by Nancy Zwiers | 09 Mar 2023
The Bloom Report
A Case History:
How We Drove Explosive Growth in the Barbie Adult Collector Business
By Nancy Zwiers
When I joined the Barbie brand in 1992, I was responsible for the doll business. Mattel’s adult collector segment was small, chugging along at about $6M annually alongside a thriving secondary market of vintage barbie dolls. Our product lines consisted of Dolls of the World and Military sold to girls and adults, and high-priced porcelain replicas of vintage Barbie dolls sold to adults.
Read on for insights on how we grew the business 29-fold(!) in the four years I led the business, earning net operating profit north of 30%. This wouldn’t have happened without the talent and hard work of the marketing team --Anne Parducci and Suzanne Schlundt--and a host of other contributors across all departments.
Quantifying A Big Opportunity Got the Ball Rolling
At this time, large collectible baby dolls were just taking off on Home Shopping Network, QVC, and direct-to-consumer businesses. Doll shops were a defined segment in the specialty retail channel.
Fully aware of how impassioned little girls were about Barbie, I hypothesized that many one-time girls—now adults—may have felt equally in love with Barbie and might be interested in collector dolls. We did the math and quantified the opportunity: 28 million women between the ages of 34-54 grew up playing with Barbie; if we could tap just a small fraction, we could grow the business well beyond $6M.
Segmenting the Adult Market Undergirded Our Strategy
We labelled current adult collectors as “Avid Collectors” and we labelled this newly identified opportunity “Casual Collectors.” We expanded our offering to Avid Collectors beyond porcelain replicas to include lavish vinyl dolls at high prices—well above $100. Later, we started designing special Barbie dolls in the $75 range that mirrored pricing we saw in the baby doll collector market.
Distinguishing Collector Dolls from Mainline was Mission-Critical
Besides higher prices, we employed other means to distinguish collector dolls from mainline:
Protecting the Secondary Market was our Top Priority
Early on, I facilitated a “Clarity Session,” I highly structured strategy development process and one exercise had us identify “Key Factors for Revenue Success.” As the exercise unfolded it became clear that THE most important factor of success in building a thriving collectible business was a strong secondary market: if collectors were assured there was a resale market for the doll they wanted to purchase, they would be more willing to invest…and keep on investing.
Before this insight, the secondary market was viewed as competition for Mattel, robbing us of sales we could be making to the small but mighty group of avid collectors. We turned that belief on its end and kept quotas lower than projected demand so we could spur trading and selling. We frequently had to battle top management who wanted to raise quotas to boost company revenue (it was almost like printing money). The secondary market thrived.
Riding the Rocket was a “Blast!” (Pun intended)
As we experienced quick and impressive success with our strategy of developing a Casual Collector segment, we employed many new approaches to driving penetration.
Our engagement peaked as Mattel sponsored the first ever Barbie convention in honor of Barbie’s 35th Anniversary. A huge undertaking, we subcontracted Cathy Parks to ensure flawless execution of this 3-day extravaganza. Held at Disneyworld with multiple dimensions, it was an opportunity to shower love on our most avid fans. It was capped with a live auction of special dolls and attendees left with “priceless” Barbie SWAG.
This was a journey that felt magical. It was exciting to be in the right place at the right time to recognize and unleash a latent opportunity that had the power to drive Mattel’s value as a company, and give so many women the joy of reliving their childhood love of Barbie.
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