Aaryn Costello is searching for the perfect dress, a 30-inch-long light-blue number with a sparkly bodice and a detachable white cape.
That would be the Princess Elsa dress from the Walt Disney Co. (DIS:US) hit “Frozen,” the most sought-after fashion item among the kindergarten set. Stores across the U.S. are sold out, and originals are being offered for as much as $1,600 on EBay Inc. (EBAY:US) Desperate parents are sewing their own or shelling out up to $225 for replicas on craft sites like Etsy.com.
“Every mom in the world is dying for this dress,” said Costello, a Los Angeles marketing consultant with a “Frozen” obsessed 4-year-old. “The lucky moms who have found this dress for their daughters brag about their success and unanimously proclaim how their kid can’t stop wearing it.”
Toys, dolls and clothes are a big part of the strategy at Disney, which happens to be the world’s largest licensing company. And it has hit a merchandise-sales jackpot with Elsa, also known as the Snow Queen of Arendelle, and her ice gown.
“The property is hot,” said Sean McGowan, a toy industry analyst at Needham & Co. in New York.
Retailers didn’t order enough of the gowns, said Dena O’Loughlin, director of marketing for Disney-licensed girls costumes at Jakks Pacific Inc. (JAKK:US) in Malibu, California, which sells to mass-market chains such as Wal-Mart Stores Inc (WMT:US). and Target Corp. (TGT:US) Stores sold out in January of Jakks’ version -- suggested retail price: $20 -- and the company is working with merchants to bring in reinforcements by air and boat from factories in China.
“It has been challenging to keep up with demand,” O’Loughlin said.
Buyers just didn’t anticipate how big “Frozen” would be and stocked about as many of the ice gowns as they did Rapunzel outfits from Disney’s 2010 “Tangled,” O’Loughlin said.
After the movie opened in the U.S. on Nov. 22, “Frozen” went on to become the top-grossing animated film of all time with worldwide theater receipts of almost $1.1 billion, according to Box Office Mojo. Counting revenue from DVDs and television, Disney stands to make almost $1 billion in operating profit from the film, according to estimates from analysts from SNL Kagan and Gabelli & Co. That’s before merchandise sales, which the analysts didn’t calculate.
“We are thrilled that audiences formed instant connections to the characters and we are working hard to get additional products into stores as soon as possible,” said Tasia Filippatos, a spokeswoman for Burbank, California-based Disney, in an e-mail. She declined to comment on the size of the “Frozen” merchandise market.
Early on, Elsa dress sales were slow and stores thought they’d over-ordered. “There was big uh-oh moment at the beginning,” O’Loughlin said.
Then kids fell in love with the movie princess, who has a kingdom trapped in ice and a sister, Anna, who searches for her across the tundra.
As sales began to climb and orders poured in after the Christmas holiday, Jakks had trouble restocking because of Chinese New Year, which shut down manufacturing in that country for a month until mid-February. Much of the “Frozen” merchandise is made in China.
It takes two to three months for retailers to receive new shipments of goods manufactured there, according to Jim Silver, editor of Time to Play magazine, a toy publication.
“You need the raw materials, factory time, since they don’t own their own factories, production, then allow two weeks for going through tighter safety regulations,” Silver said. Just getting a product to a store from a distribution center “can sometimes take three weeks.”
Disney designers created versions of the dress priced from $50 to $150, for sale at Disney stores and parks. The sought-after limited edition has the white cape and a bejeweled cameo and is fetching top dollar online. Some identified as “Disney Store” gowns start at around $187 on EBay.
Elsa’s sparkly dress is outselling Anna’s more demure, black and blue flowered garment, O’Loughlin said, reflecting girls’ attachment to Elsa’s divaesque personality. Her character, in Idina Menzel’s voice, sings “Let it Go,” which won the Oscar for best song this year.
While “Frozen” products sell strongly, sales of Mattel Inc.’s Barbie toys are down at some retailers, according to Gerrick Johnson, an analyst with BMO Capital Markets in New York. He said that was “to a certain degree” due to the “Frozen” frenzy.
Costello, the mother searching for the dress, said her daughter got an Elsa nightgown for Christmas and wears it every day -- including to the park. Costello's holding out for the limited edition of the ice gown.
“I, of course, want the real deal,” she said. “People are obsessed with it.”
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