All Dolled Up
Iconic doll maker American Girl’s New York flagship in Rockefeller Center celebrates the brand’s devoted community with a retail space that inspires and enhances the connection between a girl and her doll
When you see a girl walking down the street squeezing her American Girl doll while holding on to her mother’s hand or riding on the train with her aunt and her doll, you know exactly where they are heading—and you know this is a special moment that will create a lasting memory. That is exactly what the new 37,000-sq.-ft. American Girl Store of the Future flagship at 75 Rockefeller Plaza in New York is all about—enhancing the connection between girl and doll, and fostering memorable experiences.
“American Girl’s new Rockefeller Plaza location was a perfect opportunity for us to redefine the future of retail for girls—just like we did in 1998 with the first American Girl Place in Chicago,” explains Barbara Carlson, senior director, global creative for American Girl/Mattel. “The stunning New York flagship features an all-new design that puts girls squarely at the center and offers customers a more dynamic experience in one of the city’s most iconic locations.”
The new brand and store experiences were crafted and designed by Cincinnati-based FRCH Design Worldwide. Redefining this retail journey began with a shop-along research phase, and the FRCH team spoke to moms and girls about the shopping experience, looking for opportunities to evolve it.
“Based on the research, this store gave us the opportunity to explore the concept of elevating and celebrating the connection between a girl and her doll. The moment when she meets her doll is the beginning of a lifetime of memories, and it starts here,” says Robyn Novak, vice president and creative managing director at FRCH.
The enhanced brand experience begins before families even reach the store. Working with digital agency MJD Interactive, the process of planning a seamless trip was improved, making it easy to set up appointments and create a schedule for the day. To build excitement for the journey ahead, a dramatic sense of arrival was created at the 51st Street entry that faces Rockefeller Center. The larger-than-life storefront presentation welcomes visitors to the new world at American Girl. The grand site and scale of the space allows the team to bring stories to life in the window that engage, entertain and draw customers in.
“The first-floor experience is about getting the young customers excited and connected with the brand,” Novak says. “It is about personalization and customization.”
From the 51st Street entrance, a pop-up shop allows the store to complement the larger-than-life storefront window story. A major feature off the 52nd Street entrance is a signature experience—the Truly Me area. With 40 dolls to choose from, girls can select the doll that looks closest to them or enjoy the new Create Your Own Design Studio with customizable details. There is the opportunity to pre-design the doll online and pick her up at the store or create the doll as part of the in-store experience. A large studio table provides space for girls to personalize their dolls with their family. This customization hub allows girls to have fun designing and creating a doll that matches her style and spirit, dragging and dropping patterns and details, and creating matching accessories.
Novak adds: “This is an enriching way to start the connection between girl and doll early on and an all-encompassing experience.”
Based on the research, there were also opportunities to elevate and transform the salon experience. Strategically positioned at the 52nd Street windows is a joyful presentation of girl and doll bonding at The American Girl Salon. Girls and their dolls can get matching hairstyles, mini manicures and even ear-piercing. A digital platform allows girls to pre-select a dry-bar style to help expedite the decision-making process.
As families continue to the lower level, they have the opportunity to explore the core foundation products of the American Girl brand. At the base of the escalator, they are greeted by a feature presentation of the BeForever line with a rotating display that highlights one of the past dolls from that collection. This creates a touchpoint for mothers, aunts and grandmothers to reflect on their own dolls or the dolls they have purchased over the years, serving as a point of familiarity and nostalgia. The BeForever experience continues with displays of showcased stories that offer digital and analog elements to encourage interaction.
“These stories span decades, and we wanted the girls to touch, play and experience each story,” Novak says. “The goal with the merchandising was to not make it ‘too perfect,’ so people aren’t afraid to have fun in this area. Some things are curated while also incorporating touchscreens and props to play with.”
The Bitty Baby and WellieWishers collections round out the enhanced product displays on the lower level.
Throughout the store, the team departed from the typical vitrine display strategy to move away from the more curated merchandising that can be time-consuming to maintain. The design team wanted the fixtures to enhance the opportunity to tell stories and encourage customer interaction, so they streamlined the merchandising process with a more flexible kit of parts. “Now with this modular system, there is a more universal way to easily tell the story of an entire collection with 360 degrees to the display,” Novak explains. “The adjustable LED lighting scheme supports that flexibility.”
As visitors head to their right off the escalator on the lower level, they enter the Content Hub, which was strategically located outside of the American Girl Café, as it offers a nice area to linger while exploring all of the brand’s educational content, such as books and videos, all in one area for the first time. The café is another experience that was enhanced based on the initial research. Instead of the group dining schedule, the café now offers reservation flexibility and restaurant seating making it a more contemporary dining experience. The party rooms also were transformed to again support more personalization and customization. A projection wall in each room provides room décor options. The goal was to evolve the party packages, and this design allows girls to pick and choose their party theme and details.
“The new space is also about cultivating a sense of community among girls and their shared love of all things American Girl,” Carlson says. “We want to encourage girls to connect and inspire one another through stories and play, and all of these new experiences promote this connection.”
American Girl embraced change in every aspect of this project, including the materials and finish palette. To support the evolution of the brand and the enhanced experience, the colorful palette was toned down to create a more neutral backdrop to focus attention on the product and support planning flexibility. Pops of the signature brand berry color help direct attention. Large architectural frames on the perimeter also grab attention. Magnetic substrates allow graphics to be applied to the face. The team can dramatically transform the space and complement the character stories. Premium materials, such as a poured terrazzo floor, and whimsical details, such as two custom oversized chandeliers, add to the romance and ambience of this magical experience.
“Our stores are an awesome, highly visible and tangible example of how girls and their parents can engage and interact with the brand,” Carlson says. “But American Girl has always been more than the sum of its parts. No matter the effort, we are always thinking holistically about how we can best serve and celebrate girls. Innovating our store in New York and providing more relevant, differentiated and personalized experiences for fans helps elevate the entire American Girl portfolio.”
American Girl Store of the Future
CONTRACT DESIGN FIRM/ARCHITECT
FRCH Design Worldwide
Englewood Construction Inc.
Britt, Peters & Associates Inc., Kohrs Lonnemann Heil
Regency Lighting, Ideoli Group
WOW Woodbridge 3D, Johnsonite, Patcraft, Interface
Moss Inc., Cima Network
Wolf Gordon, D.L. Couch, Phillip Jeffries
Covers Unlimited, Hollywood Woodwork
Benjamin Moore, Matthews Paint Co.
McGrory Glass, PPG Ideascapes
Sherwin-Williams, General Polymers
Information in the project file is provided by the retailer and/or design firm.