Barbie Meets American Girl in Buenos Aires

Discussion
Aug 26, 2009
Tom Ryan

By
Tom Ryan

Celebrating
her 50th year in 2009, Barbie at long last is getting into retail.
A six-story, 37,000 square feet palace opened in Shanghai in March
of this year to represent her first flagship, but a smaller (7,000
square feet) – and possibly more expandable – version has quietly
been in operation since late 2007 in Buenos Aires.

Called
Barbie’s Tea House, the Argentine store is really an American Girl
store (also owned by Mattel) done Barbie-style. That means lots of pink on the exterior
and interior of the store and across product. Associates wear pink
t-shirts with “I’m a Barbie Girl” embossed on the back. A pink
Volkswagen Bug with the Barbie logo splayed on its side sat out
front. (This reporter recently visited the Buenos Aires store.)

The
front of the narrow store is dedicated to product, including an
ample selection of T-shirts, skirts, pants and handbags – most
in shades of pink – as well as dolls and other trinkets such as
hair and beauty care, watches, two-way radios, and even golf sets
under the Barbie theme.

At
the center is a Barbie Beauty Center, where girls can get their nails and
hair done under styles such as the Butterfly, Princess, or Fashion
Fever. After the salon, a Barbie tea counter serves up cupcakes,
pies and beverages for both young girls as well as moms and grand
moms.

For
many, however, the big draw is Casa de Barbie, a fantasy-land behind
closed doors in the rear where parties are held. The room includes
toys and dolls, costumes, make up and jewelry, and a small catwalk
for girls to parade under disco lights. But the store is also
designed to appeal to older, former Barbie owners. Tidbits of Barbie
history are written on the walls.

“The
Barbie Store is a place where little girls feel big and mothers
return to their childhood,” Tito Loizeau, one of the owners of
the store, told the Telegraph. The former marketing executive
came up with and collaborated with Mattel on the idea. The store
is a licensed location.

By
Argentine’s standards, prices at the store are high. A Butterfly
hairstyle – including fairly tale makeup – costs 120 pesos (around
$30). Admission to Casa de Barbie costs 25 pesos ($7.00) for an
individual visit and much more to throw a full party.

The
opulent Shanghai store, which Mattel spent $30 million to construct,
also includes facials, customized doll creations, and $10,000 adult-sized
wedding dresses. At night the store’s two restaurants become trendy
bars complete with DJ’s, pink martinis and karaoke. The store operated
by Mattel is expected to help drive branding and expansion in China.

Not
surprisingly, the ultra-thin Barbie and both stores openings have
drawn controversy. Even in Argentina, known for its obsession with
plastic surgery, about 30 Barbie dolls were burned in the provincial
capital La Plata this past March 9th, Barbie’s official birthday.

Discussion
Question: What would you think of Mattel opening a Barbie-themed
store in the U.S.? Of the services and products mentioned, which do you
think would be most appealing in the States? Would you expect U.S. stores
to be profitable or more valuable for branding objectives?

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9 Comments on "Barbie Meets American Girl in Buenos Aires"


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Liz Crawford
Guest
11 years 8 months ago

Well, Barbie has certainly taken its lumps in recent years–from Bratz to American Girl.

This retail move is good, but perhaps too little, too late for the US market. American Girl rules the space now. The American Girl experience is multi-generational and multi-cultural, with wonderful educational back-stories. I believe Barbie will have a heck of a hard time competing against that without looking like an also-ran.

The positioning will mean everything here. What will Barbie offer, in terms of an emotional experience, that will win versus American Girl? I can’t imagine. But who knows, maybe they have.

David Livingston
Guest
11 years 8 months ago

I don’t think it would work on a large scale but certainly could become a regional attraction. I know guy friends of mine who collect Barbies. To them it’s a business hobby.

I recall my daughter being caught up into collecting Barbies and even today she still has them all. If there was a large Barbie store someplace and I had a little girl again, I could definitely see a vacation planned around visiting the store.

Doug Stephens
Guest
Doug Stephens
11 years 8 months ago

There are elements of the concept that suggest an air of excess that seems out of sync with where the world is right now. I think we’ve entered a period of enhanced responsibility and reflection–where spending will be far less conspicuous.

Parents and kids will continue to connect and share experiences but I don’t see the kind of excessive behavior and expense that we saw over the last 10 years.

Nikki Baird
Guest
Nikki Baird
11 years 8 months ago
FAO Schwartz has had a Barbie store within the store concept for awhile now, though the last time I was in there all of the technology was off or broken, which was disappointing. However, I have heard more and more about Disney’s “Bibbidi Bobbidi Boutique” where girls get hair and makeup as either princess, rock diva (a la Hannah Montana) or I believe Faerie. The industry has talked for a long time about “experience retailing” and these concepts sound closer to the vision than anything else I’ve heard of. Believe me, as the mother of a very girly almost-five-year-old, I would be hard pressed to pry her out of a Barbie store, no matter what they sold, and I would definitely be hearing pleas for a birthday party there. Maybe we were wrong to think of experience retailing first for adult concepts (you know, where REI gets the closest today). Kids are far more willing to suspend disbelief and play along, and for various reasons there is a huge market for “play” retailing–there are three… Read more »
Gene Detroyer
Guest
11 years 8 months ago
These types of stores are tourist attractions. They are not retailing in the typical chain environment. Historically, many character (or NBA or Apple) based theme stores have opened. Typically in a major city. They have generated huge traffic flow, often having lines waiting outside for people to enter. Then the retailer gets excited over the demand and starts to open other stores. The now chain of stores last a short time, but do not generate the traffic or revenue of the flagship model and soon all are closed, ultimately even the flagship. It is the show that generates the traffic in the flagship. The merchandise itself is not broad enough to carry a stand-alone store in a mall. While there may be arguments about how ageless Barbie is or is not, this store may work in the great cities of the world. That is, as long as we don’t lose the focus that it is an event, or tourist attraction or an entertainment and not a retail concept to be built upon.
Lee Peterson
Guest
11 years 8 months ago

A Barbie store is a no brainer, really. But more telling is the idea that manufacturers, tired of being “bullied” by retailers (or more accurately, seeing the writing of the private label surge on the wall), are deciding to strike out on their own. Frankly, I’d like to see more of that, especially from the likes of great brands like Gatorade, Dell and Kraft. Why not? There’s plenty of empty spaces to choose from.

Tom Ryan
Guest
11 years 8 months ago

I should have included these pictures from the new Shanghai store. It’s much more stunning than the Buenos Aires location.

sandi holder
Guest
sandi holder
11 years 8 months ago

I feel a US-based store would be a huge success, judging on the everlasting popularity Barbie has throughout the world. The recent National Barbie Convention was a huge success, and many collectors would love a place such as this!

Jerry Gelsomino
Guest
11 years 8 months ago

There already are several U.S. Barbie stores in operation, run by Mattel. There is one first of all as part of the retail operation run by Mattel downstairs of their corporate office in LA. The second is in New York City I believe. It was an award winning entry in the 2007 Retail Design Institute (formerly Institute of Store Planners) International Store Design competition. It won for its fantasy appeal, with such features as Barbie-themed floor fixtures and a Barbie runway fashion show.

Remember that Mattel now owns American Girl so the company is gaining a lot of knowledge about direct retailing. I think they know how far to take Barbie in retail, and where they should leave it to established stores. In high profile tourist destinations, a Barbie store makes sense.

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