Barbie needs a makeover as sales sag


Toy maker Mattel is slugging through a rough patch, and its iconic Barbie doll certainly hasn't helped.

Mattel's profits plummeted in the second quarter as global sales fell 9 percent. Barbie helped drive the decline, as sales fell 15 percent.

The quarter's results, reported Thursday, continued a string of disappointments for Barbie, as sales declined more than 13 percent in each of the past three quarters and 6 percent for all of 2013. And consumers may not run back to the classic toy in the near future, according to analysts.

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"I don't see it repairing any time soon," said Gerrick Johnson, an analyst at BMO Capital Markets.

Barbie Collection 2014 dolls are shown at the press preview of the Nuremberg International Toy Fair 2014 in Nuremberg, Germany.
Getty Images

Johnson attributed the brand's struggles to the nature of the toy industry rather than anything Mattel has or hasn't done since sales started to sag. Toys run through cycles, he said, and often lose their "freshness or relevance."

"Things definitely don't last forever, especially in the toy industry," Johnson said.

Though the doll has endured for more than 50 years, Barbie is no exception. Johnson noted that Barbie has gone through periods of weak sales, but "never goes away."

Mattel did not return requests for comment on the brand's declining sales.

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Girls have increasingly turned to arts and crafts, collectible dolls and electronic devices for their entertainment, Johnson said. Though its effect can't fully be calculated, even merchandise related to the Disney film "Frozen" may have grabbed some of Barbie's market share in the past few quarters, said Sean McGowan, analyst at Needham & Co.

Still, "Frozen" was released last November, meaning it couldn't have contributed to all of the down period.

"Barbie was weak even before 'Frozen' was there," McGowan said.

Consumers have not grown weary of all dolls. Sales of Mattel's American Girl brand were up 6 percent in the second quarter, and McGowan said that the overlap in products could have led to one doll carving out the other's market share.

Johnson said he saw no link between rising American Girl sales and declining Barbie sales.

For Barbie to gain back some of its lost ground, it would take "something new and different to re-energize the brand," Johnson said. He doesn't see it happening soon, and expects even the holiday-boosted fourth quarter won't lead to a significant rebound.

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The third and fourth quarters typically hold the best indications for toys sales, as the third quarter reflects retail store sentiment and the fourth shows consumer habits during the winter toy rush, he said. Still, a drop that large in the second quarter can't bode well for the brand.

"Barbie is down 15 percent. I don't care which quarter it is, it's not good," Johnson said.

— By Jacob Pramuk, special to