In-Depth

With A New Concept And A New Store In Houston, Toys R Us Hopes To Make A Comeback

Other retailers may want to pay attention to how Toys R Us’ new experiential stores work out.

The last Toys R Us stores closed in 2018 after the popular toy retailer went bankrupt. Now, they're trying to make a comeback.

Hundreds of shoppers lined up for the grand opening of the Toys R Us store in Houston's Galleria Mall on Dec. 7.

A day earlier, Tru Kids CEO Richard Barry led a soft opening for the media. Tru Kids took over the Toys R Us brand last year with a plan to do things a little differently.

The Houston location is just the second store to open, following one in New Jersey a week earlier.

"It's a dream come true to be able to bring a brand new shopping experience under the Toys R Us banner to Houston to one of the best malls in the country – this mall has over 30 million visitors a year," Barry said. "It was an easy choice to come to Houston."

The first thing customers see when they come in is a giant stuffed Geoffrey the Giraffe, the Toys R Us mascot, in front of a treehouse. The store also features a reading corner, a theater with hourly events and different spots to play with toys. The store is much smaller than previous Toys R Us locations and carries around 1,500 items — roughly one-tenth of the total Toys R Us inventory that can be accessed online.

"Really what's great about this store is the experience that it brings to kids," Barry said. "The fact that there are so many opportunities to have hands-on play, the fact that we've taken analog play, being able to touch things and really mash that up with digital experience as well."

The new concept – to make shopping an experience – resonates with Courtney Miculek, who visited the new store when it opened.

"I like that I could bring my girls in here and I could shop and they could play a little bit," she said. "So they know if they're actually going to like some of the toys I'm going to pick up for them, so that's pretty cool."

Shopper Sara Ahmed, who has two young boys, said she appreciates the smaller store size.

"I like that it's got small pockets of different areas," she said. "They've got the monster trucks, they've got the Barbies, they've got all of it, but it's smaller quantities. So I kind of like not having to be overwhelmed with thousands and thousands of choices."

Connie Porter, marketing professor at Rice University's Jones School of Business, said this new concept is a smart strategy.

She said Toys R Us ran out of money because just selling toys wasn't enough to keep up with competition from big-box retailers like Walmart and the online marketplace.

"When a customer goes in and has a great experience, they remember who provided that," she said. "It doesn't matter who made the toy. It's who provided that space."

This is not only true for toy retailers, Porter said. She pointed to Starbucks, which has been experimenting with "roasteries," where customers can get a closer look at how their coffee is made.

Porter said it's about being able to offer something unique.

"Ultimately, products can be copied. Ultimately, people can even copy some of the services that you provide," she said. "But if you can get deeper knowledge – based on data hopefully – about your customers, you're able to offer them an experience like no-one else can."

And in the case of Toys R Us, take the experience to where the people are. Barry said they're looking to hopefully open more stores.

"Let's get into the best malls with great traffic, with great partners," he said. "And let's bring Toys R Us to the masses."

Other retail companies will likely be watching how it works out for Toys R Us. And Porter said it'll help them decide if they want to follow the concept.

"Seeing what they do right, seeing where they stumble can definitely help others maybe be a fast follower and benefit from that," she said. "So yeah, Toys R Us doesn't have a lock on this yet."

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Florian Martin

Florian Martin

Business Reporter

Florian Martin is currently the News 88.7 business reporter. Florian’s stories can frequently be heard on other public radio stations throughout Texas and on NPR nationwide. Some of them have earned him awards from Texas AP Broadcasters, the Houston Press Club, National Association of Real Estate Editors, and Public Radio...

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