Consumer Products

Barbie's Big Comeback

Barbie sales have been choppy for the past several years. Along with that, Barbie’s parent, Mattel Inc. (NYSE: MAT), has been in trouble. As Barbie turns 60 years old, her sales have surged, pulling Mattel from a sharp spin downward.

Barbie sales in the most recent quarter rose 13%, a bigger increase by far than for any other Mattel product. Mattel’s revenue overall was up 4% to $962 million. Barbie was 20% of that total. Mattel’s other two large product lines posted mixed results: revenue for Hot Wheels was up 9% to $175 million, while revenue from Fisher-Price dropped 4% to $222 million.

What has Barbie done? Among the most critical things is she went digital. Mattel sells four Barbie apps. Most are priced at $5.99 and sell at Apple’s App Store. Unlike real dolls, which cost money to make, apps ad dollars without new material, factory and shipping costs. The apps also let children “be” what they want to be. Barbie can become a pilot, athlete, skateboarder, fairy princess or artist.

Barbie has gone on the road. Her line of travel toys includes accessories for trips by helicopter or airplane, to the beach, as well as ways to take along pets.

Mattel has invented videos for Barbie: music videos, digital movies and tours of Barbie homes. Barbie has her own videos games too, including racing, cooking and puzzles.

Countless restructurings have pushed Mattel’s shares down 60% in the past five years. No turnaround effort has taken hold. With its new earnings, Mattel’s shares recovered sharply, mostly because of a 60-year-old doll.