Hello Kitty grows up: How Japan's Sanrio has expanded the character's empire

Hello Kitty, the adorable little feline with no mouth but a great bottom line, has shown the business world how to take a brand and make it appealing across generations. Without question, the almost 36-year old character has developed a cult-like following that includes everyone from preschoolers to grandmas who find the fictional kitten simply irresistible. As parent company Sanrio likes to say, Hello Kitty appeals to "everyone from four to forever."

And for all of those people, there is a product. These days, the white Japanese bobtail cat with her trademark red bow can be found on everything from diamond jewelry and credit cards to plastic lunch boxes and stickers. All Hello Kitty products -- make that all 50,000 or so products -- are licensed by Sanrio. It's proven to be a lucrative venture for the Japanese company. Last year, Sanrio saw $5 billion in retail sales of Hello Kitty products globally, about $1 billion of which came from North America.