Once the toy king, Mattel signals it’s in trouble


The holiday season is #1 when it comes to buying toys as parents and guardians pack the stores in search of the right gadgets and gifts for their little ones. Some of the annual staples — stuffed animals, board games, etc. — figure to be in high demand as usual.

All is not well in toyland

But all is not well in toyland. Earlier this year retailer Toys R Us filed for bankruptcy, a precursor to closing down some stores. And this week, Mattel, one of the most prominent brands in toys, revealed that it is anticipating dire returns this holiday season.

Trying to manage expectations for investors, Mattel said that “gross margin deterioration” would continue for much of the fourth quarter, according to recent a filing with the Securities and Exchange Commission.  The company blames the  downward trend on “unfavorable product mix, higher freight and logistics expense, and lower fixed cost absorption.”

It continued: “In addition, continued negative trends in top line performance for the balance of the year could result in additional gross margin deterioration as a result of higher inventory write-downs and discounts offered to clear inventory.”

Mattel told investors last year that it was struggling as well, especially after it lost the license to Walt Disney’s princess franchise to Hasbro, its longtime rival.

With that in mind, we take a look at some of Mattel’s biggest hits from years past, and where you can find them now.

Barbie doll

Debuting in 1959, the Barbie doll has long been Mattel’s best-selling toy. After a period of relatively low sales, Barbie in recent years has seen a resurgence as the lineup’s expanding diversity has reached a larger audience.

Price: As low as $8.99 on Mattel’s Barbie web page

Hot Wheels


Capitalizing on the hot rod vehicles in vogue at the time, Mattel debuted Hot Wheels around 1968, according to Hot Wheel Wikia, a fan site. The cars were an accurate scale representation of popular makes and models manufactured by Ford, Chrysler and General Motors.

Price: $8.99 for a nine-pack at Mattel’s Hotwheels.com

Chatty Cathy

One of the most popular talking dolls was Chatty Cathy, manufactured by the Mattel for six years beginning in 1959. The doll, which let children to pull a string to prompt one of 11 phrases, was an instant success and led to several more talking dolls, including Chatty Baby and Tiny Chatty Brother. (For you trivia buffs, the first talking doll is attributed to Thomas Edison. It may haunt your dreams).

Price: Chatty Cathy is no longer sold in retail stores in the United States, but she can be found on eBay, with prices based on the doll’s condition.

American Girl

In 1986, Pleasant Company came out with these 18-inch dolls portraying young girls of different cultures and ethnicities. They were a runaway hit. To deepen the connection between consumer (little girls) and the dolls, the company equipped each one with a book that told the backstory and information about the girl. Mattel bought a stake in the company in 1998, creating a subsidiary.

Price: $115 for the basics on Americangirl.com

Despite the fortunes of Mattel, many other toy companies are doing just fine, especially those that have diversified into electronics. Did we miss one of your favorite Mattel toys from childhood? Let us know in the comments!

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