Wal-Mart bets Olson twins draw a full house

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By Laura Liebeck<br><br>Wal-Mart launches Mary-Kate & Ashley stores

Mary-Kate and Ashley Olson, those lovable twins from the 1980s TV show Full House, are in the retail business.

The girls, now 15, have amassed an empire spanning movies, videogames, music, fashion apparel and now 500-sq.-ft. store-within-a-store concept shops at Wal-Mart Supercenters.

The first unit opened in Vestal, N.Y. on Oct. 3 and the second, in Kansas City, Mo., was scheduled to open by Halloween.

The units offer the girls' signature apparel and fashion accessories - exclusive to Wal-Mart - plus music, movies, videogames, books, magazines and posters, and other goods.

The Mary-Kate and Ashley store is an outgrowth of Wal-Mart's exclusive MK&A girls' fashion program, which launched early this year and is part of $1 billion in retail sales for the brand.

"We have been very pleased with the fashion line. It has done very well and has exceeded the expectations we had for it," Wal-Mart spokeswoman Susanne Decker tells License!. The move into retail stores comes from Wal-Mart's desire to try new concepts, she adds. "The tween population is growing and we thought this would offer tweens their own shop."

Wal-Mart is looking to diversify the MK&A merchandise assortment for even wider consumer appeal.

That's exactly the plan of Dualstar Entertainment Group (Beverly Hills, Calif.). First up: Cosmetics (Nu World Cosmetics) and liquid hair care products (Conair), both of which launch early in 2002.

Dualstar, the girls' management company, recently launched a domestics program at Wal-Mart that is currently being supplied by Westpoint Stevens (New York) and Springs (Fort Mill, S.C.). The plans are to expand the offerings and position the Mary-Kate & Ashley brand in much the same way as Martha Stewart has done with her Everyday program at Kmart, says Robert Thorne, president and CEO, Dualstar Entertainment Group. By 2003 or 2004, Thorne expects the MK&A program to be at the same sales level as Martha Stewart Everyday, which will end this fiscal year with $1.6 billion in retail sales for Kmart.

On the move

The MK&A fashion apparel line recently launched in Wal-Mart Canada, and Dualstar plans to further expand internationally, Thorne tells License!.

"We will take the U.K. as powerfully as we took the U.S.," he declares, noting the launch is set for spring 2002, with a retailer exclusive deal in the Wal-Mart mold. Pleased with the Wal-Mart model, Dualstar is likely to name Wal-Mart's U.K. division, Asda, as the exclusive retailer for fashion. The girls' entertainment products will carry non-exclusive rights.

Thorne says Dualstar will probably go with Wal-Mart for Latin America, too. It will then move, with retailer fashion exclusives, into Australia and France (in fall '02), Japan (spring '03), New Zealand, and Puerto Rico, says Michael Stone, principal, The Beanstalk Group, licensing agent for MK&A.

As for licensees, Thorne is committed to staying with his American vendors in international markets whenever possible: "We believe in supporting the vendors who support us."

Domestically, Dualstar's plan is to greatly expand the merchandise assortment, in domestics as well as in fashions for toddler girls and juniors (launching in spring '02), young women and adults.

Separately, Thorne says Dualstar is developing a fashion line for boys and men that he hopes will appeal to Wal-Mart at the appropriate time.

The key to the MK&A program, he says, is brand development. "We're a brand, not a kid's brand."

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