Profile: Sir Charlie Mayfield

John Lewis Partnership Chairman

Case study - Barbie

Tax hikes and reducing disposable incomes mean retailers are facing their toughest time in decades keeping customers loyal and spending. Staying ahead in the high street requires a major rethink of traditional strategies and systems. Learn more about the international doll icon, Barbie, in our Mattel case study below.

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International doll icon Barbie is the number one doll in the world and has 1,000 YouTube channels dedicated to her, according to parent company Mattel. Last year it decided to open the world’s only shop devoted to her, a six-floor pink palace in Shanghai, one of the best examples of rule three, feeling the future through experience. Mattel has created a full-on Barbie world that it feels is relevant to how people around the globe perceive the brand.

Mattel worked with The Brand Union in New York, creating the concept of the Shanghai shop. The store has been designed to reflect the different aspects of the doll and includes a spa, a clothing line, a make-up counter and café, driven by the then head of brand Richard Dickson.

Richard Bates, chief creative officer of The Brand Union, says: “Mattel is not a retailer, it makes products. It really had no experience in the retail world. However, Dickson saw the opportunity to start talking about Barbie very differently. At its core, Mattel is a toy maker but he saw that Barbie on its own and without any help was very much a fashion and lifestyle brand, but wasn’t being treated as such.”

Bates explains that the global icon is seen very differently around the world and the Shanghai store brings these different aspects to a market in which it is relatively new. “In Japan, for example, consumers are not that interested in the doll. They like the brand and there is a line of women’s clothing that has dresses costing $2,000 and $3,000. Barbie Shanghai is really six floors of playground-meets-luxury-boutique,” he says.

And although Chinese parents may not have grown up with Barbie, mothers are still keen to buy it for the novelty factor for themselves as well as their daughters. “Mothers and their daughters were looking for a quality experience where they could go and spend the best part of a day together,” Bates says.

The concept was carefully researched and the location was chosen for its economic value. “All the Mattel brands wanted the store in their region. But there are cost implications of putting a giant store like that on the Champs Elysees in Paris, for example,” he notes.

Shanghaiwas also chosen because of the way the people from that country interact with the Barbie brand. Bates says you have to consider what story you want to tell in the store because the Barbie brand has matured to different levels in different countries.

The brand is now using the store almost as an experiment so that it can learn how to sell more product and then pass this knowledge on to retailers. “I think at the Barbie store, people make purchases almost like they are at an event and want to take a memento home with them. It is not wall-to-wall product; there are activities in the store.”

In future, Bates imagines the store concept may be segmented to work in different markets. “It’s building blocks. It might be a Barbie spa in Paris or restaurant and bar somewhere else, or a design-your-own-doll studio in another country. That, coupled with the shopping and maybe the café. There are lots of ways to do a segmented version of the store to cater for the particular demands of a country.”

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