American Girl branches out with new retail concept

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The American Girl Boutique and Bistro that opened in Atlanta on August 18 is the first location constructed under the brand's new retail format. With a smaller footprint than American Girl's flagship stores, but with more space dedicated to party rooms, the new concept brings with it enhanced opportunities for American Girl to build an ongoing relationship with its target audience.

"For many people, a trip to one of our flagship stores is often a once-in-a-lifetime experience," said Julie Parks, spokeswoman for American Girl. "Our goal with the Boutique and Bistro concept is to provide new and existing customers with greater accessibility to the American Girl brand and the opportunity to visit multiple times throughout the year," she continued.

The first American Girl Place store opened in 1998 and today there are three locations - New York, Los Angeles and Chicago. Each averages approximately 40,000 square feet and is a combination of a retail selling environment, a restaurant, theater, photo studio and doll hair salon.

In contrast, Atlanta's Boutique and Bistro has only 12,000 square feet.

As in the flagship stores, the new concept houses a restaurant, but the setting is more casual and there aren't timed seatings. The Bistro features a dessert counter where guests can sit for a quick meal or dessert.

The Boutique and Bistro also offers separate party rooms, allowing "for more opportunities to celebrate birthdays and other big occasions," Parks said. Girls can choose from a variety of American Girl-themed parties that come complete with organized games and activities, food, cake and party favors.

While the store carries a full assortment of dolls, a selection of other American Girl products is being rotated through, with new merchandise arriving six times a year. Each store will have Web access to the American Girl site, where customers can view the entire line of products and place orders with a store associate.

As part of its marketing strategy for introducing the new retail concept, American Girl, Middleton, WI, employed a cover wrap on its catalog and magazine to promote the new store to households in the area. It also created a direct mail piece that was sent to local residents. A targeted e-mail campaign was developed to drive people to the Web site to make reservations. Local radio and print advertising was included in the marketing mix.

A second Boutique and Bistro location is scheduled to open November 3 in Dallas and is planned at approximately 20,000 square feet. American Girl, which is a division of Mattel Inc., isn't saying at this time if it has plans to open additional Boutique and Bistro stores.

Presumably, the new retail concept is an attempt by Mattel to reignite the spark that earlier surrounded the American Girl brand. Mattel reported 2005 American Girl gross sales increased 15 percent. By 2006, that had dropped to 1 percent for a total of $440 million. For the second quarter of 2007, Mattel posted a 10 percent decline in gross sales for American Girl Brands.

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