by: David Polinchock

An interesting debate over at Retail Wire about this attempt by Toys R Us to increase the visitations by shoppers, who in this economy, may be cutting back on their toy purchases. Comments are mixed, with some people supporting the brand extensions and other people concerned that they are moving into low margin territories that are well covered by other retailers.

I know that they tried a store concept in the past called Geoffrey's (see Geoffrey opens retailtainment door - Toys "R" Us | DSN Retailing Today | Find Articles at BNET for some info on that concept), but I don't think they ever went anywhere with them. Is grocery's the right area for them to be in or would they be better off creating an environment that was all about kids & fun? Would they be better off creating spaces that can be rented for birthday parties and things like that?

I have mixed feelings as I thought that the Geoffrey concept was really an interesting positioning for them. When they were opening them in 2003, Joel Anderson, vp of new ventures for Toys "R" Us said:

"It's really about capturing the childhood experience and the rituals of growing up," said Anderson. "And it's about making the stores a destination for parents and a fun place for kids 365 days a year."

For a store like Toys R Us, I like that kind of thinking. Creating a destination for fun. Yep, that's what I think Toys R Us should be. And maybe back in 2003, when the economy was doing well and people had money to spend, it would've been a more "upscale" kind of place. But I think today, it could play an even better role, by creating that one, elusive environment that parents & children both want -- a place that each other likes! As parents, we've all had to endure the Chuck E. Cheese visit and places like that. Places where the kids have a great time, but us parents really don't want to go in the first place & we certainly don't want to stay long once we're there.

Years ago, when we lived in the city and didn't have a child, we would walk past a place in the East Village that was a converted brownstone coffee shop/kids play room. The upstairs was Starbuck's like, with coffee, pastries, etc., and then downstairs they had the children's play space, that was always staffed. So, you would frequently see families on a Sunday morning with parents upstairs reading the Times and the kids playing downstairs. It was a good environment for both sides. So, my questions is:

Should Toys R Us Become a Third Place for Children & families?

So maybe TRU has an opportunity to figure out how to become that fun destination, especially in this tight economy. Maybe create more spaces for children to actually play together. Heck, the main reason we go to the Burger King in West Orange is because it has a playground, which becomes a third place for Sydney to meet and play with other kids. Should TRU become a third place for children & families? Should they maybe add restaurants and things like that instead of groceries? Any thoughts?

Toys "R" Us is looking to give shoppers a reason to visit its stores more frequently with the rollout of the "R" Market store-within-a-store concept that provides a wide range of kid-focused products including diapers, infant formula, baby food, lunchbox items, paper goods, health and beauty items, household cleaners and more.

Each "R" Market will feature roughly 1,300 items in a convenient shopping format located at the front of Toys "R" Us stores. The chain currently has "R" Markets in 260 stores with plans to roll the concept out to all of its 585 locations in the U.S. this year.

"As part of our business strategy, we are continually focused on improving the shopping experience for customers in our stores. This includes looking for new ways to provide busy parents with the convenience of finding everything they need for their kids under one roof," said Jerry Storch, chairman and CEO, Toys "R" Us, Inc., in a press release. "The introduction of 'R' Market offers customers a uniquely edited presentation of differentiated, kid-focused products from well-known manufacturers, as well as newer brands."

Toys 'R' Us Expanding Kids Convenience Concept - Retail News.. (Registration may be required.)

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