Commentary

Barbie Slides 21% But Mattel Says There's A Lot Of Sales Left In The Old Dame Yet

For all she has accomplished, and all the storms she has weathered over the post-feminist decades, Barbie is showing her age at 55. Sales slumped 21% for the third quarter compared to last year, Mattel reported yesterday.

She “may still have Ken and her Dream House, but she’s struggling to hang onto the one thing she needs most — her fan base,” as  Sarah Halzack puts it in the Washington Post.

Overall, nets sales for the El Segundo, Calif.-based company were $2.02 billion for the quarter, an 8% drop. “Clearly, we have work to do …,” chairman and CEO Bryan Stockton said in a statement, “and we remain focused on executing during the all-important holiday season and beyond.”

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Indeed, “for all of its toy brands, including Barbie, Mattel is focusing its marketing and advertising muscle on the crucial fourth quarter, a strategy the company hopes will help it pull in more dollars from holiday shoppers,” Halzack reports,

Business Insider’s Ashley Lutz looks at three reasons for Barbie’s decline served up by executives in an earnings call transcribed by Seeking Alpha: 

  • Kids are spending more on tech;
  • Girls like edgier toys;
  • Barbie needs a makeover.

Chairman and CEO Bryan Stockton pointed out that Barbie “is still the number one dollar brand in the world” — at least when it comes to dolls — and promised that it “is going to continue to be a brand that we spend a lot of time and attention on to make sure she continues to improve her momentum.”

“‘Girls have a lot of other choices,’ such as games and social media apps accessed on cell phones and tablets,” Needham & Co. analyst Sean McGowan tells the New York Post’s James Covert, but he “is skeptical of a broad-based doll crisis,” citing the demand for Mattel’s dolls based on characters from Disney’s “Frozen” franchise. 

Sales of the likes of Anna and Elsa and Kristof drove “significant growth” in the Disney Princess line for the quarter, Stockton pointed out, and Mattel intends to “maximize” its potential over the next two holiday seasons. After that, though, the lot of them will be moving under the Hasbro roof with the other Disney Princesses, as we reported last month.

Meanwhile, “Funville Sparkle Girlz, a brand only sold at Walmart, has taken about a quarter of the 16-feet Mattel’s Barbie used to command at some of the retailer’s stores, according to BMO Capital Markets analyst Gerrick Johnson,” reports the Wall Street Journal’s Paul Ziobro. “Barbie has also had to cede about four feet on Target’s shelves to Whimsy & Wonder, which makes sets of dress-up and role-play clothes exclusively for the retailer.”

But Ziobro points out that Mattel has lured back Richard Dickson from a stint at Jones Apparel to be the company’s chief brands officer, overseeing “all aspects of marketing strategy, creative execution, product development and content creation across Mattel's legacy and new brands,” as a company release put it in May.

“Mattel is hoping that Mr. Dickson can recreate some of the magic he had when he took over the Barbie line in 2008. At that time, sales were suffering under tough competition from Bratz dolls and the Disney Princess line,” Ziobro writes. “But Mr. Dickson upgraded Barbie’s wardrobe to make it more stylish and gave her 12 movable joints.” 

It was better than a week at the spa; sales rose by double digits.

Back in real time, MarketWatch’s Andrea Cheng writes that Barbie “isn’t Mattel’s only challenge.” The departing Princess franchise “represents 7.8% of the $6.41 billion in total sales expected by analysts” this year, she points out. American Girl sales dropped for the first time in 16 quarters, while Monster High items were down for the third straight quarter. And Fisher-Price toys fell 16%.  

“Mattel stock, already down 36% this year, fell as much as 6% Thursday to its lowest level in at least two years,” Cheng reports.

“What’s been really worrisome is that it’s been multiple consecutive quarters where things have fallen short,” Morningstar analyst Jaime Katz tells Bloomberg’s Matt Townsend. “You certainly wonder who is taking share and how is Mattel not connecting with consumers?”

On the “bright” side, however, “sales for the Wheels category, which includes the Hot Wheels and Matchbox brands, climbed 4%,” USA Today’s Hadley Malcolm reports

Reaffirming there’s always a little zoom, zoom to find amid the gloom.

1 comment about "Barbie Slides 21% But Mattel Says There's A Lot Of Sales Left In The Old Dame Yet".
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  1. Karen Ticktin from brandthis, October 23, 2014 at 11:54 a.m.

    maybe Barbie should make an apt with Renee Zellweger's plastic surgeon.

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