Down to Business: Banking on a rebound in Barbie brand

I’m trying to decide what to do with the cardboard box marked “Barbies.”

I’m trying to decide what to do with the cardboard box marked “Barbies.” The box has been moved over the years from closet shelf to closet shelf and now sits in the garage, close to other boxes marked “Garage Sale” that contain packed-up remnants from past neighborhood-wide sales.

It’s a sorry jumble of Barbie-sized shoes and dresses, hangers and purses, along with a windshield from a sports car, the plastic umbrella to a patio table and the sink and chair from a hair salon — “action settings,” I suppose.

Eight dolls are in the box, few of them fully dressed, but all with hair combed and brushed so many times that any semblance of the hairdo they came with is long gone.

Collectibles these are not.

I considered putting them in a garage sale before, but as we culled our house of outgrown bikes, sleds and games, it seemed too much work to inventory the pieces in the Barbie box. Would all the legs be there to the patio table that goes with the plastic umbrella? Where’s the rest of the sports car? Is there more to the hair salon than sink and chair?

If I were to ask Bryan Stockton, CEO of toymaker Mattel Inc., about the box, I’m sure he’d advise me to just toss it. After all, the company has presided over the Barbie franchise for 50 years and didn’t get the fashion doll line to $2.7 billion in sales last year by recycling old product.

No sirree. Nowadays, there’s a Barbie for every occupation and occasion. The “I Can Be” career collection, for instance, showcases Barbie as architect or pilot — and, for 2012, as presidential candidate (on the pink B Party line, of course). At my local toy store this week, I spotted a Glam Vacation Jet package that included three dolls, first-class seating, a resort vacation setting and all of the ancillary paraphernalia needed for a suitable story arc — at $120.

But when the company reported first-quarter results in April, it said worldwide gross sales for the Barbie brand were down 6 percent and overall sales for the quarter — Mattel also owns the Hot Wheels, Fisher-Price and American Girl lines — declined, too. (The first quarter tends to be slow for most retailers, so the picture may change when Mattel reports second-quarter results next week.) CEO Stockton told analysts in a conference call that the first-quarter numbers reflected retailers keeping a tight rein on their inventory levels — a caution that likely will remain as the year progresses.

“So we’re going to focus on our job,” he said, “which is trying to create demand for our brands and work with our customers [retailers] to make sure we strike that challenging balance between making sure we’re shipping enough to supply the inventory levels they need at the right time.” And, he said, “If we can build the brands, as we’ve proven, people will want to buy Barbies even under difficult economic conditions.”

So that endurance could work in my favor, too. I could spiff up the Barbie box dolls and dresses and reassemble the patio furniture and the hair salon for the next neighborhood garage sale. Or I could paste a cheap “as is” sticker on the box and not worry about what’s inside.

Better yet, I could put the dolls’ fate in the hands of my two daughters, now in their 20s. Who better to fight over them once more?

Categories: Uncategorized

Leave a Reply