Viacom is spreading its retail wings, and creating a testing ground for potential licensed products, by opening the first three outlets in what might eventually turn into an extensive retail chain for the Nickelodeon cable channel.
In partnership with Nickelodeon, Viacom Retail Group (VRG) announced last month that it was opening Nickelodeon stores in three of the top retail venues in the U.S.: Mall of America in Minneapolis, Roosevelt Field on Long Island, and Woodfield Mall in Schaumberg, Illinois, outside Chicago.
Although VRG had been planning to open five Nickelodeon stores by the end of the year, the company wasn’t able to finalize all the necessary realty arrangements in time for the Christmas shopping period, says Shelly Atkinson, a spokesperson for Nickelodeon.
Atkinson says the company will keep an eye on how well the initial three Nickelodeon stores perform during the holiday period before confirming the opening of any new outlets. ‘More stores are planned,’ she says, ‘but we just don’t have any specifics at this point.’
This past summer, VRG vice president of marketing Janice Hamlin told KidScreen that the company was hoping to open at least 100 Nickelodeon stores in the U.S. over a two-year period, beginning in 1998 (see KidScreen’s July 1997 issue, ‘Viacom maps ambitious retail strategy,’ page R1).
The predominant visual elements inside the new Nickelodeon stores, which range in size from 3,900 to 4,800 square feet-down from the 6,000- to 10,000-square-foot establishments earlier envisioned by Hamlin-include tilted walls, purple ceilings, slimed cabinets, bright colors and bold patterns.
Inside the stores, kids will come across some of the same interactive displays and activity centers that are featured at the Nickelodeon boutique at the flagship Viacom Entertainment Store on Chicago’s famed Michigan Avenue. Highlights include a Hideout Hut playhouse and a Welcome Totem Pole that features more than 70 audio and mechanical effects, including a giant conveyor belt that runs through the store.
Different areas of the store highlight specific Nickelodeon properties, such as SNICK (Saturday Night Nickelodeon) and Nick Jr. (Nickelodeon’s preschool programming).
The new stores carry more than 2,000 branded products, 75 percent of which have been created exclusively for the Nickelodeon stores, including products tied to shows such as Hey Arnold! and Blue’s Clues. Besides toys, product lines include apparel and accessories, hardlines and even home furnishings.
Commenting on the fact that Nickelodeon and VRG view the new stores as ‘creative laboratories’ that will allow new products, developed in-house by VRG, to be tested before the properties are offered to potential licensees, Linda Schupack, Nickelodeon’s vice president and creative director, says the channel is in a great position to learn more about how kids relate to its shows almost from the moment they go to air.
‘We’ll be able to test demand and kids’ response to the products, the properties and the individual characters,’ she says.
‘The licensing market is so tight and competitive these days,’ Schupack adds, ‘that it is extraordinary for us to be able to offer proven properties, to be able to come to licensee and retail partners and say, `We have a property that has proven demand.’ ‘