What Went Wrong with the House of Barbie

Last March, American toy maker Mattel closed its first flagship Barbie store – the House of Barbie – in Shanghai after two years struggling since opening in 2009. Mattel invested over $30 million in the House of Barbie in celebration of the American iconic doll’s 50thanniversary.

The concept was that Barbie is not just a fashion forward doll, she would also be a lifestyle symbol and cultural icon for girls and young women. The six-story building had the world’s largest collection of Barbie dolls and affiliated products such as children’s bedroom furniture and young women’s clothes. It also features a fashion runway, a design studio, a stunning spiral staircase decorated with 800 Barbie dolls, and a café on the top floor.

Many analysts pointed to the fact that Barbie is a Western doll and is “too sexy” for Chinese girls. The reality is, however, that Chinese girls actually like the blond Barbie better than the localized Chinese Barbie called “Ling.” Before the House of Barbie was launched, Barbie dolls had been sold in China and were relatively well received by Chinese girls. When I first bought a Barbie doll for my niece about ten years ago, I was surprised to find out that she already had a couple of them.

So, what are the real reasons that the House of Barbie failed to live up to its expectation? Recently, I spoke to the general manager of Barbie Shanghai, Gar Crispell, about what went wrong with the House of Barbie and what lessons can be drawn from that experience. Continue reading