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Robotgalaxy extends build-a-toy retail model to boys

There's no denying the success of DIY retail. Just look at Build-A-Bear Workshop, which in one decade has built an empire of 300 stores that yielded US$437 million in revenue at last fiscal count in '06.
January 1, 2008

There’s no denying the success of DIY retail. Just look at Build-A-Bear Workshop, which in one decade has built an empire of 300 stores that yielded US$437 million in revenue at last fiscal count in ’06.

Banking on the model to work just as well with boys 12 and under as it has with preschoolers is newcomer Robotgalaxy, a mall-based retailer that launched its first two build-your-own-robot stores in New Jersey and New York late last year.

The retail concept and the ‘bots it churns out are based on a proprietary comic book series that follows the story of a squadron of robots spawned on the seventh ring of Saturn. The stores are designed to look like the spaceship-cum-laboratory found in the books, and a 12-foot model of Saturn sits at the epicenter of their square footage.

Kids pick out and piece together their robot parts, and then they place their completed works on a platform that rises to deposit the toys into the mini-Saturn. A musical display then marks the robots’ descent from the middle of the mock planet, and the robots pop out activated and able to say their owner-chosen nicknames.

As for cost, basic robots built with a minimum five parts start at US$27 and can take as little as 15 minutes to assemble. But adding on more robo-bits, accessories (such as stickers) and vehicles (space rovers) can raise the price to as much as US$80. The shop also has an in-store boutique where kids can buy space-related novelties such as rocket launchers and freeze-dried ice cream.

The perennially popular robot got a huge boost this past year with resurgence of the Transformers franchise, so Robotgalaxy may have ‘landed’ at the right time. Looking at the numbers, sales of robotic and interactive playthings experienced solid growth in the 12 months that ended September 2007. According to The NPD Group’s toys and video games industry analyst Anita Frazier, the category generated US$288 million at retail during the period, up a sizeable 35% from the US$213 million tracked in 2006.

While he wouldn’t divulge sales stats, Robotgalaxy founder and chairman Oliver Mitchell says retail sales are exceeding expectations. Robotgalaxy website sales have doubled since the product’s mid-December appearance on US chatfest The Rachael Ray Show, and more than 3,000 gift cards have sold through, primarily to grandparents keen to indulge their grandsons’ love of space-related toys.

Mitchell says the Rachel Ray spot and similar PR-instigated mentions in magazines such as Reader’s Digest and appearances on TV shows like Fox Business Network’s Money for Breakfast have helped drive brand awareness and in-store traffic.

Additional characters are being added to the quarterly comic book series, which should launch at comic book retailers in the US later this year. The broader narrative scope will also spur product refreshes that should help drive collectibility and keep kids coming back to the stores.

Mitchell also says his long-term plan is to open 70 more across the US over the next five years, primarily focusing on the northeastern states. And another expansion plan includes the launch of an extensive online community where kids will be able to play games under their robots’ aliases.

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