The purchase of Imaginarium by Imagine Acquisition Corporation signals a new beginning for the 44-store, US$45-million upscale toy retailer.
The February acquisition by the new ownership group allows Imaginarium to immediately emerge out of Chapter 11. Transfer of all rights of the Imaginarium name will be made upon completion of bankruptcy proceedings by the former owners, California-based Imaginarium, Inc.
Former Toys ‘R’ Us executive Ronald E. Tuchman will serve as chairman of the board and chief executive officer. The company has moved the executive offices, warehouse and distribution facilities to Saddle Brook, New Jersey.
Tuchman plans to return the chain to its former number one position in the upscale young children’s toy niche, ahead of retailers like Learning Smith and Noodle Kidoodle, by upgrading the store design, offering a wider merchandising mix, opening new franchises and improving internal efficiency in areas such as distribution. ‘We’re not repositioning Imaginarium; we’re going to improve the way it d’es business,’ he says.
Imaginarium stores need a friendlier, fresher, contemporary design that creates a better flow of traffic and displays merchandise in a more opportunistic environment, says Tuchman. Store redesign is expected to begin in late April.
The new ownership is encouraged by the interest and support it has received from merchandisers and store employees. Connie Van Epps, executive vice president and director of merchandise, has met with specialty vendors, including some who had difficulty doing business with the old Imaginarium, in an effort to devise successful retail strategies for positioning their products in Imaginarium stores.
Van Epps, who comes from FAO Schwarz, is intent on building the store’s private-label product. ‘Imaginarium is in itself a great name and has a terrific reputation,’ she says. ‘There’s a great opportunity at hand to have some terrific products.’
For employees Tuchman calls them ‘toyologists’ who have suffered from low morale due to little corporate support, lack of flow of merchandise and the fear of losing their jobs, Tuchman believes the new ownership has injected a renewed enthusiasm that is apparent at the retail level.
Tuchman remains bullish that the upscale toy market is poised for solid growth, and that Imaginarium will be at the center of this growth. He believes that consumer dissatisfaction with mass-market retailers, combined with a growing base of upscale consumers not affected by economic downturns, creates a huge market for upscale toy products.
‘The upscale toy specialty business is similar to where the mass-market toy business was about 15 to 20 years ago,’ says Tuchman. ‘It’s ready to blossom and become the most favorable and most profitable part of the toy business into the future.’