NEW YORK — Limited Too is growing up — but not too fast.

The company, based in New Albany, Ohio, is planning a new concept focused on its core customer base of tween girls. This development comes more than two-and-a-half years after Too Inc. launched Mishmash, a retail chain concept for teen girls aged 14 to 19, which it plans to end in favor of the new tween retail venture, to begin in February. It has not yet been named.

Too’s chairman and chief executive officer, Mike Rayden, said in statement, “While we have been encouraged by the trend in business at Mishmash, we do not believe it can reach the level of success and related financial objectives as quickly as originally planned, given the high level of competition from specialty retailers and other merchants targeting teen girls. We believe that the best strategic course for the company to follow is to focus entirely on our core customer, the tween girl.”

The original plan for Mishmash called for it to be a 750-store chain. Rayden said a substantial portion of the 18 existing Mishmash stores will be converted to the new concept stores. In addition, the company plans to open 20 mall-based units in 2004. While both Limited Too stores and the new concept stores will focus on the seven to 14-year-old girl, the new chain will offer substantial differences in prices from its sister stores.

“We know that a significant segment of the tween girl population has not shopped our store because of the perception of high prices,” Rayden said. “The new concept will offer similar styles and fashion, and the consistency of quality and fit available at Limited Too, but at lower prices. We see this new concept as the number one, competitive opportunity for the company, a brand that can grow to have a larger number of stores than is planned for Limited Too.”

But that’s not all. Limited Too will introduce a new partnership with Mattel’s My Scene brand for this back-to-school season. The My Scene dolls, which are a spin-off of the Barbie brand, are entirely fashion-based dolls targeted to tween girls. With the launch of the dolls late last year, executives at Mattel and Too said this makes for a new licensing opportunity to bring a line of My Scene branded sportswear to Limited Too stores.The line will hit stores in July and includes denim cargo jeans, cotton T-shirts with and without an illustration of the My Scene dolls, a fake suede vest with floral embroidery and velour hookups. This deal could be the first in a series of products for Mattel geared to a tween audience.

According to Richard Dickson, senior vice president Worldwide Consumer Products for Mattel Brands, the My Scene brand was created to grab the attention of tweens and young girls who aspire to be tweens. He said the brand has the potential to be as big, if not bigger, than Mattel’s Barbie brand.

“The clothes are all on trend and are geared to an older girl than the Barbie brand,” Dickson said. “This is a brand that is meant to follow fashion and the dolls will change with the trends.”

Dickson would not reveal the specifics, but said after the My Scene sportswear line is sold at Limited Too for b-t-s, Mattel plans to roll it out with other partners.

For Scott Barcale, executive vice president, marketing, catalog and Internet for Too, this partnership is a natural one for both companies.

“In order to partner with us, the company has to be a dominant player in the business,” he said. “The My Scene brand is a force to be reckoned with. The marketing behind it is aspirational to tweens and they met the criteria to partner with us.”

This partnership with Mattel is a stepping stone for Too, which has also partnered with brands such as Reebok, Lego, Neslie’s Sweet Tarts, Hasbro’s Tiger Electronics, Disney’s Lizzie Maguire and Build-A-Bear Workshops.

For the first quarter ended May 3, Too sales fell 11.6 percent to $140.1 million, as comp-stores sales plummeted 18 percent versus a 4 percent increase last year. Profits declined 28.8 percent to $4.2 million. The company’s last full fiscal year had sales of $647.5 million and profits of $47.3 million.

At Limited Too, the company sells apparel, swimwear, sleepwear, underwear, footwear, lifestyle and personal care products for active, fashion-aware tween girls, which it defines as in the seven to 14 age bracket. Limited Too operates 518 stores in 46 states and Puerto Rico, and publishes a catalog coinciding with key tween shopping times throughout the year. Limited Too also conducts e-commerce on its Web site, Inc. currently operates 18 Mishmash stores throughout the U.S., offering personal care products, sportswear, intimate apparel, shoes, accessories and lifestyle products for teen girls ages 14 to 19.

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