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American Girl partners with Toys ‘R’ Us for in-store boutiques

October 24, 2016

Toys “R” Us is counting on Kendall, Emerson, Camille and other new dolls from the premium American Girl toy line to draw shoppers to its stores during the holiday season.

And toy maker Mattel Inc., which owns American Girl, is looking to its new partnership with the Wayne-based toy retailer to boost American Girl sales.

Select Toys “R” Us stores began unveiling the 700-square-foot boutiques this week and will hold grand opening events for the public on Saturday. There will be six stores in New Jersey that will have the boutiques.

The Totowa Toys “R” Us on Route 46, one of the New Jersey stores chosen for a boutique, opened its display Monday and has begun selling the dolls, causing some shoppers to do a double-take upon seeing American Girl dolls, which previously were sold only online and in American Girl flagship stores.

“American Girl! What are they doing in Toys “R” Us?” was the reaction of shopper Stella Quigley of Clifton, who has bought the dolls in the past for her 10-year-old granddaughter. “I was very surprised to see that,” said Quigley, who was at the Totowa store Monday.

American Girl dolls were a hot property for little girls growing up in the late 1990s and early 2000s, but the company has struggled in recent years to reach new generations of little girls.

The Toys “R” Us stores will not carry the full line of traditional American Girl dolls, but instead will sell the brand’s two newest doll lines. They are the Truly Me line, which are dolls that come in about 100 different combinations of hair color and style, and skin color, so a child can pick the doll that most resembles her; and the Wellie Wishers line, which are smaller, 14.5-inch dolls intended to appeal to younger girls, and are about half the price of the traditional 18-inch American Girl dolls.

The American Girl brand also began selling Wellie Wishers dolls in 1,100 Kohl’s stores nationwide this year.

A Toys “R” Us spokeswoman said that while Kohl’s also sells the Wellie Wishers American Girl dolls, Toys “R” Us will be the only retailer authorized to sell the Truly Me dolls and to have American Girl boutiques within its stores. The boutiques will have employees specially trained to sell American Girl dolls and to answer questions about the brand.

American Girl dolls were a favorite gift of doting grandmothers willing to spend $100 or more on a doll and clothes and furniture. The first dolls depicted girls growing up during various periods in American history, such as colonial times, or the Depression, and included themed accessories and story books about their lives. The brand was so popular at one point that Target sold a line of lower-priced knock-off doll furniture sized to fit the American Girl dolls.

However, sales in recent years have slipped to the point where Mattel adopted a new strategy of wholesale partnerships such as the deals with Toys “R” Us and Kohl’s. Those partnerships appear to be paying off already. While American Girl sales declined 2 percent in fiscal 2015, the company reported last week that sales of the brand were up 14 percent for the third quarter to $125.5 million.

The American Girl brand was launched by a catalog and mail-order company called The Pleasant Company in 1986. Mattel acquired the brand in 1998. According to Mattel, close to 30 million American Girl dolls have been sold since 1986.

Email: verdon@northjersey.com