American Girl

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On my recent trip to New York, I met with a friend of mine whom I’ve known for thirty years. I mentioned to him that I had taken my daughter to the American Girl store in Manhattan. “American what?”, he asked. I was every bit as surprised as if I’d said “I hear Obama is in town” and he had replied, “Who??

I guess for those who don’t have daughters, you are entitled not to be aware of American Girl. This is a firm founded in the mid-1980s that makes dolls which represent certain eras in American history. It started off, I suppose, as sort of an educational product, but it has expanded to what amounts to a virtual cult among young girls.

They have everything – – dolls, books, movies, clothes, accessories – – and you can easily spend over $500 getting a doll with some knick-knacks. The thing which has astonished me is that girls will stop in the street to take a look at a doll that another girl is carrying. If a girl is carrying any other kind of doll, nobody cares, but if it’s an American Girl – – well, everything stops.

There are a handful of American Girl stores in the U.S. (most sales are done via mail order), and the stores which do exist are shrines to the product. I wasn’t sure what to expect at the store in New York, but my eyes were soon opened when I saw a huge line outside of people simply waiting for the privilege of walking in to the four-story complex.

A glance at the directory gives you an idea of just how much stuff is available there which can be used to separate you from your money:

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If the entry “Doll Hair Salon” caught your eye, allow me to illuminate that entry: there is a bar where women charge $15 to brush and style your doll’s hair. Look, I’m no fashion plate, but I get a really nice haircut for the same price, and it takes my guy more than half an hour to do the job.

Not only do they sell plenty of hair services, but there is a line of kids just waiting to have their doll’s hair to be gussied up.

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The marketing department of the firm is undoubtedly ingenius, because they have struck upon the formula that makes girls crave both the dolls and the accessories. They also recognize that scarcity creates value, so they introduce a new doll each January 1st – – the “doll of the year” – – which is no longer available for purchase once that year is done.

Of course, there’s an expensive aftermarket for these creations, but you can gaze with envy at the dolls of the year from past annum in the store:

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So in case you hadn’t heard of this company before, now you know. Mattel bought the American Girl company back in 1998, and I imagine it’s an amazing cash cow ever since then. This is marketing in action, because I’ve never seen a toy that so universally appealing to a group of kids.

Not that I’m criticizing the success of the business; after all, we’re all entitled to our overpriced indulgences, aren’t we?

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