Kmart launches multicultural doll brands as popularity of ethnic characters like "Dora" grows
Bolstered by the success of Nickelodeon's popular bilingual children's character, Dora the Explorer, and the spending power of the nation's growing minority population, toy retailers are filling their shelves with dolls whose skin colors and facial features reflect those of the children who play with them.
Bolstered by the success of Nickelodeon's popular bilingual children's character, Dora the Explorer, and the spending power of the nation's growing minority population, toy retailers are filling their shelves with dolls whose skin colors and facial features reflect those of the children who play with them. Although Black and Hispanic dolls have been around for decades, the newer incarnations try harder at authenticity, rather than simply tinting the hair and skin from "white" doll molds.
Now discount retailer Kmart hopes to cash in on a growing appetite for ethnic toys among minority consumers, and their rising spending power. It's launching its own initiative this month, putting dozens of multicultural dolls on shelves in each of its 1,400 stores.
Although other retailers are stocking more multicultural dolls -- often in predominantly minority neighborhoods -- Kmart claims that it's the first mass-market retailer to have such a wide selection available in every store. When the rollout is completed next week, Kmart stores will sell nearly four dozen types of ethnic dolls -- a nearly fourfold increase from what's currently available. The dolls are flanked by an advertising campaign in the store's circulars and designed to appeal to Black, Hispanic and Asian parents.
Becoming relevant to minority shoppers can reap big benefits. About one in three Americans is a minority, according to the U.S. Census Bureau. Between 2006 and 2011, the spending power of the country's Blacks, Asians, Native Americans and multiracial shoppers is expected to grow thirty-eight percent, to $1.9 trillion. Meanwhile, Hispanic buying power alone is projected to grow a formidable forty-eight percent, to almost $1.2 trillion, according to data from The University of Georgia's Selig Center for Economic Growth. By 2050, minorities will account for half of U.S. residents, according to Census Bureau projections.
Kmart executives hope that the doll campaign will bring renewed foot traffic to their stores, which saw sales revenue fall 2.3 percent last year. Kmart officials declined to release figures showing how much the chain has invested in the doll project, which includes brands such as Baby Abuelita and Mattel Inc.'s Rebelde dolls, as well as the newly designed proprietary Just Girlz collection.
The retailer faces an uphill battle as it tries to woo shoppers away from heavyweight competitors Wal-Mart and Toys ‘R' Us, whose large selections of the popular Barbie and Bratz dolls give them an even bigger advantage in appealing to minority shoppers.
"I think they're going down a very tough road," said toy analyst Jim Silver, editor of Toy Wishes magazine. "Why would I buy a generic ethnic doll over this major brand that has all these accessories?"
Popular dolls need more than pretty looks. It's a combination of brand names and cool accessories -- from doll houses to roller skates -- that attract children to dolls.
Just ask twenty-seven-year-old Calumet Park resident Marie Jones, whose daughters eyed the new dolls inside a Kmart store in Chicago's south suburbs last week.
"If they're pretty, they're pretty," said Jones after watching Jade Lynch, 8, and Imani Simmons, 6, play with the new dolls. "They picked up the Black ones; they picked up the white ones. They look at the things that they come with. If they can comb their hair, that's the doll they want." There are no solid data on the size of the nation's ethnic doll selection, but experts say that the category is booming after a series of flops that received tepid enthusiasm from shoppers.
"People want a doll and a story that reflects who they are," said Julie Parks, a spokeswoman for Mattel's American Girl, which includes Native American, Hispanic and