The flagship store is located on Shanghai's tony Huai Hai Road in one of the city's busiest shopping and tourist areas. The six-floor store, covering 40,000 square feet of retail space, is just steps away from luxury clothing boutiques and the high-tech Sony gallery.
"Defining what is the Barbie experience was a journey to the core of the brand," said Richard Dickson, Mattel's senior VP and general manager for Barbie. "The experiences we defined and created in the store are a direct connection to our brand's DNA."
This Barbie playhouse isn't aimed at young girls, however. Since the store opened on March 6, the majority of visitors have been groups of twenty-something Chinese women, passing through the area on shopping sprees or on a break from work. They are part of the army of young Chinese women who fawn over other global icons such as Sanrio Co.'s Hello Kitty and Snoopy.
Barbie sales fell 21% in Q4
The store opening coincides with Barbie's 50th anniversary, signaling that Mattel believes future sales depend on Barbie's popularity in North Asia, not the U.S., where a deep recession has hit consumer spending. Mattel's sales fell 11% to $1.94 billion during the last quarter of 2008, compared to the previous year, a devastating performance during the busiest shopping season of the year. Even worse, sales of Mattel's Barbie-branded products fell 21% in the fourth quarter.
Little girls in America, it seems, no longer aspire to look like a Barbie doll--or their parents no longer appreciate the unrealistically proportioned doll as a role model for their children. In fact, Barbie may end up outlawed in West Virginia. A state lawmaker proposed a bill last week to ban sales of Barbie and similar dolls. The bill from Democratic Delegate Jeff Eldridge complained that the dolls influence girls to place too much importance on physical beauty, at the expense of their intellectual and emotional development.
China isn't the only Asian country where Barbie has grown-up appeal. In Japan, the mecca of cutesy chic, Mattel will roll out a Barbie Bridal line in June, sold only in Japan, complete with gowns, ruffles and bows. Mattel also plans to roll out Barbie-themed products like cosmetics and stationery in Japan.
In the U.S., meanwhile, Mattel is trying to give Barbie a makeover to make her appealing to "tween" girls again. As part of Barbie's birthday celebrations last week, for instance, Mattel also unveiled a new face sculpt for the doll at a "pink-carpet" birthday bash at a 3,500 square foot Barbie dream house--in Malibu, of course.
The toy company wants to make the doll edgier by giving her new hobbies that have more than a hint of teen rebellion. Last week, Mattel released Totally Stylin' Tattoos Barbie. The doll comes with more than 40 tiny tattoo stickers that can be placed on her body. The set includes a faux tattoo gun kids can use to ink themselves with wash-off tattoos.
Mattel is also dressing Barbie in fewer shades of pink in the U.S.
Shanghai store houses Barbie Vera Wang wedding dress
There is plenty of pink in the Shanghai megastore. Visitors are enveloped in the softly curved, pearlescent surfaces of the lobby, which leads to a pink escalator tube that leads up two flights to the main floor. During the journey, visitors are surrounded by the piped-in sounds of giggling girls. Arriving on the main floor, visitors can register for a Barbie passport and begin their tour.
The central element of the design is a three-story spiral staircase that encloses 875 individually styled Barbie dolls--so everything in the store literally revolves around Barbie.
The staircase links the three retail floors. Two floors are dedicated to fashion.
One floor focuses on women's fashion and includes the couture collection area featuring a Shanghai-exclusive--a Barbie Vera Wang wedding dress--as well as designer products from around the world. The other floor sells girls' fashions and accessories.
The fourth floor houses a Dolls of the World reading area with Barbie books and movies, a toy area with Barbie dolls, friends, and accessories and an interactive career wall designed to inspire girls. For the store opening, Mattel created a Shanghai Barbie with a rounder face and eyes.
The store also boasts four experiential, activity-driven attractions. In the Barbie design center, girls design a Barbie doll. They can select their own look for Barbie and take home their own Barbie creation in a custom carrying case.
At the Barbie fashion stage, girls can take part in a runway show. At a spa to open later this year, visitors can get their hair and nails done while sampling the Barbie Brand beauty products. The Barbie Café, a restaurant and gelato bar, is on the top floor.
Jet Li attended store opening
For young mothers who didn't grow up with Barbie, including most grown Chinese women, the megastore "is a chance to have a taste of what they missed growing up and to share that with the next generation," said Seth Grossman, managing director, eastern China of Carat, which handled media for the store's launch.
The Aegis Group media agency peaked interest in the store's opening with pink outdoor posters and interactive taxi advertising in Shanghai. The appearance of two Chinese film stars at the opening, Jet Li and Christy Chung, generated substantial media coverage.
"Future marketing efforts will focus on the experiential aspects of the store such as the design center and the fashion runway as well as the café. Dolls will only be one aspect of the communication campaign, not the centerpiece," Mr. Grossman said.
The digital agency Reddot Profero built an interactive web site for the store, www.barbieshanghai.com, and the PR agency Butterfly handled the gala opening.
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