The new, Post-Toys R Us landscape is beginning to come into focus and it is one that is, not surprisingly, going to be dominated by Target and Wal-Mart. Both chains have seen the opportunity that the demise of Toys R Us provides and are, accordingly, increasing their sku counts and in the case of Target creating a new, toy shopping environment. Those two chains plus Amazon will undoubtedly be the major players in toy retail.
They are, however, not alone in upping their games. Also announcing increased toy departments are J.C. Penney, Barnes & Noble and Kohl's. Interestingly, I have not been able to find any announcements from Meijer, Fred Meyer or Shopko regarding their plans to capture additional toy dollars. It is hard to believe that these regional mass merchandisers will not take advantage of the opportunity to expand their toy sales.
All of this is good news but none of these stores, no matter how well intentioned they are, are toy stores.
Rather, they are places that you go to purchase groceries, soft goods, hardware and…toys. As a result, the lost Toys R US dollars will be ultimately retained but the quality and diversity of product will not.
Toys R Us was purported to have have been responsible for 12% of toy sales in the United States. Their importance, however, was much broader than that, as they enabled smaller toy companies, companies not big enough for a Wal-Mart or Target, to launch new and innovative products. How many toy companies that are robust players today got their start by getting placement in Toys R Us? That ability to incubate new toy companies and new toys is going to be sorely missed by the industry.
Toys R Us was not my idea of a great toy retailer by any means but they were dedicated to the business of play and children are going to miss the chance to visit a store that is only about toys and play. We are, if no major toy retailer enters the picture, going to have a generation of children that will grow up without getting the sense of wonder that comes from visiting a place that is dedicated to nothing but play, fun and toys. They will have no idea that there are literally hundreds of thousands of unique toys in the world. They will only see that which is heavily advertised and promoted. The joy of surprise and wonder simply can not be captured by a Wal-Mart or a Target.
So, when it comes to toys, more is more and we need more of it. That means we have to hope that retail groups like Learning Express, Hobby Town and the Good Toy Group will increase their store counts and that local, individual retailers will do the same.
The fight for the toy business is on and that is good. The winners may not, however, ultimately be the types of winners that are best suited for a healthy toy industry.