she said.

Opland said that much of the success of American Girl is
due to mothers who appreciate the brand's educational
possibilities. The historical dolls come with books that
explain their back stories, whether "Jess" visiting an
archeological dig in Belize with her parents, or "Kaya" of the
Nez Perce, whose horse and tepee are also available for sale.

The company wants to maintain its proprietary cachet and
has thus far only partnered with Limited Brands Inc.'s Bath &
Bodyworks for a line of lotion, body wash and lip balm.