Barbie The Dreamhouse Experience, a 10,000-square-foot building with an “endless closet,” elevators, a kitchen, bedroom, and everything pink, opened last week at Sawgrass Mills mall in Sunrise, Fla.
The life-size house is already drawing squeals of joy from little girls who’ve toured Barbie’s happy world, and enthusiasm from lifelong fans like Lynn Mulvaney-Japes, 51.
“It’s a big deal,” says Mulvaney-Japes, a member of a Barbie collector club. “In fact, we all want to go work there.”
The Lauderhill, Fla., resident said she has more than 3,000 Barbie dolls in a room in her house devoted exclusively to the fashionista and multicareer role model. Mulvaney-Japes planned to visit Barbie’s own house this week, along with other members of the Fashion Queen Doll Club.
“We are really excited about the opening here in Florida, and hope that this new destination gives tourists a reason to visit and residents a reason to return,” says LeAnne Hackman, Barbie Global Experiences Licensing director at Mattel.
The house was a two-years-in-the-making project for Mattel and EMS Entertainment, an Austria-based company helping design and build the project.
“Making sure children and parents actually feel like they are in the Dreamhouse has always been our goal,” says Christoph Rahofer, president of EMS. “We wanted this to be an immersive experience that visitors would never forget.”
Last Wednesday, groups of girls ran around the house, frequently jumping with excitement and often pointing and screaming, “Oh my God, did you see this?!”
Several walls throughout the house are lined with Barbie dolls, and among the interactive features are buttons, which, once pressed, can either make flowers rise, Barbie’s dog walk out of his doghouse, or a pink dolphin pop-up from a toilet seat. Visitors also can get glammed up by Barbie staff, walk down a runway and strike a pose.
“It was really cool,” Elizabeth Torres, 11, said after the fashion show. “We saw the whole house, the big closet; it was really awesome.”
Not everyone was impressed. Some parents were upset because some staff members were giving tours without looking up from scripts, and interactive computer screens had glitches along with other technical difficulties. Mattel said the hiccups would be a top priority to correct.
Sean McGowan, a toy industry analyst, says Barbie’s new house will likely serve as an experimental project for the company to determine whether it can replicate the concept with its other brands.
“I think what a lot of consumer companies are coming to realize is that there’s an opportunity to make the retail experience more immersive,” says McGowan, of New York-based research firm Needham & Co. “If it can be done in a way that doesn’t cost much, then it becomes an effective way of extending their brand.”
The Dreamhouse tour, however, is probably a type of venture that won’t draw frequent visitors, because after a while the experience will just become repetitive, McGowan said.
For Mattel, launching this type of retail experience with Barbie is a logical approach because the Dreamhouse is already an iconic feature, he said.
“It’s always been an essential part of the Barbie line,” McGowan says.
Mulvaney-Japes, who’s been a Barbie fan since she was a child, says it’s not just the doll’s fashion sense that’s kept her engaged, but also the “I Can” message. Barbie has had more than 100 careers over the years, from president to teacher to astronaut.
“People say the word ‘Barbie,’ and women smile,” Mulvaney-Japes says. “To me, that’s what it’s about.”
©2013 Sun Sentinel (Fort Lauderdale, Fla.)
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