In an article I saw posted in LinkedIn, Bob Wann, chairman of the The Toy Association Board of Directors, explains the group’s belief on why brick and mortar stores like TRU are important, and offers their support.
Basically, physical stores have been a cornerstone in the industry for customer discovery and purchasing, which I totally agree with if the opportunity presents itself. Having had both a physical and online store for so many years, I can most certainly understand how the power of the in-person presentation is much more effective in persuasion of purchase. This is where the true artistic art form of character building salesmanship comes into play from the store display, initial greeting, product showmanship, the closeout and the follow up. These elements build a stores ‘character’ and encourages true future customer engagement.
Though I do agree with the idea and I certainly want to save TRU, the statement leaves questions about a few points mentioned that never really get addressed.
The first is in the very beginning of the statement: “seismic, disruptive change.” Its followed with concerns of confusion, uncertainty, and ‘far worse’ news of the closing of TRU making it sound like the idea of change is bad in my opinion. This is really just a set up to express a sort of relief when it goes on to mention the possible salvation of a number of TRU stores that might happen. Saving TRU sounds like a good idea, but in its current state, it would make for tough business.
If anyone took a wide lens look at business in general today, every industry is going through massive change, and its always for the better of the consumer. From everything that I’ve been taking in from tech to toys, ‘disruption’ is something we are trying to achieve (market disruptor, anyone?).Everything from taxis to takeout, from physical fitness to mental wellness, and even employment has gone through ‘disruptive change.’ Most of the business tactics before the disruption were good for the industry as they were, but admittedly, I find the new change to be better. Its forcing stagnant, complacent companies to finally take the initiative to innovate, and the toy industry is long overdue compared to others. I’m still waiting for my real deal Hover Board, not the chintzy, explosive Segway wannabe.
The second issue I have with this statement is that although it explains that in-store discovery is important and touch/feel/play is magic, it doesn’t really explain any way on how to get customers back in stores. I mean, its great if kids can do this, but how can that happen if they never go in? This latest bankruptcy is not the first rodeo for TRU, as financial issues stem as far back as 2005 when they made the loan deal that locked them into a losing game according to the Fortune article here. So, this should indicate that simply having a place to go doesn’t really bring in an audience. Let’s be real here: kids don’t play with toys the same way they used to. Kids don’t play to entertain themselves so much as they want to entertain others or to watch others entertain them. This is why the surprise style toy is so big. Its also why discovery is no longer done in store for most people, its done on social media. From what I’ve seen with most hot toys recently, people discover items not sitting on shelves in a store, but in YouTube box openings, convention reviews, and a network of friends. That’s not the same as thinking the majority of customers discover items in-store.
Speaking a little on the TRU finances, I’ve read where people mention that TRU would have been profitable earning $350M in 2017, but they had something like $400M in interest payments from there 2005 deal. In other words, TRU was not profitable. I can’t understand why people don’t see that. Its akin to saying, ‘I would have made $1M in sales if it wasn’t for that pesky $1.5M in production costs.’ Obviously, no money earned.
Should the industry band together and save some existence of TRU, I’d like to suggest a few tips on what to consider in observation of the masters of the next-gen retailer, Amazon.
1) Lead the industry by having useful information. If you ask any modern consumer, and I’m hoping the industry as a whole is targeting modern consumers, they will all tell you the first place they look for pricing/availability is Amazon. Why does Amazon get to be the first option for TOYS? They’re not even a toy website. Change that. News, special promotions, offers, and release schedules should be found at TRU’s website. I’m not talking about TRU info, but all this info from toy producers. Create a website plan where product producers can curate and merchandise their products directly on TRU’s website. Add that to the marketing arsenal of the retail shop, and you’ve solved two problems in the industry: modernize TRU to compete with Amazon, and build an effective way to market for toy manufacturers to an endemic audience without needing to branch out of the industry. Facebook and Instagram are great for outside the core toy audience, but these platforms are far from ideal for the industry.
2) Earn consumers trust. In a recent article on Inc.com, its stated that trust is just as important as price in the modern retail environment. Although traditional ways of gaining trust through donations are fine and dandy, more is needed today including visibility of the personnel. Every once in a while, Jeff Bezos would put out a scanned copy of an announcement for upcoming news for amazon right on the front page. I can’t believe 100% that it truly is Mr. Bezos who’s doing that, but the perception is endearing for most, and it makes anyone who visits Amazon’s site more comfortable. Another way would be to foster a strong network of influencers from various social media platforms. YouTube’s been under a lot of heat recently with misguiding kids to inappropriate info, and as YouTube gets more and more saturated with this type of content, its more likely kids will fall in to this trap. Build a ‘toys only/approved, authorized influencer’ platform just for toys accessible through the site and a proprietary app. This will keep kids glued to the smart phone in a self contained environment of just the appropriate subject matter. Also, feature influencers with appearances at various locations around the country. Everyone loves a local celebrity.
3) Have the products people want. At this moment, I can order something from Amazon, and have it ready to pick up at a locker location by the end of the day. Its always a good thing when the store you go to always has the one thing you’re looking for in stock when you get there. I know pick up services have been around for a while, but the difference here is Amazon has EVERYTHING available including exclusives from everywhere. Will TRU be able to do this? Maybe they can partner with Hot Topic or GameStop so whenever they get exclusives that TRU can offer them as well, or TRU can simply capitalize off the fact that they get the ‘first to market’ news and offer before the rest of the industry. This move can ruffle some feathers with clients, but this is a key component to the success of Amazon.
4) Make the process quick. When I go to an Amazon locker, I scan my smart phone and a locker pops open for me to get my product. TRU needs that same convenience. Most online pickup options have me waiting in the Customer Service line, behind all the returns, then waiting for the clerk to figure out who I am and what I’m doing there, then waiting for the clerk to find my product. Add pickup lockers, in the middle of the store so people can grab there goods and get a good view of all the impulse items along the way.
And now this journal entry is three times longer than the original statement released… Just some bubbling ideas that popped in my head when reading the statement from the Toy Association. Embrace disruption, and lead the industry as you were meant to do.
About The Toy Association
Founded in 1916, The Toy Association™, Inc. is the not-for-profit trade association representing all businesses that design, produce, license, and deliver toys and youth entertainment products for kids of all ages. Our 950+ members drive the annual $27 billion U.S. domestic toy market, and our organization has a long history of propelling the health and growth of the toy industry, which has an annual U.S. economic impact of $109.2 billion.