“It’s a time warp – same layout, same colour palette and, in some cases, the same old product”: Designers talk Toys R Us woes

As Toys R Us UK enters administration; we asked figures from the toy and game design community for their thoughts on what went wrong for the retail giant.

Rob Ames, Co-Founder, Triclops Studio
For as long as we’ve been involved in the toy design business, Toys R Us has been a staple. Whether it’s store-checking for research purposes, buying the latest releases to boost your toy collection or simply putting a smile on your face seeing all the products you’ve had a hand in designing on the shelf in all their glory. However, in the time we’ve been supporting Toys R Us, the stores themselves haven’t changed physically in over 18 years. It’s a time warp – same layout, same colour palette and in some cases, the same old product! Refreshing the stores, products and ultimately stocking the latest releases (in numbers) is key to buyer fulfilment. It can’t just be a warehouse for toys; it has to be an engaging wonderland for shoppers. Long gone are the days of in-store spectacles which enticed buyers to shop at their stores. Obviously online shopping with all its new ways to buy or ‘wish list’ toys have hit these old-school retailers hard, but if you don’t compete you’ll get left behind… and then comes the ramifications of that – debt, inventory, massive tax bills etc.

Gillian Logan, Director, Skinny Sketcher
From an architect’s point of view, I’ve always found the out of town shopping model slightly depressing because of the negative impact that it had on the urban realm, with a huge downturn in High Street footfall. But, I can see why the model was popular with consumers at the time, given the parking restrictions in High Streets, making shopping for bulky items tricky. Clearly a huge amount of consumers preferred the convenience of loading their shopping direct from trolley to car. However, with the emergence of online shopping, out of town stores, such as Toys R Us, were left geographically in a no man’s land and became the obvious casualties as convenience shopping evolved.

Richard Heayes, Founder, Heayes Design & PlayLenz
No one can match the game wall in the UK, so that will have an impact on diversity, but I’m hoping and expecting others, including online, will pick up the slack. One thing that might happen is the need for smaller boxes to suit smaller stores and postage costs.

Ben Callicott, Head of Product, Primo Toys
I feel it is a combination of consumers being more aware of the toys they buy their children and looking beyond the traditional mass toys stocked at a Toys R Us. Plus, where Toys R Us once was the destination of choice for many kids, it is no longer an experience and has lost its magic. You can also add in the fact that retail is evolving with online, and with the slow regeneration of our High Streets, the idea of driving out of town to retail stores is becoming dated.

Mike Moody, CEO, Seven Towns
It’s never good news when a major toy and game retailer goes to the wall, especially one that carried such a diverse a deep line of product, and it’s not good news at all for the inventing community. However, Toys R Us was saddled by debt inflicted on it by its US parent over the past last 10 years and the once successful predator who took significant business away from the High Street has found itself caught out by a radically changing market place, without sufficient funds to address their problems. While it was modernising to smaller units in malls, its old style sheds with zero atmosphere became a place people only to visit if absolutely essential. In recent years, the arrival of online shopping, coupled with the expansion of Smyths and The Entertainer, gave consumers more convenient shopping choices – they no longer needed to make a special visit to those cold old Toys R Us sheds. Finally, we should all be sad to lose them because whether their management knew it or not, they supported inventors well over the years – probably carrying more inventor items than most other stores simply by their size and extensive range!

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