Today, Toys R Us opened its first U.S. store since filing for bankruptcy in 2017. But the store, which is located at Garden State Plaza in Paramus, NJ, isn’t the warehouse that many Gen Xers and millennials remember—in fact, it’s about a quarter of the size of the old stores.
Instead of boasting the biggest onsite toy selection, the new stores are built on an experiential model featuring interactive toy displays, play spaces and room for brand demonstrations and events. The second store opens at the Galleria in Houston on Dec. 7, and several others will follow over the course of 2020, though locations have yet to be announced.
“The amazing opportunity that we were given here was to build the store from the ground up,” said Richard Barry, CEO of Toys R Us parent company Tru Kids Brands. In creating the store, Barry and his team focused on one question: “How could experience and hands on play be a core element of the strategy?”
In the Toys R Us stores, it’s all about allowing kids to simply sit down and play. Brands like Hasbro’s Nerf, Lego, Melissa & Doug, Nintendo, VTech and Spin Master’s Paw Patrol all have space at the new stores to allow kids and their parents to test out new products.
“One of the things that’s been exciting and new today is having customers in the store, it’s so much more fun,” Barry said. Adults have been walking into the store and thanking staff, Barry said, for bringing back the store that they connected to as a child and can now share with their own children.
For kids who grew up in the 80s and 90s, the Toys R Us jingle is an unforgettable and nostalgia-filled pillar of childhood. Toys R Us became a household name because its warehouse-style retail allowed the brand to tout the lowest prices on the hottest toys, but the arrival of online purchasing decimated the company. After bleeding money for years, Toys R Us filed for bankruptcy in 2017 and completely liquidated its assets.
In January, Toys R Us executives formed Tru Kids Brands, which owns the rights to the Toys R Us, Babies R Us and Geoffrey the Giraffe brands, as well as several other Toys R Us original toy brands.
The new stores have permanent interactive installations set up, such as a tree house in the middle of the shop that kids can climb up into with a bench and grassy area below fully stocked with several classic storybooks. A theater space in the back of the store is available to host brand events, product launches, author events and birthday parties.
To bring the brand back to life, Tru Kids Brands partnered with b8ta, a tech-forward retail company founded in 2015. The founders of the company wanted to address a gap that they perceived between the new, innovative tech products available online and what customers are actually able to try out before buying.
Aside from Apple stores, most tech products at retail stores “tend to be in a box, on a shelf,” according to Phillip Raub, president and co-founder of b8ta. And as b8ta was launching, online tech companies were beginning to realize that providing a place for consumers to physically connect with the brand had massive benefits for sales.
“We saw that physical retail was taking on an advertising presence,” Raub said. “Makers started wanting to come into stores rather than just launching online.”
To get a spot at a b8ta store, brands sign up online for a slot and customers can come to test their products out of the box. The stores provide interactive stations for things like connected kitchens, virtual reality rooms or all-electric Mini Coopers.
B8ta stores can also provide data to brands in a way that’s otherwise nearly impossible to get. “[Our stores allow] them to a/b test pricing and marketing” in a way that they never had access to before, Raub said.
There are still around 1,500 products for sale in the Toys R Us, but customers can use large, interactive screens to access a 15,000-product inventory of toys if they’re not in stock at the physical location. Toys R Us is partnering with Target to allow purchases through its online store. Customers can choose to have the products shipped or pick them up at a Target store.