American Girl Matures in the Market

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CAMBRIDGE, MA -- The full power of the American Girl brand was on display yesterday at the New England Mail Order Association's spring conference.


Company president Ellen Brothers presented some of the retailer/marketer's facts and figures as well as its history at her opening address. But three video clips that were shown gave attendees all they needed to know about the brand's market penetration.


"It doesn't hurt to have that type of celebrity backing," Brothers said after the first clip, a visit by Oprah Winfrey to the American Girl Place retail location in Chicago.


Later in the presentation, a "Nightline" piece included an interview of women who had spent six hours at the store.


The audience also viewed part of a seven-minute segment aired by the "Today" show at the American Girl Place location in New York. It drew 15,000 shoppers for its grand opening.


"Girls are very smart consumers," said Brothers, whose target audience is girls ages 3-12. "They know what they want. Every order we ship has a profound effect on little girls."


The presentation also noted American Girl magazine, which targets a niche that is not ready for teen magazines. The advertising-free magazine, with 650,000 subscribers, is "the largest publication dedicated exclusively to girls, generating over 10,000 pieces of reader mail after every issue."


Brothers also covered the company's direct marketing. This includes a catalog she described as "the perfect vehicle to ... market the complete American Girl story -- something a box sitting on a retail shelf could never have done." More than 56 million are mailed annually.


The catalog is the company's largest marketing vehicle, producing the majority of overall revenue. Marketing efforts do not include space or TV ads.


"All of our books have ... catalog request cards," she said. "Our catalogs promote the stores. Our stores promote the catalog. Our magazine content inspires the books, and on and on and on."


In 1996, the direct business was expanded to include americangirl.com, which accounts for more than 40 percent of direct sales. Each order placed on the Web saves more than $3 compared with orders placed via its call center. Also, 35 percent to 40 percent of first-time customers order online.


The company has more than 1.5 million last-12-month buyers.


"We decided long ago not to put our customer list on the market," she said.


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