Toys ‘R’ Us may not be winning the price war with big-box competitors like Wal-Mart and Target, but the chain is fighting back by testing a number of experimental store concepts designed to forge a stronger year-round connection with consumers. ‘We’ve owned the ritual of buying toys for birthdays and Christmas for decades,’ says Joel Anderson, TRU’s VP of new ventures. But the goal now is to expand that stronghold by keying into other important kid milestones. To date, the chain’s most promising attempt at reaching this objective is the Geoffrey store concept, which brings together every TRU brand (including Imaginarium, Kids ‘R’ Us and Babies ‘R’ Us) under one roof and mixes in fun, interactive extras.
A first store in Font du Lac, Wisconsin kicked off the effort in 2002, and the company opened 16 additional Geoffrey locations in 2003. All of the stores are located in rural areas, in keeping with the company’s goal of breaking into untapped second-tier markets. In select urban areas, TRU stores will be retrofitted with some of Geoffrey’s more popular in-store elements.
One of the main draws for kids and parents alike is the Studio G activity center, which benefits from front-and-center store placement. TRU has partnered with several vendors to feature a different planned activity each day of the week, including a Crayola craft event centering around the company’s Model Magic products, and Learning Curve’s giant train set that kids can explore on Thomas the Tank Engine Thursdays.
Anderson says TRU is wide open to working with other manufacturers in its supply chain to come up with new Studio G features, adding that they can be a great way to gauge market response to new toy concepts and products.
Geoffrey can also help kids celebrate their birthdays with one of eight different themed parties featuring popular brands such as MGA Entertainment’s Bratz and Marvel’s The Hulk. Geoffrey staff provides the set-up, activities, food and clean-up, and the themes rotate about once a year.
But a visit to Geoffrey is about more than just playing. Parents will appreciate the double-tasking appeal of being able to get their kids coiffed and photographed in a single fun environment. In partnership with Dallas, Texas-based Cool Cuts, the stores feature salons where kids can play video games while perched on barber chairs shaped like trucks and rockets. And a Focus Pocus photo studio jointly operated with Foster City, California-based Picture People, specializes in portraits featuring one-of-a-kind costumes and props like giant lily pads and baseball gloves.
Though the mega-store concept is not new, Anderson says Geoffrey is different because it’s ‘laser-focused on kids. We’re trying to concentrate on experience. Retailing is not just about the price component.’ Although he couldn’t give a traffic update yet, Anderson says customers who used to shop at TRU stores three or four times a year are showing up at Geoffrey three or four times a month.
There are four to eight new store launches planned in 2004, and provided the Geoffrey concept proves to be profitable, Anderson says TRU is on track to open about 20 new stores a year, putting Geoffrey’s expansion rate on pace with the chain’s popular Babies ‘R’ Us stores.