Toy retailer Camp takes over former Toys R Us store ahead of the holidays

Children in the Camp store in New York, June 4, 2019.

Gabby Jones | Bloomberg | Getty Images

A year after Toys R Us liquidated, the brand’s new owners pledged to make its stores an experience for children: a place where children could freely test out toys and play games with friends. .

This experiment was attempted and failed at the Garden State Plaza shopping center in New Jersey. When the Covid-19 pandemic hit, few consumers were venturing outside their homes to the mall – let alone mingling in a crowded environment with children. The last Toys R Us locations operated by Tru Kids closed earlier this year.

But as concerns about the coronavirus ease, one company is betting experience-based retailing will come back stronger than ever, especially among families with young children. Based in New York Camp hopes its approach is also better than Toys R Us. And the next holiday season will test Camp’s business – part experience, part toy retailer.

On Tuesday, Camp opens a store in the former Toys R Us store at the Garden State Plaza Mall, operated by Unibail-Rodamco-Westfield. It will mark Camp’s seventh location, joining those in Manhattan, Dallas, Los Angeles and Norwalk, Connecticut. Three more are expected to open before the end of the year, and by the end of next year, it expects to double its number of stores.

“When Toys R Us was operating, the toy industry was, for the most part, Toys R Us, Walmart, Target and Amazon,” said Ben Kaufman, founder and CEO of Camp, and former marketing director of BuzzFeed. “Right now, the toy industry is even more consolidated. Walmart, Target and Amazon lead the majority of shares.”

“We are not yet big needle movers for toy sellers in terms of volumes, because we don’t have enough locations,” Kaufman continued. “But we’re needle movers in terms of taste creation and basically we put a stamp of ‘this thing is cool. “”

A trip to one of the Camp stores is a unique experience in itself. The storefront looks like a traditional toy supplier: shelves of puzzles, Lego sets, and LOL Surprise dolls, accompanied by sweet treats. But behind another door, kids can wander through a sprawling playroom that features rotating and themed experiences, including a lava interaction and one sponsored by “Paw Patrol”.

A child draws with markers on a notepad in the Camp store in New York City, June 4, 2019.

Gabby Jones | Bloomberg | Getty Images

According to Kauffman, Camp derives its income from three different streams: brand sponsorships, the sale of tickets to rotating experiences, and merchandise transactions. Since the company doesn’t depend solely on low-margin toy sales, Camp’s stores need to be profitable, he said.

“We have a high margin line of business in ticketing, as well as a high margin line in sponsorship,” Kauffman said.

Camp also works with toy manufacturers and brands to test products in the market. He recently partnered with Moose Toys to help them launch Magic Mixies. The toy – which prompts kids to mix up a variety of ingredients that bubble and mist, then wave a magic wand to reveal an interactive creature – has landed on several must-have holiday toy lists. Kauffman said Camp’s stock ran out within 48 hours.

“It just shows you how we can be a traditional retailer, buy and sell, but we can also act as a media and marketing platform for brands,” Kauffman said.

But the past few months have not been so easy for Camp. When the pandemic struck and the company was forced to temporarily close its stores, Camp still had no internet presence.

He was able to set up a website ahead of the 2020 vacation and launched a unique gift exchange service for kids called Camp White Elephant. Kauffman said about 25,000 families were using it last Christmas Eve.

Going forward, Camp said he was focusing on making his website accessible to younger users, not just their parents. It offers a new feature called Gift Shop, where kids can enter information like a budget and who they’re shopping for, and Camp will offer freebies and help them make a purchase. Adults can pay for the items by giving their children a special code.

“It recreates the feeling we had when we were kids walking through a mall with a $ 20 bill, trying to decide what we want to get for ourselves, or for our dad, mom, or sister,” Kauffman said.

And while Camp will compete with Amazon, Walmart, and Target for toy sales over the holidays, the company hopes to earn some of the money consumers plan to spend on experiences, not just giveaways.

This holiday season, 43% of U.S. consumers say they plan to shift their spending away from physical goods to experiences and services, according to an Accenture survey. That percentage was 50% for Gen Z and 53% for Millennials. The Accenture survey was conducted in August and had 1,515 online participants.

“This is going to be a very human vacation,” said Jill Standish, senior managing director of Accenture and head of the company’s retail group. “So prioritizing around very personal experiences and things is what we’re going to see.”