GAME OVER: Recreating Toys ‘R’ Us v2.0

Breaking out of the big box store’s crippling defeat

Toys ‘R’ Us has not had a good 2018. From store closings and going-out-of-business sales to the death of founder Charles Lazarus just one week after the toy store announced it would start liquidating its locations, it’s been rough.

Online retailers are eating brick and mortar’s lunch because they offer the gift of time, a shopper’s most valuable resource. But if this time is so valuable, what are customers doing with all this newfound availability? Using it more wisely, or just hanging out on social media more?

The better question that retailers need to answer is: What do people want to spend time on? How can brick and mortar retailers offer that thing? What is the compelling reason for shoppers to leave their homes and battle red lights and road rage to get to your store?

ANSWER: Don’t compete on the amount of time saved. That’s impossible. Compete on the value of it. If online saves time, retail should be time well spent.

Here at Ivor Andrew, Toys ‘R’ Us was a big part of our lives growing up. So we put our heads together to organize unique marketing ideas for Toys ‘R’ Us version 2.0: sought-after experiences that can’t be reproduced online.


Kids want to play. I have three kids under the age of 5 and they loved three things at Toys ‘R’ Us: Climbing on the Power Wheels to imagine they’re driving, playing on the Thomas the Tank Engine train table (which we brought our own trains to because the store didn’t always supply them), and pulling out a good ol’ bouncy ball to chase each other down the aisle.

These were some of the only engaging activities in the store. Aisles stacked to the sky with boxes of toys might catch their eye if they’re not overwhelmed, but more importantly, it never created an engaging experience.

Toys ‘R’ Us 2.0 would rethink layout and create engaging spaces for kids to test the larger considered purchase items like playgrounds, trampolines, and the like. The biggest ticket items in the old stores only existed on a slip of paper that you brought to the front.

Our immediate desire is to design a store layout that maximizes the interaction with the customer - rather than using all of its space for product. The current layout is heavily geared toward grab-and-go shopping. A hybrid free flow floor plan would give premiere retail space for specific toys, encourage creative browsing, move the mass of products to the rear of the store for picking, and create free space for some play. This new free space should also be used for interacting with new toy releases or toys in the R&D stage. Plus, toy manufacturers would love to get this market insight. Toys ‘R’ Us had an obligation to toy manufacturers, just as much as their paying customers, to give kids products they want.


Tournament team and skills competitions in an environment where they won’t break any of your lamps. Imagine sneaking around the store like Josh Baskins in BIG. Parents, drop off your kids and shop the other side of the store. It could also be a great opportunity for parents to do a Date Night Drop-Off, which is becoming popular among park districts, daycares, trampoline parks and gyms. Besides sponsoring the event, Nerf could provide unlimited ammo as well as give kids the opportunity to try new products prior to release.

Bonus Tip: Hit the lights and light the store in neon glow in the dark. Cosmic bowling has nothing on Nerf Night.


American Girl retail stores have remained relevant through generations by their experience-focused Mecca where kids can have brunch, hair salon day and tea parties with their dolls. It’s become a rite of passage for some kids. American Girl does not just sell dolls; they promote women’s equality rights and positive female character. And Barbie has aimed to do the same. We propose a traveling variety roadshow mixed with Role Model speakers, fashion shows, hair salons, Barbie-themed art classes and sports competitions. Barbie would document her journey through the country on social media so girls can follow along and know if she’s coming to their local store.

What if Barbie designers built a full-scale Dreamhouse that girls could walk through? What about giving girls the option of designing their own Dreamhouse in tandem with Barbie designers?

Barbie’s philosophy is “through a doll, the little girl can be anything she wanted to be.” It’s time to reach out and actively support our girls individually in those dreams.


If you still think Twitch, a platform based on people watching other people play video games, is a weird and doomed idea, first read this educational piece for clueless parents by our copywriter Luke Trayser: “What is Fortnite, And Why Won’t my Kid Shut up About It?

Michigan Stadium in Ann Arbor is currently the largest football field in the country. It seats 107,601. And every single night, the top Fortnite streamer in the world grabs more concurrent viewers than Michigan Stadium has seats.  Like it or not, the eSports audience now rivals traditional sports and will soon have dedicated stadiums to match.

As the nation’s primary toy store, Toys ‘R’ Us had the full attention of kids from age 2-10. But as those kids grow from tween to teen, more and more of their attention ends up on screens while their toys are sold in garage sales. There is a huge opportunity here where Toys ‘R’ Us 2.0 would take control of the video game retail industry, which is currently up for grabs between Target, Walmart and specialized video game stores like GameStop. It’s not enough to sell games, the video game experience should be the best.

By hosting live, on-site eSports, Toys ‘R’ Us 2.0 would actively gear up and participate in regional qualifying events, organize their own tournaments, and air the gameplay on the Toys ‘R’ Us Twitch channel. This also allows opportunities for educational tips and tricks events, live speakers, new game releases, and specialty game content offers if someone attends an event. What if your kid could play in a Madden tournament with Geoffrey?


Naturally, hosting children’s book authors cater to the target audience of Toys ‘R’ Us, but we would include adult authors—specifically of parenting books. It is an ideal brand alignment to support parents, especially considering the Babies ‘R’ Us brand.

How can I develop my skills as a parent? How do I install this car seat? Will I sleep again? I know many parents that would be interested. To seal the deal, please provide coffee.


20% of YouTube’s top 100 channels are focused on toys. Regional stores could welcome these kid influencers and brands could sponsor these events. New toy releases could be recorded live in-store for Youtube, with influencer reaction as well as audience reaction and participation. This could very well turn into something resembling Apple’s WDCC, where new products are announced by toy manufacturers and the attending audience has an opportunity to interact with the product before it comes out. Based on the 13 million subscribers of Ryan’s Toy Review, live unboxings would certainly attract an audience.


We’re realists. These ideas may not have solved the current Toys ‘R’ Us trajectory. Rather, brick and mortar retailers should use them to consider their differentiated value. It’s not WHAT your customer buys (same product online). It’s not HOW they buy (convenience being the biggest factor - online, Walmart, Target). It’s finding WHY they could come in-store to buy.

Retailers can’t rely on maximizing the square footage for product, so instead, maximize the square foot for the customer. Some current stores that are killing it in customer experience include:

The commonality among these? They focus space for the customer to experience their products and often provide amenities or edibles to encourage a prolonged stay.

So, take the focus off the products and focus instead on the lifestyle and experience your products are a part of. You need to be more than a warehouse of inventory where your customer picks for themselves. Give customers a reason to come in the store and adapt as they change. Focus on this experience and the buying results will come.

History will be littered with stores like Kmart, Toys ‘R’ Us, Sears and The Sports Authority, who failed to adapt to a changing economic landscape. If a company fails to understand how their customer is changing, they are destined to fail, as sad as it is for our own nostalgia. For many retailers, take note from Toys ‘R’ Us, it’s time to grow up.