YOU ARE HERE: LAT HomeCollections

California and the West

Maker of Bratz Dolls, Citing Need for Space, Plans Move to Chatsworth

MGA, whose toys have gained on Barbie in market share, is in talks to purchase a former L.A. Times facility.

September 21, 2006|Abigail Goldman | Times Staff Writer

The maker of Bratz toys, seeking a bit more breathing room for its dolls empire, is negotiating a move to bigger digs.

MGA Entertainment Inc., the dolls' creator, said Wednesday that the company was buying a 250,000-square-foot facility on a 26-acre site in Chatsworth, the former home of the L.A. Times Valley Edition, for an undisclosed sum.

"It is another sign of the ambition ... of the company and there are few in the industry that have that kind of ambition," said toy industry analyst Sean McGowan, of Wedbush Morgan in New York. "It would be my assumption that whatever space they were in they had long ago outgrown."

A spokesman for The Times said that although the company was negotiating with a specific buyer, no final agreement had been reached.

Isaac Larian, MGA's founder and president, said he expected to move the company's 350 employees from the Van Nuys building, which is about 180,000 square feet, to Chatsworth next year.

"The way we are growing, we are running out of room and we wanted to build a headquarters for MGA and its employees," Larian said. "It will have day care, a gym, so the employees can be taken care of and have fun while they're working here."

MGA made its name in 2001, when it introduced a line of pouty-faced dolls with short skirts that quickly became the most successful doll brand since El Segundo-based Mattel Inc. launched Barbie a half century ago.

Although Barbie remains the world's No. 1 fashion doll, Bratz has steadily increased market share and shelf space as Barbie's sales have declined.

Because MGA is a private company, its sales numbers could not be verified, but McGowan said he pegged total retail sales of the dolls at about $2 billion a year. Sales of Barbie products, including Mattel's toys and third-party licensed goods, are roughly $3.1 billion, McGowan said.

Mattel also owns Hot Wheels, Matchbox, Polly Pocket, the Wisconsin-based American Girl brand and the New York-based Fisher-Price line.

MGA is working to expand beyond the Bratz line. Last week it announced the purchase of outdoor toys maker Little Tikes Co.

MGA said it would move some of Little Tikes' operations to Los Angeles from the Hudson, Ohio, headquarters.

Larian said MGA had 100 job openings and could create an additional 200 to 300 positions in Los Angeles as it adds the new product lines and acquisitions.

Neither MGA nor The Times would discuss the purchase or listing price of the property, citing a confidentiality agreement. Sources involved in the process, however, said the final round of bidding reached $27 million to $29 million.

Chicago-based Tribune Co., parent company of the Los Angeles Times, has been under considerable pressure from its largest shareholder, the Chandler family of California, to sell assets and increase its value leading into a board meeting today.

The company bought back $2.4 billion of its stock and in May announced it would sell at least $500 million in assets as part of a "performance improvement plan."

The Times said in December that it would close the Chatsworth plant, which in 2005 had a total assessed value of $36.8 million, and consolidate operations. The Chatsworth facility opened in 1983.

For his part, MGA's Larian has repeatedly put out the word that the company is eager to expand, McGowan said.

"To buy a company of Little Tikes' size, look to fill so many positions and to take on a new facility of this size is an indication of how much growth he thinks the company is going to experience," McGowan said.


Times staff writer James Rainey contributed to this report.

Los Angeles Times Articles