Just when we thought it was finally over for ToysRUs, perhaps there will be a savior in Jerry Storch, its former CEO. I give him credit for trying to revive it and I see the opportunity. While I think many recent bankrupt retailers deserved to disappear I don’t believe it is time to say goodbye to the free-standing toy store. Perhaps that is wishful thinking on my part, but it could also be retail evolution at work. Here’s why, and some suggestions:
- Kids actually want to go to a toy store. It differs by age, and the marketing strategy must address that with different motivation and message points. It’s got to be a special place- emulating some of what made the Times Square store so aspirational and special. Granted, location was everything for that store, but the experience was unlike all the other TRU stores in the chain. That can be expensive, so they will need to partner with the larger suppliers to make it happen. Work with Nintendo for video game challenges on a giant wall screen, Marvel for in-store appearances by heroes and villains, Lego for building challenges and the display of the month, Hasbro for board game competitions, Huffy to “take a test drive” for a new bike, Microsoft for hosting Minecraft or coding sessions and whatever else the real marketing mavens can come up with.
- Toys alone may not do the trick. I’d partner with or buy the struggling GameStop chain. Pare down the locations and incorporate into each store. Continue trade-ins where it makes sense and digital downloads to quench the instant gratification urge.
- Partner with Dylan’s Candy Shop or an Ice Cream chain to add another reason to stop by and experience it as a destination (on second thought, sugaring up the kids while in a toy store may not be such a good idea). I think of it like the Starbucks – Barnes & Noble relationship. Speaking of which, according to the B & N 2017 Annual Report, their non-book, toy & gift business was up 4.2% or $48.3M while comparable same-store sales declined 6.3%.
- During the all-important holiday season, offer localized, experiential events like in-store family photography with fun backdrops by sponsoring a local photographer.
I know- these are some rather large initiatives- so the question is whether it will get customers into the stores and makes dollars and sense? We have seen the devastating effect a massive debt structure has on retail chains. Even if they can get the experience downright they still have the challenge of pricing and competition. Walmart and Target have mastered optimizing shelf space and are key destinations. Amazon wins on convenience. So the marketing plan should have a price matching program, a discount for using a gift card in-store and fast, free shipping for online orders. Engaging kids (and their parental units) to make it an experiential destination is the key.
Good luck Jerry! I hope you are successful in getting the opportunity to reinvent ToysRUs. I know even Geoffrey would stick his neck out for you.