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Barbie's flagship store closes in Shanghai

March 7, 2011 |  1:42 am

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Barbie’s giving up the keys to her dream house in Shanghai.

Two years after opening it to great fanfare, Mattel Inc. shuttered Monday the company's only stand-alone store  dedicated to the iconic American doll.

A spokeswoman for Barbie in China said the move was made to reallocate resources elsewhere in the country.

The Shanghai Barbie store "has successfully accomplished its mission to promote the overall Barbie brand over the last two years," Linda Du said in an e-mail. "In 2011, Mattel will roll out a new Barbie brand strategy in China designed to take the brand across the country reaching more consumers."

Du declined to say in a phone interview whether the boutique had been making a profit.

The closure marks a surprising reversal for a store that seemed to embody the spirit of a city on an unstoppable material rise.

Tucked in a downtown district filled with foreign retailers and luxury brands, the six-story, 36,000-square-foot Barbie store was drenched in pink neon light and featured a cosmetics department, a spa and a bar designed by one of Shanghai’s premier restaurateurs. A $10,000 Vera Wang wedding dress was on display when the store opened.

Mattel even unveiled a Chinese character for the store’s opening, which was timed for Barbie’s 50th anniversary.

The outlet wasn’t just about selling dolls to young girls, but pitching a lifestyle to well-heeled women in the fastest-growing economy in the world.

But at least one Shanghai blogger who was loyal enough to subscribe to a pink Barbie store passport to receive discounts and rewards said the boutique grew increasingly gloomy by last year as the spa and a restaurant shut down.

Paul French, the Shanghai-based founder of retail market-research company Access Asia, said Monday he was skeptical that the closure was planned.

"What’s better than a [successful] flagship store in Shanghai?" he said.

Instead, French said, Mattel probably overestimated its cachet in China and assumed Chinese women would embrace childish brands the way many women in Japan do with Hello Kitty and, well, Barbie.

"They got massively carried away with that store," French said. "Retail is all about square footage and I never saw enough people there to justify its size. The rent there would have been big."

Despite the store's abrupt ending, Mattel has been recovering strongly from the financial crisis.

The El Segundo company reported a profit of $684.9 million in 2010, or $1.86 a share, a nearly 30% increase compared with $528.7 million, or $1.45, the year before. Sales were $5.86 billion, an 8% increase from $5.43 billion in 2009. U.S.-based gross sales performed better last year, rising 9% compared to overseas sales, which grew by 6%.

No numbers for China were made available by the company.

--David Pierson  

Photo:  Workers prepare the "magical doll staircase" containing 875 pink Barbie dolls at the Shanghai Barbie store.  Credit: Cao Jun /Los Angeles Times.

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