Bryan, like any executive, brought strengths and weaknesses to the job. But did the marriage between Bryan and Mattel struggle against events beyond their control? Bryan had the honor (and it is an honor) of leading Mattel through a troubling time for business in general and for the toy industry in particular. Bryan’s four years intersected with macro cultural and demographic shifts that have challenged the company and its flagship brands” Barbie and Fisher-Price.
1. Barbie; blonde to her roots
Barbie, blonde and blue eyed in her DNA, has been confronted by a socially conscious United States and world that comes in many colors. We live in a world in which people’s idea of beauty has been expanded to include a variety of types. Today, children and their parents want to see themselves reflected back in how they view the world and the world sees them. Dolls are a prime example; so it’s a tough time to be a blonde.
Not only that, the world is now populated by community of Mom’s who loved Barbie as girls but, like any love gone bad, now question whether the relationship was good for them. Somehow, in the interim between childhood and parenthood, Barbie lost her connection and possibly her lifeline.
2. Fisher-Price; fewer babies means fewer sales
Fisher-Price depends upon a constant influx of toddlers. The United States has now completed its seventh straight year of a decline in its birthrate. Young adults graduating college with no jobs and big debts are young adults moving home. Family formation has, as a result, been in decline for several years and those who markets to young children have felt its impact. Other than going into people’s bedrooms and insisting they make babies; Bryan and Mattel could no more hold back the decline in births than King Canute could hold back the tide.
3. Small is better
If you look at the NPD list of top selling traditional toys (see below) you will notice that Lego is absent as is Hasbro. Interestingly, Mattel is the only “major” manufacturer listed and three of their products made the cut. The rest of the list is dominated by smaller, quicker moving companies. What do we make of this? Perhaps that this is a tough time to be big; change appears to occur much faster than in the past. Think of it as the globalization of the “New York minute.” A company as old and big as Mattel is a company steeped in its own culture; a culture dating back to just after World War II. Bryan and Mattel needed to speed up the decision making process so they could produce products in step with what was “happening right now” before it became “what just happened.” That was a big challenge and maybe not one possible to pull off quickly.
4. More competition and less time to play
Free play time for children is down 50% since the 1970’s and children spend a lot more time in transit. That means that mobile devices that are compact and easily accessed are a great tool for being a kid in the 21st
century. Historically, Mattel fought for shelf space with Hasbro. In the 21st century it fights for play time with not just Hasbro but Activision, Disney Infinity, EA, Toca Boca, Microsoft, Sony and close to a million kid’s apps. This explosion in competition and implosion in available play time is an immense hurdle not just for Mattel but for any company that competes in the children’s play space. This was, again, a major obstacle that Bryan and Mattel needed to overcome.
Bryan Stockton is still a young guy; still a smart guy and I hope a guy still looking for an adventure. So, good luck to Mattel and bon voyage to Bryan. A good marriage overcome by events bigger than the both of them.