Once upon a time, Toys “R” Us ruled supreme. People of a certain age will remember when nothing was more exciting than a trip to those hallowed aisles, watched over by Geoffrey the Giraffe. However, the company filed for bankruptcy in 2017, and closed its British stores the following year.
Unsurprisingly, toys aren’t immune to the problems plaguing other retailers. Shops of all kinds are familiar with the way the internet has encroached on their business, and this, combined with the fact that younger people just don’t shop in the same way as older generations do, has led to the slow decline of the high street. But according to Brand Design Lab – the studio behind a trio of new FAO Schwarz toy shops in London’s Selfridges, Dublin’s Arnotts and Beijing’s Kids Land – this seemingly tough environment offers a huge opportunity to rethink retail.
“There obviously isn’t much competition out there, in terms of toy retailing,” explains Elise Cotton, Design Director at the studio. “Because of Toys “R” Us closing, we’ve only got a few low-end toy shops, and then Hamley’s, so it’s really quite an untouched market. There’s so much opportunity to do something which is really experiential, and is going to capture people’s attention. FAO Schwarz is about a day out for the whole family, rather than just needing to go and buy a toy. It’s about an experience that you’re going to remember. We’re not trying to get people in because the toys are cheap. We’re inviting them in because they’ll fall in love with it. We’re creating memories that are affiliated with the brand, rather than just being all about the products and selling them. They’re a byproduct of that experience.”
Part of the challenge is that children now demand so much more from stores than in the past. As Brand Design Lab founder Paul Mynard points out, we might have fond memories of Toys “R” Us, but they were really little more than huge warehouses – with very little interactivity or play incorporated into them.