Barbie’s off to China amid falling sales

Scott Tong Mar 6, 2009

Barbie’s off to China amid falling sales

Scott Tong Mar 6, 2009


Steve Chiotakis: Guess who turns 50 on Monday? Barbie. Despite her youthful appearance, her sales numbers are a bit frumpy — down 21 percent in the last quarter. So parent company Mattel is going for revenue overseas. Today it’s opening its first-ever Barbie Brand Megastore in Shanghai. Marketplace’s Scott Tong got an early peek.

SCOTT TONG: Forty-thousand square feet of pink starts here: On the escalator to the Barbie Flagship Store — with piped-in sounds of giggling.

Richard Dickson: And when you get to the top, you’re hit with this amazing staircase filled with 900 barbie dolls that from top to bottom is just pure eye candy.

Richard Dickson’s general manager at Barbie Global. He shows me around this six-story “retail experience” as he calls it. There’s a spa, fashion runway, cafe, and those dolls. The newest is Barbie Shanghai, she’s a brunette.

Dickson: There’s a slightly different face paint. The eyes are a bit wider, they’re a brown.

Mattel’s betting big on China. Most families have just one child, thanks to the communists. And the capitalists at Mattel know these only children get what they want.

Dickson: Listen, it certainly helps us when moms and dads want to spend lavishly on their children. And this is certainly a place we believe can spend a lot of money.

But Barbie, or Ba bi wawa, has competition; brands like Hello Kitty and Snoopy are entrenched here. Still, the market for cute is big; teenagers and grownups buy it, too. Youth market researcher Mary Bergstrom.

Mary Bergstrom: Young people that are in their first or second jobs may have cartoon characters on their keyboards, stuffed animals in the back of their cars. They don’t have the same disdain for innocence that we have in the West.

Barbie Shanghai has a whole floor of designer clothes for the older set. And a bar with pink martinis. April Liu is outside the store, she can’t wait to get in.

April Liu [translated from Chinese]: For new college grads just working their first job – like me — this will attract us.

And many Chinese women say they aspire to Barbie’s body proportions so controversial in the West. But Mattel isn’t blushing. For the company’s global future, it’s China or bust.

In Shanghai, I’m Scott Tong for Marketplace.

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