Pleasant Rowland introduced American Girl dolls in 1986 as a historically-themed alternative to Barbie and the Cabbage Patch Kids. Since 1998 her firm has been owned by the maker of both rival dolls, #1 toy manufacturer Mattel. American Girl (formerly Pleasant Company) produces the American Girls Collection of 18-inch, high-dollar dolls, including Addy (an escaped slave) and Rebecca Rubin (a young Jewish immigrant). It also publishes American Girl magazine and American Girl books (nearly 140 million copies sold) and sells room décor, clothing, and accessories, including items that match the dolls. Items are sold through catalogs, its website, at about 15 stores.
American Girl products are sold primarily in the US. Flagship American Girl Place stores are located in Chicago, Los Angeles, and New York City, while smaller American Girl stores are in Colorado, Dallas, Georgia, Houston, Kansas, Massachusetts, Miami, Minnesota, Missouri, Washington, and Virginia.
A business segment of Mattel, American Girl Brands reported 2012 sales of $596.3 million, a 10% increase vs. 2011. The increase was driven primarily by sales of McKenna, the 2012 Girl of the Year doll, and expansion of retail locations. Net income increased 9% over the same period, driven by higher net sales, partially offset by lower gross margins and higher expenses, primarily related to retail expansion.
American Girl Brands places its stores in cities and shopping destinations in affluent areas. A 15,000-square-foot shop is slated to open in Palo Alto in fall 2013. The stores sell more than just dolls (more than 21 million since its inception). They sell the American Girl experience. They are tourist attractions for families with females, hosting more than 46 million visitors to date. In addition to dolls, doll furniture, and apparel for dolls and their owners, some stores also house a "bistro" for casual dining and a doll hair salon.
The company keeps the brand fresh by retiring historical characters (such as Kirsten and Samantha) and introducing new historical dolls, as well as girl of the year dolls (Saige in 2013). The dolls are often launched with friend dolls (to spur additional sales), books and accessories, and a movie featuring the character available on DVD. While the company's historic dolls are targeted at ages 8 and up, it has extended its reach to new niches with its 15-inch Bitty Baby dolls for girls as young as three.
The company has expanded into movies for both the big screen and made-for-television events through partnerships with New Line Cinema, HBO Films, and Warner Brothers. The HBO deal also calls for other programming, such as a series and specials. American Girl is also taking its brand to the small screen through a deal with THQ, an interactive entertainment software developer, to publish video games based on Julie Allbright. As part of the agreement, the games are developed for Windows PC and Nintendo DS.
American Girl Brands is a subsidiary of toy-giant Mattel, Inc.