Tru Kids Brands, the parent of the Toys “R” Us brand, and b8ta, the software-powered experiential retailer, entered into a joint venture to bring Toys “R” Us stores back to the U.S. The new store experience will deliver the hottest toy products and brands, showcases in an immersive smaller-format interactive spaces.
The first two new Toys “R” Us stores will open in November, in time for the holiday season. They will be located in The Galleria in Houston, Texas, and at Westfield Garden State Plaza in Paramus, New Jersey. The new stores will be about 6,500 square feet. The stores will feature interactive experiences that will continually evolve throughout the year. Unlike the old Toys “R” Us, new stores will be “in high-traffic locations and mostly in mall locations,” said Phillip Raub, co-founder and president of b8ta. “In partnership with Richard [Barry, CEO of Tru Kids] and his team, we are excited to bring back Toys “R” Us in an immersive way, focused on creating a fun and engaging experience for kids and adults.”
Using b8ta’s experiential retail model, brands will showcase their products in an interactive, playground-like environment, creating a retail experience centered around product discovery and engagement.
Raub and Barry worked together to build this toy retailer concept from the ground up, combining Barry’s expertise from the toy industry with Raub’s experience in building retail locations that are heavy on experiences that feature products and can thrive in today’s retail environment. Why only the two locations? Barry and Raub talked about “really testing the format in 2019 before rolling out substantially more stores in 2020 that will be larger and closer to 10,000 square feet.”
There will also be omni-channel experiences, and consumers will have the opportunity to shop a larger selection of product offerings online. Toys “R” Us was not yet ready to share the details of the online experience at this time.
Barry also detailed the incidents that led to the closing of Toys “R” Us stores in 2018, adding that the new team is very motivated to engage with ex employees. As TRU Kids Brands expands store openings in the regions it knows performed well in the past, it will hold job fairs in those towns in hopes of hiring many ex Toys “R” Us employees who lost their jobs. New employees will go through a comprehensive training program in collaboration with participating brands to understand the new experiences the stores will offer so they can better engage with store visitors.
Barry and Raub said they plan to announce more specific store details over the coming months.
Last year, b8ta closed a $19 million Series B round led by Macy’s, with participation from Sound Ventures, Palm Drive Capital, Capitaland, Graphene Ventures, Khosla Ventures and Plug and Play Ventures. Macy’s decision to invest was brought on by its own recent investments in experiential in-store experiences such as The Market and Story.