Retail veteran Mary Drolet was driving her daughter to yet another birthday party when it occurred to her there should be more stores catering to little girls.
Ms. Drolet and two partners came up with the concept of a place where little girls pretend to be princesses by getting makeovers with sparkly makeup, accessories and temporary tattoos. The first Club Libby Lu, named for her imaginary childhood friend, opened in 1999 in a suburban Chicago mall, and now there are about 50.
"We bring out the inner princess of every girl who walks in the door, and make the visit completely interactive," says Ms. Drolet, 41, a former executive at various department and specialty store retailers. Now, she's CEO of Club Libby Lu with the official title of procurer of princess paraphernalia. The company was sold last year to department store retailer Saks for $12 million.
In-store birthday parties are a staple of Club Libby Lu's profits; individual makeovers range between $20 and $30. This year brought a tie-in with Walt Disney Co.'s big-screen release of "The Princess Diaries 2: Royal Engagement."
"Even our shopping bags, which look like purses, operate like ads that little girls carry around," she says.