Barbie’s new sibling

Aug 01, 1998 9:30 PM  By

Barbie may finally get her own catalog, now that her parent company, Mattel, has entered the business. On June 15, the $4.8 billion toy manufacturer agreed to buy Pleasant Co., the $287 million children’s products publisher/cataloger/retailer, for $700 million in cash.

Pleasant Co.’s founder and president, Pleasant Rowland, will be named vice chairman of El Segundo, CA-based Mattel and will serve on the toy giant’s board of directors. No layoffs are expected at Pleasant Co., which will operate as a wholly owned subsidiary of Mattel, maintaining its headquarters in Middleton, WI.

Since its launch in 1985, Pleasant Co. has grown to include the American Girls Collection doll product line, American Girl magazine, A.G. Gear girls’ apparel line, and a books division. “After 12 years of building the business, Pleasant realized that because she had no heirs, she would have to either sell the company or go public to maintain growth,” says Ellen Brothers, Pleasant Co.’s vice president of catalog operations.

Mattel’s international presence, experience in CD-ROM software development and other interactive outlets, and broad customer base should enable Pleasant Co. to keep growing. Mattel markets its Barbie dolls and other toys in Europe, Asia, and Latin America, and licenses some of its products to other toy companies worldwide. International sales represented 34%, or $1.63 billion, of Mattel’s 1997 revenue.

Mattel’s international expertise apparently impressed Pleasant Co. “We’d looked at international growth for a while but decided to concentrate on owning the domestic market first,” Brothers says. “Our idea now is to take the American Girls concept to other countries by creating similar stories for specific countries.” The American Girls Collection, targeted to girls 7-12 years old, features six characters whose adventures during various eras in U.S. history are illustrated through books and dolls with an array of period clothing and accessories. Brothers claims that Pleasant Co. has the number-two brand in the domestic girls’ market, behind-you guessed it-the Barbie line.

“Pleasant Co.’s brand name was the real reason Mattel bought the cataloger,” says Mattel spokesman Glenn Bozarth. “On top of that, Mattel gets Pleasant Co.’s expertise in direct marketing and the ability to integrate stories or content with Mattel’s toy lines in products such as books.”

Since the acquisition gives Mattel a foothold in the consumer catalog market, the company is considering developing a Barbie catalog for adult collectors and a Fisher-Price catalog of developmental toys next year, Bozarth says. To fulfill orders, Mattel will be able to take advantage of Pleasant Co.’s three call centers and 1.5 million-sq.-ft. distribution center.

Toy story Mattel’s purchase of a catalog of semi-educational toys for older girls makes sense, given the toy industry’s recent troubles and a shift in buying habits. Over the past three years, more parents have opted to buy toys from merchants specializing in such niches as educational toys, rather than from retailers such as Toys ‘R’ Us. And surveys show that children today are outgrowing traditional toys at a younger age than they used to and moving on to computers and electronic games.

Mattel is feeling the effects of these changes. Sales growth for the company’s Barbie line slowed to 9% in 1997 from 20% in 1996. First-quarter wholesale Barbie sales fell 17% this year from last year.