After better-than-expected sales last year, American Girl is returning to Crabtree Valley Mall in July with a pop-up store.
The temporary store will be open through January 2018 – three months longer than its stay last year – in a 5,500-square-foot space near Sears. The mall plans to announce an opening date in the next few weeks.
“It exceeded all of the expectations last year,” said Brian Asbill, marketing director for the mall. “It’s been a wonderful benefit to us. Hardly a day goes by without people asking if American Girl will be back.”
Crabtree is eager for American Girl to open a permanent store, Asbill said, but no plans are in the works. Strong sales might help convince the company, though.
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Stephanie Spanos, a spokeswoman for Mattel-owned American Girl, said temporary stores help the brand gauge if a permanent store would be successful in a market.
American Girl, which features 18-inch dolls, has 20 permanent locations in the United States and also stores in Canada and Mexico. Some of its locations include restaurants and hair salons, where children can bring their dolls for pampering.
North Carolina’s only American Girl store is in Charlotte’s SouthPark mall and has a restaurant, hair salon and spa. The store is more than double the space of the temporary location in Raleigh.
Asbill said the Raleigh pop-up store’s success last year was due in part because it’s so much closer for customers in Eastern North Carolina.
The company looks at a variety of factors when choosing retail locations, such as market size and demographics, population density and the brand’s current and potential customer base, Spanos said. It plans to open seven temporary stores in the United States this year.
The mall’s upscale mix of retail and restaurants is a great fit for our brand ...
Stephanie Spanos, a spokeswoman for Mattel-owned American Girl
“Given our success in experiential retail over the past 18 years, we are excited to reopen a specialty boutique in a top market, such as Raleigh, and a premier retail destination like Crabtree Valley Mall,” Spanos said in an email. “With millions of visitors annually, Crabtree Valley Mall is Raleigh’s most sought after retail destination for both locals and tourists. Plus, the mall’s upscale mix of retail and restaurants is a great fit for our brand and provides us with an amazing opportunity to introduce American Girl products and our retail concept to locals and tourists traveling to Raleigh.”
The dollmaker’s products have morphed over time to keep up with current trends. When the line was introduced in 1986, it featured diverse characters from different historical periods, such as the Great Depression and Civil War, reflected in dolls’ outfits and the accompanying books that told their stories.
In the past decade, American Girl began retiring the historical dolls and introducing more contemporary figures like Nashville singer-songwriter Tenney Grant. Through the brand’s “Truly Me” line, people can customize their dolls to look like them by choosing their hair and eye colors and skin tone.
This year, the company introduced Logan Everett, the first boy doll in its 31-year history, and Z Yang, its first Korean-American doll. It introduced its first limited-edition African American Girl of the Year, Gabriela McBride, in 2016.
To stay up-to-date with tech-savvy kids, American Girl has added doll accessories that are compatible with modern devices, such as a jukebox that works with music players. It also expanded its YouTube channel and its “Play” platform on the American Girl website, which includes games, quizzes and videos.
The brand’s 14 apps let children send American Girl-themed emojis, make virtual pastries and create and watch video clips.
“We’re always looking to connect and interact with girls in a way that’s relevant to their lives, which means having a significant presence in the digital and technology space,” Spanos said. “We look at how we can embrace technology and make it part of the overall play experience.”
Mattel has struggled in recent years due to weak sales of its Barbie, Fisher-Price, Monster High and American Girl toys. In response to critics who say Barbie dolls promote an unhealthy body image, Mattel developed new dolls last year with a variety of body shapes, skin tones and hair styles.
Worldwide gross sales of American Girl products were down 12 percent and Barbie sales were down 13 percent in the first quarter of 2017 compared to the previous year’s first quarter. Last year, Mattel’s growth was flat after a lengthy growth period.
“Our Q1 results were below our expectations due to the retail inventory overhang coming out of the holiday period, but we remain encouraged by strong performance at retail for our key core brands,” Margo Georgiadis, CEO of Mattel, said in a statement. “While we have a lot of work to do to successfully position Mattel for the future, we see a clear runway to improving growth and profitability over time.”
Madison Iszler: 919-836-4952; @madisoniszler