Girl, you know it’s true

I saw the news today that American Girl is opening a store in the Mall of America, to complement their flagship stores in New York, Chicago and LA and smaller stores in Atlanta and Dallas (the MOA store will be about half the retail space of the flagships). It reminded me of a post I wrote three years ago about a trip to New York my wife and I made with Tiger Lilly. From the “Gotham Blogs” series:

After the museum we’re out on the street looking for our next destination. Suddenly my wife grabs my arm and Tiger Lilly gasps audibly and freezes. What? Did some threat get past my radar? My wife directs my attention to the opposite corner of the intersection and I see that we may indeed be in line for a mugging. It’s American Girl Place.

A year ago I had no idea of the marketing volcano that was about to erupt under our feet. Then some black-hearted scoundrel slipped Daughter Two an American Girl catalog – the first one’s free, kid – and her life changed. American Girl dolls are a vertically integrated economic powerhouse. The dolls themselves go for nearly $100 a pop, but that’s just the threshold – the dolls represent different eras and ethnicities in American history and most are the stars of one or more books put out by the company and has full line of accessories, not to mention the magazine (catalog) that appears regularly at our house. My daughter and her friends now can recite model numbers, back stories and accessory details with each other the way my friends and I once were able to argue the finer points of a ’63 Impala or ’67 GTO.

When Tiger Lilly picked her favorite from the catalog – an American Indian called Kaya – we said that if it was that important to her she would have to earn the money herself. A born entrepreneur she quickly grasped the profit and loss mechanics of a lemon-aid stand and the economic rewards of an untapped market – extra chores – to build liquidity. With a seed loan from Mom she bought lemons and sugar, and with marketing advice from me (“put ‘Fresh Squeezed’ in big letters on your sign”), along with her natural charm and location, location, location she quickly covered her start-up costs and had money to plow back into her business as well as show a profit. This was repeated a couple of more times, and along with the household moonlighting she soon had the necessary discretionary income to buy her doll.

And now we were unwittingly across the street from Mordor, I mean, American Girl Place. It was like setting out for Oz and finding Mecca along the way. I looked around and saw a definite flow of young girls, many with dolls in arms and all with parents bobbing in tow, converging on the store from all directions. We were swept up in the current – as if we ever had a choice – and into the store. The store is impressive in both detail and scope, with three floors of merchandise and a restaurant where you can have lunch with your American Girl doll for just $22 per person. If I’m going to spend that much for lunch with a doll, I want to see the doll cook the meal and then serve it and then give me a quote on painting my garage. Nevertheless the store is jammed on every floor and countless cashiers and floor associates are – like everyone else in New York – working hard. Fortunately there were no meltdowns to be observed such as those we’d witnessed at Toys R Us in Times Square the night before, but I did notice a lot of earnest young faces making a case point by point. After Tiger Lilly parted with more of her profits she’d been saving for this trip we went elsewhere for lunch (Kaya would just die if she knew we’d eaten at American Girl Place without her) and then, since it had stopped raining, we went over to the Central Park Zoo.

We arrive just in time for the Polar Bear feeding and to see another New York career option – bear feeder. At this zoo they feed the Polar Bears by first luring them out of the habitat enclosure and into their dens where they can presumably be locked up. Once that is accomplished a zookeeper enters the habitat and hides buckets of food – fish, apples and some veggies frozen in a block and smeared with peanut butter – in the enclosure. While we’re watching this preparation we speculate that there’s probably some initiation for rookie keepers where, once they’re in the middle of the enclosure with bear chow and an open jar of peanut butter, someone plays a loud recording of a Polar Bear huffing and roaring.

Perhaps TL will grace us with a post of her own with her thoughts on the new store.

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