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DDI Magazine

Come fly with me

By Michelle M. Havich, Managing Editor
March 27, 2013

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Photo: Herve Grison, Mattel Inc., El Segundo, Calif
Both Flight Attendant and Airline Pilot Barbie would be right at home in the Delta Terminal of the Los Angeles International Airport (LAX)—where her creator, Mattel, has opened up the first-of-its-kind brand store.

Mattel Experience is part of an airport remodel in which LAX wanted to showcase the unique culture, diversity and lifestyle of Los Angeles, while creating a sense of place in each terminal through the inclusion of L.A.-based businesses.

“It was a unique opportunity for us to participate in,” says Kim Helgeson, manager, visual merchandising, retail marketing for Mattel. “As a store designer, you welcome unique challenges, and this was a good one, because airport retail really requires a different approach.”

The first challenge was actually building a store in an airport, taking into account both logistical and security issues. “It’s not like driving your semi up to the back door to unload your fixtures,” Helgeson says. “The access path itself to the location is not always straight—there are stairs, small doorways, long hallways, things need to be able to be forklifted up two levels. I designed all of the fixtures to be modular, but they also had to fit into the constraints of the accessibility challenges.” And everything needs to be inspected, she adds.

Helgeson points out that airport retail is a whole different experience in itself, because it isn’t a destination, like a mall or standalone store. “When you wait for a flight, let’s face it, Internet and food take priority over shopping,” she adds. “And when [travelers] do shop, they have limited time, so there is a sense of urgency and purpose.”

In the customer hierarchy of airport retail, adult frequent travelers come first, and adults traveling with children come second. So, one of the major challenges Helgeson and her team faced was how to create a toy store that appeals to both types of traveler.

“I designed every aspect strategically to entice, engage and encourage shopping, but also by making memorable brand experiences for those patrons,” she says. “It’s a place where there are things to do—kids can role play, adults can relive their childhood. There’s something for everyone. I like to call it ‘turning wait time into playtime.’”

The front of the 1,093-sq.-ft. store is bright red and white with a 3-D Mattel logo and silhouetted icons of popular Mattel products, including Rock ’em Sock ’em Robots, ViewMaster, UNO cards and a Magic 8 Ball, along with the words “Play Made Here.”

While the store offers the breadth of Mattel products, the three walls are each anchored by a core brand—Barbie on the left, Hot Wheels on the right and Fisher-Price along the back. “It’s important that we try to target everyone, and to make everyone feel important,” Helgeson says.

The Barbie side features a multilayered lightbox that creates a 3-D effect for the graphic—a Barbie doll with luggage, ready to take a trip. A collection of dolls is displayed in backlit cases on either side, showcasing a nostalgic look at the many styles of the iconic blonde. The center display is flanked on both sides by rounded wall units stocked with current Barbie dolls and accessories for purchase.

On the opposite wall, 280 Hot Wheels cars are similarly displayed around another multilayered lightbox graphic, drawing in collectors and enthusiasts of all ages. Different sized wall units display the merchandise, including cars, play sets and accessories.

The circular layout of the store was inspired by the Mattel gear logo, along with the red-and-white color scheme. The flow of the store goes around the center cashwrap, which sits underneath a 9-ft. lightbox on the ceiling that mimics the logo, and features smiling children seemingly looking in on the store. The placement of fixtures also was important, because most shoppers will be coming in dragging luggage. The white tile floor makes it easy for wheels to roll, and there is enough space between fixtures to maneuver around.

Helgeson created an intentional illusion through the use and placement of rounded, marshmallow-shaped floor fixtures and cubby wall units. The cubbies are offset to introduce negative space to prevent sensory bombardment and to create a more open feeling, while exposing plenty of merchandise without overwhelming the shopper.

The offset cubbies provide a sense of discovery, Helgeson exlains. “So when the customer is actually in the space, it encourages them to browse even more into the venue, and they feel like they’re discovering things as they move along,” she adds.

Keeping customers engaged once they are in the store also posed a challenge. In the Fisher-Price area, there is a bright yellow, child-size table and two stools, encouraging guests to linger. Two computer play stations are set up on round logo forms in front of the Barbie and Hot Wheels displays, featuring a variety of branded games, including Monster High, Polly Pocket and Matchbox.

For photo-ops, guests can climb aboard the Hot Wheels Bone Shaker stationed at the front of the store and pretend to be whipping around a track, or strike a pose inside the life-size Barbie doll box behind the front signage.

Helgeson’s hope is that the store will capture older customers, because of the sense of nostalgia that the Mattel brand calls to mind, and that they will in turn introduce that feeling to the next generation of shoppers. She recently was at the store and witnessed just that, when an older gentleman was explaining the icons on the front of the store to his grandson, and telling him how he had played Rock ’em Sock ’em Robots as a boy.

“And that really is what our vision for the company is,” says Alan Hilowitz, senior director, corporate communications, corporate affairs for Mattel. “Creating the future of play.”