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Barbie Packs Her Bags as Mattel Closes Shanghai Dream House

Barbie flagship store in Shanghai
Barbie moved out of her Shanghai dream house today after Mattel Inc. , the world’s biggest toymaker, closed the only store in China dedicated to its bestselling doll. Photographer: Qilai Shen/Bloomberg

Barbie moved out of her Shanghai dream house today after Mattel Inc., the world’s biggest toymaker, closed the only store in China dedicated to its bestselling doll.

Mattel didn’t cite a reason for shutting the six-story Barbie Shanghai, though it had lowered the outlet’s sales targets by at least 30 percent since the March 2009 opening. The company will have a new “brand strategy” for Barbie and expand operations across China this year, it said in an e-mailed statement.

The toymaker, based in El Segundo, California, joins Best Buy Co. in shutting stores in China, even after retail sales in the world’s fastest-growing major economy surged last year. Mattel lowered the sales targets of the 3,500-square-meter (37,700-square-foot) store in central Shanghai at least three times since opening it.

“One thing that Mattel’s been able to leverage in the U.S. is everyone knows the brand,” Ben Cavender, a Shanghai-based analyst at China Market Research Group, said in a telephone interview. “In China, no one knows who the brand is.”

The store opened in Shanghai on Barbie’s 50th anniversary with a restaurant and spa, and a flood of pink lights at night. Customers could buy dolls, outfits by “Sex and the City” costume designer Patricia Field, beauty treatments and “Bitini” cocktails.

‘Too Sexy’

Children could pretend to model clothes on a fashion runway and design customized Barbie dolls.

“They tried to do too many things with the brand,” Cavender said. “Their products were perceived as being too sexy rather than being cute.”

Mattel, which also makes figures from the “Toy Story” movies featuring Barbie and her longtime beau Ken, modeled the store’s concept on American Girl, its online doll catalog that has retail outlets in the U.S.

“Mattel continues to be committed to developing the Barbie brand in China,” the company said in the statement. “In 2011, the company will take all of the great experiences previously only available at the Barbie concept store in Shanghai to many more consumers in broader areas across China.”

The store’s website now advertises Barbie’s “Pink Bus Tour” to shops and malls in Shanghai.

“It would’ve made more sense for them to have set up in malls” instead of occupying a building on Huaihai Road in central Shanghai, Cavender said. Shops in malls also would have increased awareness of the brand, he said.

About $3 billion worth of Barbie-branded products are sold every year. Barbie dolls are made in China and Indonesia, according to Mattel.

Best Buy, the world’s largest consumer-electronics retailer, on Feb. 22 announced the shutting of all nine of its own-branded stores in China to focus on expanding the more profitable, domestic Five Star chain it acquired five years ago. Retail sales in the world’s most-populous nation grew at a monthly average of 18 percent in 2010, according to official data.

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