FAO Schwarz Rises Again…Sort of

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As someone who grew up revering FAO Schwarz as the epicenter of the toy universe, I was saddened by the company's gradual descent into oblivion. Toys R Us has owned the retailer since 2009 but had done little with it until soaring Manhattan commercial rents ended an almost 150 year run.

This week we learned that the venerable brand has been sold to ThreeSixty, a consumer products manufacturer. They are, please note, not a retailer.

ThreeSixty's brands products are varied and ubiquitous. According to a CSA article by Marianne Wilson, "Toys 'R' Us sells FAO Schwarz": "ThreeSixty designs, manufactures and distributes toys and other consumer products under a portfolio of owned and licensed brands — including, Sharper Image, Black Series, Discovery Kids, Smithsonian, and Animal Planet — for over 70,000 retail stores across the country."

What they don't have is retail stores. I think that is a problem for a brand like FAO that was as much about place as it was about product. It was therefore far more than the sum of its parts. It was a destination whose very name lit up a fantasy of the ultimate toy store. It was a place where one expected to find around every corner something new, amazing and magical. I simply don't believe that putting FAO Schwarz on a series of products, no matter how good they are, is going to ultimately be compelling.

I would love to see ThreeSixty, or if not them someone in the retail business, take on bringing this institution back to the place it used to be. A place where people dance on pianos and giant clocks smile the time. A place where your great, great, great grandparents shopped and you can too.

I hope ThreeSixty can bring FAO Schwarz back to life. The toy industry needs it, the kids need it…we all need it.

2 thoughts

  1. I completely agree, Richard. TRU having ownership made sense, albeit, having a tough time with it fully of the ground. Having ThreeSixty own the brand seems very much like a Li & Fung-type sourcing powerhouse owning the brand. The magic and connection at retail is where it’s at, not sure how that will relate as just another brand in potential planogram… or even in specialty. It will be interesting to follow.

  2. Richard,
    I agree with you…well, kind of, sort of.
    It would be great if FAO returned in its original iteration, as a destination like American Girl Place or the Disney Store or the LEGO Store, but the fact that ThreeSixty picked up the brand is encouraging to me. TRU did a dismal job after adding FAO to its stable of private labels, and they’ve never truly appreciated the value of the brand. ThreeSixty has added value to the other brands they’ve acquired and maintained the spirit of what made those brands exciting and great.
    Can FAO be a product line? That depends on the talent ThreeSixty secures to form its NPD group. Hopefully the people who are developing the next spiffy air purifier or massage chair for Sharper Image won’t be the same people who are designing classic toys for FAO.
    Likewise, hopefully ThreeSixty won’t simply troll today’s toy companies for the design team that will create the magical things that recall all of the wonder of the FAO Schwarz store on 5th Avenue.
    This will be more challenging and creative than developing limited edition line extensions for Monster High or aiming for the most disgusting $3 blind pack collectible figures.
    I guess we’ll all have to wait and see if ThreeSixty truly appreciates what they’ve acquired and takes the right steps to build a line that rekindles the magic that lasted for more than a century. Who knows? Maybe it’ll be so successful that an iconic store will be the perfect venue.
    I’d like that.
    John

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