Toys ‘R’ Us is coming back from the dead, but you might not recognize it. The new stores won’t have aisles and aisles of toys stacked high. They will be smaller, with toys on display for kids to play with and spaces for toy demonstrations and events. Brand partners will have dedicated spaces within the store.
The toy retailer said on Thursday it is teaming up with next-generation retail and tech company b8ta to reinvent itself, and it plans to open two stores this fall as part of its rebirth.
“We’ve got the chance to take a completely blank piece of canvas and paint what a new store looks like,” said Richard Barry, CEO of Tru Kids Brands. Tru Kids Brands, the parent company that owns the Toys ‘R’ Us trademarks, has formed a joint venture with b8ta to create a toy store inspired by the b8ta model of retail spaces as interactive showcases for new products.
Phillip Raub, cofounder and president of b8ta, was a Toys ‘R’ Us kid growing up and he remembers the stores as fun places where he could run around in the aisles and play with new toys.
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“We want to create an environment that is going to be a really exciting place people want to come back to over and over again,” Raub said.
The new concept will be launched in two high-traffic shopping malls—The Galleria in Houston, and Westfield Garden State Plaza in Paramus, New Jersey. They are expected to open in November, Barry said. The initial stores will each be about 6,500 square feet, roughly a quarter of the size of a traditional Toys ‘R’ Us store.
Raub said the partners expect to have 10 of the reborn Toys ‘R’ Us stores open by the end of 2020. Future stores will be slightly larger than the first two, at about 10,000 square feet, he said.
With b8ta, Tru Kids has chosen to work with a company founded four years ago with the mission of reinventing retail. It started with an experimental store in Palo Alto that sold mostly consumer electronics. Manufacturers paid to exhibit products, and shoppers were encouraged to interact with the products.
There now are 17 b8ta stores around the country, in high profile locations like Hudson Yards in Manhattan. Macy’s became a minor investor in the company, and partnered with b8ta to operate its The Market@Macy’s pop-up shops, where it rents display space to vendors.
It calls its business model “retail as a service,” and it has created software that helps retailers manage renting out display space to a rotating roster of vendors and that can collect feedback from shoppers and connect them with ways to shop online, if that is what they prefer.
While the reborn Toys ‘R’ Us stores will be a 50-50 partnership with b8ta, the b8ta name won’t be see in the stores. They will be branded entirely as Toys ‘R’ Us stores, using the traditional logos, which are owned by Tru Kids following the bankruptcy and liquidation of Toys ‘R’ Us.
Barry said the new stores will have both “analog” experiences such as play areas and toy demonstrations, and “digital” experiences. The brand stores “will have screens and kiosks that will allow you to not only buy the assortment that physically there in the store, but to link to toysrus.com and buy as wide an assortment as you might want,” he said.
The Toys ‘R’ Us stores won’t be just showrooms. They also will have merchandise in stock for immediate purchases. “It would be quite a miserable experience in a toy store not to be able to buy things,” Barry said.
And while it is being reborn, the new Toys ‘R’ Us plans to remember its roots. “Toys ‘R’ Us is a 70-year-old brand with an incredible heritage and we’re going to rely on that heritage,” Barry said.
And shoppers can expect to see a familiar face in the new stores. The beloved Toys ‘R’ Us mascot, Geoffrey, is still part of the team: a huge Geoffrey figure will be on display at the entrances, ready for selfies.
Date: July 25, 2019