Mary-Kate #x0026;; Ashley Inc.
Olsen twins grow rich while growing up
By Anne D'Innocenzio
Already one of the most powerful brands for "tweens," Mary-Kate and Ashley are all about growing older -- and bigger.
The twin girls recently turned 16 in a year that is expected to see their merchandising and entertainment empire gross $1 billion in sales.
Since making their TV debut as infants on ABC's sitcom "Full House" in the late 1980s, Mary-Kate and Ashley Olsen have transformed themselves into a huge name for the 8-to-12 age group. Videos and games, dolls, books, clothing, accessories and cosmetics are all sold through their Dualstar Entertainment Group.
They have a new line of teen apparel at Wal-Mart Inc., which already has an arrangement -- exclusive, for now -- to sell fashion products such as tween and toddler clothing as well as accessories under the brand.
Mary-Kate and Ashley also envision adding women's, infants' and boys' clothing, as well as expanding overseas to such markets as France, Germany, Mexico and Japan. Right now, their goods are selling in Canada and Great Britain through Wal-Mart's affiliates.
The twins, who reportedly each have a net worth of at least $150 million, are also hoping to resurrect their now-defunct magazine with a new financial backer by mid-2003.
"It is really an infant brand," said Robert Thorne, the chief executive who created Dualstar in 1993 and is the brains behind the Olsens' teen-queen status.
Thorne envisions a global family brand, with 50 percent of its sales coming from outside the United States and Canada by 2005. Those two countries now account for about 85 percent of sales.
The twins are also working on developing their movie careers. In January, they signed a deal with Warner Bros. to star in an unnamed big-budget feature film, to be released as early as 2003. Thorne even sees the twins becoming pop singers.
At the same time, the Olsens admit there are limits to their exposure.
"We don't want to be too much in their faces. We don't want people to get sick of us," Mary-Kate said in an interview.
Merchandising experts praise the twins' brand power among young fans, but believe they may face some challenges in reaching an older crowd, including late teens, as well as males.
Constant reruns of "Full House" and their television movies could hurt efforts to create a more mature image -- and do boys really want to buy Mary-Kate and Ashley clothes?
Responded Thorne: "If Donna Karan can consult to men, then Mary-Kate and Ashley Olsen can consult to men."
Michael Wood, vice president of Teenage Research Unlimited, a market research firm in Northbrook, Ill., wonders if a brand that now sells fashion and accessories at Wal-Mart can lure very trend-conscious teens away from Abercrombie &; Fitch, American Eagle and Express.
As for attracting young men, Wood said: "Guys are very cautious about the brands they embrace. The last thing they want to do is wear a brand that's a girl's brand."
The Olsens, who split their time between their divorced parents' homes, both in the Los Angeles area, appear to be staying out of trouble. They will be high school juniors this fall and have plans to go to college in the Northeast. Their dream is to someday direct, continue acting and "somehow keep what we have," Ashley said.
The twins closely work with Dualstar's head of design, Judith Swartz, on new products.
"We get to choose what we want to do," Ashley said.
The twins carry titles of co-founders, and will become company presidents when they turn 18.
"We're normal teen-agers -- except we travel more and we run a company," Mary-Kate said.
And, of course, they seem to be the only teens who have such magic at retail, with their brand topping sales in the girls' category in many areas, from books to video games.
"All of our stuff is pretty affordable, and kids can relate to us," Ashley added.