Wednesday, March 9, 2011

Bye-Bye Barbie


I was shocked when I got last week’s memo that Mattel’s $30 million homage to Barbie was closing its doors.

The flagship store, located in Shanghai, was all the rage – and the darling of the trades – when it opened to much fanfare two years ago. In fact, the multi-level Barbie emporium was Chain Store Age’s “Store of the Year” in 2010, and was featured on the cover of our March 2010 issue.

I mean, what’s not to love about a pink-and-white, whimsical store that spans 36,000 sq. ft. and features a winding staircase with 800 Barbie dolls on display?

Apparently, the Asian customer found plenty not to love, as analysts have poo-poo’d claims that the store’s problems stemmed from a poor location and high prices, pointing instead to a basic reluctance on the part of the local shopper to embrace Barbie.

But you can’t blame a gal for trying. In fact, Barbie’s maker deserves a round of applause for such a splashy move as opening perhaps the most fitting tribute to an icon that retail has ever seen. I talked with Alvin Williams, principal of Huntington Beach, Calif.-based Excess Space Retail Services, initially – so I thought – about the trials and tribulations of transitioning such an elaborate space to a new user. Williams quickly steered me in another direction.

“When I first read the news that the store was closing this week, my first thought wasn’t about the real estate challenge,” Williams told me. “I saluted Mattel for such a creative, out-of-the-box concept. I don’t see the store closing as a failure – the attempt was made and they learned something from it. That’s the spirit of retail.”

I love an optimist. And Williams makes such a great point. Hasn’t every retailer – every entrepreneur, for that matter – wondered at the onset of a new concept or a new store, “Am I crazy? Is this going to work?” Some do, some don’t. But that’s how wonderful stores get built – someone had the courage to move forward.

“Ingenuity drives this business,” said Williams. “And usually you’ll find that something comes from the attempt.”

Mattel continues to embrace ingenuity. Its next step, said the company, is to take Barbie on the road – in a big, pink tour bus. Good for them, said Williams. They took something from the store and are building on it.

I agree. Good for Mattel. I’m looking forward to hearing more about the pink bus.

--Katherine Field

1 comment:

Steven Swain said...

Great try, Mattel. It'd probably worked better in New York or Tokyo, though.

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