Toys "R" Us is opening its doors once again to welcome shoppers to the world of bikes and trains and video games.
"There just has not been another store to fill that void of giving us a single destination where you can browse and enjoy all of your toys," WHP Global CEO Yehuda Shmidman. "So Toys 'R' Us coming back is really — it's time. We've all been waiting for it."
The brand's parent company Tru Kids was acquired by WHP Global in March 2021, and it vowed a return to the physical retail experience. On Tuesday, the company opened its U.S. flagship location in American Dream, a megamall based in East Rutherford, N.J. The 20,000-square-foot space features a two-story slide, a cafe helped by none other than Geoffrey the Giraffe, live demonstrations, and, of course, more than 10,000 toys.
"When we saw the vision that they had, combined with what we're doing, it was really an alignment of stars," said American Dream developer Paul Ghermezian. "We need to do this, but we need to do it right. And I think that they've nailed it."
The flagship store will be joined by more than 400 other Toys "R" Us locations, which will begin opening inside U.S. Macy's department stores in 2022. Products are already available for sale on ToysRUs.com and Macy's online sites.
"This is a modern distribution formula," WHP's Shmidman said. "That makes sense in omnichannel retailing. So there's no question digital is critical. But you still have to have physical engagement as well."
When Toys "R" Us declared bankruptcy in 2017, it closed all of its more than 700 U.S. retail locations. Some international locations have remained open, and the company tried to mount a comeback with two experience-based stores in 2019 at the Galleria mall in Houston and the Garden State Plaza in Paramus, N.J.. However, their hands-on activities and lack of traffic forced them to shutter their doors during the pandemic.
While e-commerce has increased throughout the pandemic and shows no sign of slowing down, both Shmidman and Ghermezian believe there's still a need for real-world experiences. If you know exactly what product you want to buy, then online shopping offers a wealth of options. But if you want to find something new, Shmidman believes you need that in-person option.
"If you want to browse with your kids, and you want to just enjoy the experience of walking through the toy store and saying, 'Wow, here's the hot toy' and 'I didn't know that toy was back.' And, 'I'd love that toy' — that experience of browsing — you got to come to Toys 'R' Us," he explained.
Ghermezian took his daughter to a pre-opening of the store and was awestruck by her amazement while she looked at all the different Barbie dolls she could choose from.
"What's beautiful about that too is she found a Barbie that wasn't blonde, that was her hair color," Ghermezian recalled. "And she said, 'Daddy it looks like me'! That's a sense of discovery that you can really get in a place like this that she never knew existed. And that's what makes it so special."