Monday, August 23, 2010

"Chocolate Cake with Vitamins"

After a break this afternoon for lunch and fun, we reconvened at the American Girl Place in Water Tower Place for a two-hour overview and store tour. We were overwhelmed by the staff and executives from American Girl who turned out to meet us. Ellen Brothers, the President of American Girl, was there to greet us and provide us with an overview of the company, assisted by Wade Opland, the Vice President of Retail. Ms. Brothers provided us with an incredible overview of American Girl, sharing how the catalog, retail stores, and entertainment areas have developed over the years. The title of this post was how she described the American Girl products...they have an incredible foundation of learning, as they educate girls about social issues and history, while being incredibly fun.

The American Girl is geared specifically for "tweens" and we learned a great deal about how American Girl taps into this market. Based in Wisconsin, American Girl does a great deal of education within their own company about the philosophy and spirit behind each American Girl doll. The literary and education component is the foundation of the company, exemplified by the bookstore placement in the front of each store.

Following the presentation and a question and answer period, we were able to tour the store in three different groups. One area we stopped in was for the doll of the year, Lanie. She is designed to help girls get out into the outdoors more often, and was created with a partnership with the National Wildlife Federation. This combination of education and play is very important to American Girl, and it is evident in everthing from how their stores are designed to what kinds of activities they include in their stores.

We learned about the doll hospital, hair salons, cafes, and other special components that make up the American Girl experience. We also heard a bit about the window display structure. From the educational vitrines for each historical doll, to the contemporary doll collection, we were a bit overwhelmed by all the possibilities at American Girl. At one point during our visit, one of our students turned to me and said, "These people are geniuses." It was definitely an impressive visit.

There are 9 American Girl stores across the U.S. We heard a bit about the process of opening a new store and what that entails, from researching space to purchasing fixtures. It was an eye-opening experience.

Not only were the staff generous with their time, but they sent us away with amazing gift bags! Each one of us came away with a cool backpack filled with American Girl items, including a neat beach towel.

Some of the members of our group remembered having American Girl dolls as children, and were fascinated to learn what goes on behind the scenes to make this company so successful. We are definitely inspired.

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