The bankruptcy of Toys ‘R’ Us and the closure of its U.S. stores has been making headlines. But for small, independent toy retailers, the demise of the longtime retailer could spell opportunity. Competitors such as Amazon, Walmart, and Target are already expected to see substantial gains from the disappearance of Toys ‘R’ Us. But smart small business owners who jump into the fray can win new customers themselves.
The American Specialty Toy Retailing Association (ASTRA, for one, expects 2018 to be a banner year for toy retailers. “We expect that as many as half of all regular Toys ‘R’ US customers will likely visit one of the 3,500 neighborhood toy stores across North America in 2018,” said ASTRA president Kimberly Mosley in a statement. (I’ll be speaking at the American Specialty Toy Retailing Association’s Marketplace & Academy in June.)
Retail Opportunities for Toy Stores
How can you get those customers in your store’s door — and keep them coming back? Follow these steps:
- Hone in on your niche. An independent toy store can’t expect to offer the wide selection of Toys ‘R’ Us. Instead, double down on your specialty, whether that’s handcrafted wooden toys, stuffed animals or educational games. Selling high-quality toys customers can’t find anywhere else makes your store stand out. Decide what your point of differentiation is and emphasize it.
- Reach out to local media. Contact local journalists, radio stations, TV stations and bloggers to suggest a story about local toy stores that can fill the void left by Toys ‘R’ Us’ closure. Parenting magazines and parenting and mommy bloggers are ideal targets, since their readers will want to know where they can go locally.
- Boost your marketing budget. Before the big guys grab your slice of the pie, make a concerted effort to make a splash in your local market. Increase your activity on social media and let people know your store is ready to take the place of Toys ‘R’ Us as their toy provider. Since many Toys ‘R’ Us shoppers will be searching online, pay-per-click advertising and a mobile-friendly website that’s optimized for search engines will be key to attracting their attention away from the online giants. Do some careful keyword research to see what toy customers are looking for online, and use those keywords in your advertising and on your website.
- Get active in the community. Boost your store’s profile in the local community by getting involved in community events and charitable activities. With spring here, now is the perfect time to sponsor a Little League team, 10k race or other local family event. Plan some in-store events and spread the word on social media.
- Offer something different. Great service, a friendly atmosphere and knowledgeable staff are a must. (More than 30,000 Toys ‘R’ Us employees nationwide will lose their jobs from the closure. If one of the stores is in your area, take the opportunity to hire some experienced toy store employees.) Set up a play area where children can spend time with the toys before making a purchase.
- Target grandparents. While more moms and dads are buying toys online, older shoppers still tend to prefer the brick-and-mortar experience for its hands-on guidance. Market your store as the ideal place for grandparents to buy gifts. Try some old-fashioned marketing methods like direct mail to retirement community residents or print advertising in publications that local seniors read.
- Take a cue from Kmart. Kmart recently announced it will allow consumers to exchange unused Toys ‘R’ Us gift cards for points in its own store loyalty program. Why not set up a similar exchange at your store? You’ll build goodwill and get new customers into your loyalty program.
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