Pleasant Rowland introduced American Girl dolls in 1986 as a historically-themed alternative to Barbie and the Cabbage Patch Kids. Since 1998 her firm has been owned by the maker of both rival dolls, #1 toy manufacturer Mattel. American Girl (formerly Pleasant Company) produces the American Girls Collection of 18-inch, high-dollar dolls, including Addy (an escaped slave) and Rebecca Rubin (a young Jewish immigrant). It also publishes American Girl magazine and American Girl books (more than 135 million copies sold) and sells room décor, clothing, and accessories, including items that match the dolls. Items are sold through catalogs, its website, at about 10 namesake stores, and an outlet store in Wisconsin.
The company's stores are tourist attractions for families with females. American Girl has hosted more than 40 million visitors. Its retail portfolio includes half a dozen stores under the American Girl banner in Colorado, Georgia, Kansas, Massachusetts, Minnesota, and Texas. Operating under the American Girl Place name, the retailer boasts stores in Chicago, Los Angeles, and New York City that offer a core selection of the brand's best-selling products. They also provide "bistro" casual dining and a doll hair salon.
The company, which has sold more than 20 million dolls since its inception, keeps the brand fresh by retiring historical characters (such as Kirsten and Samantha) and introducing new historical dolls (Rebecca in 2009), as well as girl of the year dolls (Hawaii-inspired Kanani in 2011). The dolls are often launched with friend dolls (to spur additional sales), books and accessories, and a movie featuring the character available on DVD. While the company's historic dolls are targeted at ages 8 and up, it has extended its reach to new niches with its 15-inch Bitty Baby dolls for girls as young as three.
American Girl's product strategy is paying off as it awaits for a full economic turnaround. In 2010, the doll maker logged a 5% increase in sales following flat sales throughout 2009. The company attributes the sales boost to two dolls -- 2010 Girl of the Year Lanie and Felicity -- and to extra sales volume through store openings in Colorado and Kansas. American Girl rolled out a virtual world for girls in 2010 called Innerstar University, where visitors can play games and take quizzes. The move helps American Girl compete with fellow rival Build-A-Bear Workshop, which operates an online virtual presence called Bearville.
The company has expanded into movies for both the big screen and made-for-television events through partnerships with New Line Cinema, HBO Films, and Warner Brothers. The HBO deal also calls for other programming, such as a series and specials. American Girl is also taking its brand to the small screen through a deal with THQ, an interactive entertainment software developer, to publish video games based on Julie Allbright. As part of the agreement, the games are developed for Windows PC and Nintendo DS. – less