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Mattel Out Of Fashion As Barbie Comeback Stalls

Is Barbie’s second coming over before it had begun?

The doll’s owner, Mattel revealed on Thursday that sales of its Barbie brand dropped 13% in the first quarter from a year ago to $US123.4 million.

Mattel shares fell 5.6% to $US23.80 in after hours trading after the company said its net loss jumped 54% to $US113.2 million from $US73 million in the first quarter of 2016.

That was the second consecutive quarter of falling sales for the doll and associated items (such as Ken doll), and the slide was because of an oversupply of unsold dolls and other products from the Christmas period last year.

Mattel management said in a briefing the company is working hard to revive sales of the doll, which made its debut (was born?) at a New York toy fair in 1959. But not hard enough?

Since her first appearance Barbie dolls have pursued 180 careers, including an astronaut, pilot, scientist and, last year, president, as Hillary Clinton faced off against Donald Trump hoping to become America’s first female president.

To meet growing criticism (especially from women’s groups) about her body shape and looks, Mattel unveiled three new Barbie body types — tall, curvy and petite — with a range of hairstyles and skin tones as part of its Fashionista line. That helped sales to tick up in 2016, but that momentum now seems to faded.

Mattel president Richard Dickson says the company is building its fashion doll lines, and Barbie’s Fashionistas segment was continuing to do better than expectations. He told analysts the company was moving into episodic content and continuing the roll-out of Dreamtopia, a make-believe world imagined by Barbie’s youngest sister Chelsea.

That is supposed to build on the success of the 2016 animated TV movie. Barbie related content is set to premiere on YouTube this year.

Analysts say Mattel is in for a couple of very tough quarterly comparisons this year as they will be against quarters last year when Barbie sales were rebounding.

Mattel said net sales fell 15% to $US735.6 million for the quarter, with sales in the vital North American markets dropping a nasty 23%, from a year ago, and international sales 2%.

Sales at Fisher-Price, Mattel Girls & Boys, which include the Barbie brand, and American Girl also declined in the first quarter. “Our Q1 results were below our expectations due to the retail inventory overhang coming out of the holiday period, but we remain encouraged by strong performance at retail for our key core brands, including Barbie, Hot Wheels and Fisher-Price as well as sustained momentum in high-growth markets like China,” Margo Georgiadis, Mattel’s newish chief executive said in the statement overnight.

She’s a former Google executive and the second CEO at Mattel in two years as Barbie’s weaknesses hit hard. So perhaps there will be Barbie Maps, Ken driverless cars - well they sort of have them already with the Hot Wheels line of products?

Perhaps Mattel now need a doll or dolls modelled on Ivanka and Melania Trump?

View More Articles By Glenn Dyer

Glenn Dyer has been a finance journalist and TV producer for more than 40 years. He has worked at Maxwell Newton Publications, Queensland Newspapers, AAP, The Australian Financial Review, The Nine Network and Crikey.

At the AFR he was a finance writer, Finance Editor, News Editor and Chief of Staff. At the Nine Network he was supervising producer of Business Sunday for more than 16 years. He has also written for other online and analogue print publications here and overseas.



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