I didn’t want to grow up. I wanted to be a Toys ‘R’ Us kid for life. Even as I got older, I still enjoyed going into “the” toy store. I took my kids. They’d ask me every time we passed by one, “Dad, can we go to Toys ‘R’ Us?” And many times, we did. We didn’t always buy something, but we went in. Why? Not to tease my kids, but to spark their imagination. No other store had the sheer volume of toys, and that was special.
Toy Shopping is Tough This Year
Maybe it is just me, or maybe it is just the sign of the times, but toy shopping in 2018 is tough. Asking our children for ideas for Christmas, and not just for ourselves to give them as gifts, but for family members as well is like asking them if they want to go to the dentist or clean their room. It is like pulling teeth or a chore. They don’t want to do it. Please, flip through this Target catalog and circle what you want. Let’s get on Amazon and search for toys. “There isn’t anything I want.” “I can’t find anything.” “Why don’t they have more video games?” We’ve heard every excuse. My wife has even resorted to dragging them TO Target and browse the toy aisles to no avail. It’s just not the same.
No other store, short of an actual Lego store, could you find so many sets from different series,
Everyone is Trying to Capitalize on the Toys ‘R’ Us Void
This weekend I was in Home Depot getting some items for a project I was going to make for a holiday gift. As I walked in the main entrance I was not only greeted with the normal light bulbs or grills or even holiday ornaments. I was presented with a kids bicycle! Wait, what?! Then I saw a bunch of temporary displays in the aisle with coloring books, drones, kids floor mats for cars to drive on, and more. Moving through the aisles I saw more of these next to end-caps. Every open space in my normal spacious home improvement big box was now filled with non-home improvement items. Here is just a fraction of what I saw.
Now, Home Depot isn’t the first store to try to edge into the toy space, even when Toys ‘R’ Us was around. Kohl’s has been doing it for years, with a small space, and then getting larger around the holiday. For them, it is also bleeding into electronics and now the strategic partnership with Amazon to have their in-store experience certainly has helped them move beyond the department store retailer they were known for.
Amazon Can’t Fill the Void
No matter how you slice it, Amazon isn’t the answer to everything. The convenience of the e-commerce giant can’t fill the experience of flipping through a catalog and imagining playing with a toy. It can’t let you hold the box, shake it, flip it over to read the back, and imagine it in your toy room. It can’t show you, up close and personal, the entire collection in a setting, right next to each other ready for you to dream about having them all. Nope, you can just swipe through a few photos, play a video (maybe) and see if it has good reviews or not. And to boot, not every cool toy is sold on Amazon.
As a parent, yes, Amazon is great. I buy a product or ten and it shows up on my doorstep two days later. Or I need a last minute gift and I can’t get out to shop. Yep, it fills that void perfectly. Gift wrapped? Yes, please. Click, click, boom. Call me old fashion, but there is just something about walking through a store and browsing. That “discovery” process is not the same when you are clicking/swiping/tapping through screen after screen.
Don’t Call it a Comeback…Yet
So while we have entered the first real holiday season without a physical Toys ‘R’ Us store, it doesn’t mean Geoffrey the Giraffe and the brand is absent. After hedge fund investors decided to retain the name for a future endeavor, Kroger and the Geoffrey company (the subsidiary who owns the IP) brought Toys ‘R’ Us pop-ups to 600 Kroger grocery stores. I haven’t personally experienced one of these, but at least for some kids, the Giraffe is back!
It is just a start and nobody knows what it will really take to get back in the game. With all their physical stores sold and leases taken over during the liquidation, there is still a long road ahead for Geoffrey the Giraffe and the iconic Toys ‘R’ Us brand as a retailer. Compound that with the fact that staple toy makers like Mattel and Hasbro have been forced to cut new distribution deals with other outlets, it won’t be easy to bring everyone back together. So what opportunity lies ahead?
Even if Toys ‘R’ Us Makes a Come Back It Shouldn’t be the Same
There will be case study after case study written on where Toys ‘R’ Us went wrong. How it didn’t innovate enough for the in-store experience. How they could have dominated the toy industry and shopping experience. Now’s the opportunity. What makes a kid today different than a kid of my generation? In some ways, a lot! In other ways, not much is different. Sure we have more advanced technology to make gaming systems amazing. We have robotic dogs that you can interact with your voice. But, we still have kids that want a stuffed animal. We still have our imagination. We still have senses that need stimulation and engagement. And that’s where Toys ‘R’ Us can shine. Bring a new experience to the store. Host gaming competitions. Host build-offs. Bring S.T.E.M. classes in-store to teach kids how to build the next inventions. Robotics coding classes. Turn your store into a playground for the mind and soul! The opportunities are endless than to just be a “toy store.”
Just don’t forget to be a “toy store” that allow kids to pick up boxes, flip them over, see a set all put together. Let them discover and be a kid.