DALLAS — When American Girl’s original Samantha, Kristen, Molly, Felicity, Addy and Josefina and this year’s 25 newly released Truly Me dolls needed a house, the brand turned to a North Texas “homebuilder.”
Farmers Branch-based KidKraft, the largest U.S. dollhouse maker, built the first official American Girl-branded dollhouse. KidKraft also makes children’s indoor and outdoor playsets and furniture.
The upscale doll brand has added furniture and playsets over the years, has a publishing arm and more recently added a podcast network, but it’s never had a dollhouse. KidKraft remedied that with a big and pricey solution: a 4 ½-foot tall, 5-foot wide, three-level playhouse that’s just right for American Girl’s 18-inch dolls.
The dollhouse retails for $598 and is on display at most of its 11 U.S. stores, including the only one in North Texas at Galleria Dallas. It has lights, a customizable doorbell, a security alarm, a hot tub, a shower, a fireplace, a working ceiling fan and curtains.
KidKraft also created a two-level custom walk-in closet with storage for doll clothing and accessories. It’s priced at $298. American Girl’s Christmas catalog is hitting homes this week, and the house and closet are prominently featured. Both are also sold directly on KidKraft’s website.
Mattel has owned American Girl since 1998 when it paid $700 million for the company founded in 1986 by former teacher Pleasant Thiele Rowland. The American Girl brand had somewhat of a revival in 2020 and 2021 after years of slumping sales, but sales declined 21% in the first half of 2022.
KidKraft, which was founded in Dallas in 1968, has been run by former longtime Mattel executive Geoff Walker since 2019. Walker spent almost 24 years at Mattel and was head of innovation when he left after working on partnerships with Warner Bros. and Disney.
Susan Russo, KidKraft vice president brand and product marketing, said the two brands are “like-minded” in their core missions to produce toys that inspire imaginative play. While the partnership is a natural fit, she said, “Geoff’s background and relationships with Mattel were certainly instrumental in moving these conversations along.”
Discussions between American Girl and KidKraft started during the pandemic, Russo said, “when a focus on ecommerce was a top priority for both brands, with a launch date for this collaboration always being timed to the holiday 2022 season.”
KidKraft supplies major retailers including Amazon, Walmart, Costco and Target and has been owned by private equity firm MidOcean Partners since 2016. KidKraft, which has 400 employees including 145 locally, has both a wholesale business and a significant direct-to-consumer operation.
This holiday season, KidKraft is introducing a new category: role play and immersive experience toys. The Luxe Line Airport & Cruise Ship is sold at Walmart and the Ultimate Space Ship at Target. The company declined to disclose annual sales.
Before the pandemic, American Girl was dragging down Mattel’s results, as the venerable doll brand posted quarterly declines of 25% and 30% and expenses grew at its stores. Competition accelerated from cheaper knockoffs, and the brand strayed from its historical character dolls and their stories.
Online sales took off during the pandemic as parents spent more money on toys during the stay-at-home economy and stores were temporarily closed in 2020 and 2021. For the first time in four years, American Girl sales increased in the holiday quarter of 2020. Sales were $278 million in 2021, up 4% from the prior year.
The Wisconsin-based retailer now operates 11 stores after permanently closing during the pandemic in Atlanta, Denver, Kansas City, Seattle, Scottsdale, Ariz., and Hershey, Pa. Last month, the Miami store closed after its lease expired.
In May 2021, American Girl announced that it was reintroducing its six original historical characters, saying it recognized that the first generation of American Girl doll owners were now mothers and can create multigenerational experiences with the dolls’ return.
That’s the case for Jennifer Wettstein, 38, of Kansas City who was at the Galleria Dallas store Wednesday with her daughter, Anna, 8.
“I had Molly and my sister had Samantha and we read all the books, and now my daughter is growing up with them, too,” Wettstein said. The Wettsteins were visiting family in Dallas and came to the store because the Kansas City store has closed. Anna’s Truly Me doll got her hair done, her ears pierced and a new leotard and dress.
Mom didn’t know about the dollhouse, but Anna said, “I did! We get the (American Girl) magazine at home, and I read about it.”
“It’s sooo big,” she beamed as her mom snapped a photo of her and her doll in front of it. “I really want it.”
Mom made no commitments.