Toys"R"Us Canada Pilots New Store Concepts

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By Megan Harman

Toys"R"Us Canada Ltd. is revamping its stores to create a better shopping experience for customers, as part of the retailer’s broader effort to reinvent itself under its new ownership.

It’s been an undeniably tumultuous few years for Toys"R"Us Canada, after filing for bankruptcy protection in September 2017 and seeing several of its international counterparts—including the U.S. chain Toys“R”Us Inc.—liquidate all of their stores in recent months.

However, after being acquired by Fairfax Financial Holdings in June, Toys"R"Us Canada has emerged stronger than ever, according to Melanie Teed-Murch, president of Toys"R"Us Canada.

“It’s been a bit of a rebirth,” she says. “It’s a great news story, from what was a really sad story. It’s unfortunate for our counterparts having gone bankrupt in the U.S. and a number of other countries. So, we’re really thrilled to be independent, thrilled to be 100% Canadian-owned.”

Even though Toys"R"Us Canada has been around for 34 years and operates 82 stores across Canada, Teed-Murch says the retailer now resembles a start-up as it adopts innovative new approaches to many aspects of its operations.

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Stone Road Mall. Photo: Toys ‘R’ Us.

Stone Road Mall. Photo: Toys ‘R’ Us.

As one example, the company recently opened a new concept store at Guelph’s Stone Road Mall, called the Toys"R"Us Canada Toybox. At 10,000 square feet in size, the store in considerably smaller than the retailer’s average store, which is typically between 30,000 to 40,000 square feet.

“It’s designed to be a curated, thoughtful assortment around convenience for the Guelph community,” Teed-Murch says. Although the new store doesn’t carry the same volume of merchandise that a larger store would have, she says the staff members are all equipped with an iPad that they can use to help customers order any item offered by Toys"R"Us Canada, and have it shipped directly to the customer’s home.

“It’s a really simplified shopping experience,” says Teed-Murch. “It gives you the small feel of a local store, which Guelphites here are commenting that they love.”

The Toybox store also features a much more interactive experience for kids, with 18 demonstration tables set up throughout the store, where parents can let their kids try out toys before deciding what to buy.

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“You’ll find tons of interactive experiences for kids,” Teed-Murch says. “Parents can see their kids’ reaction with the trained staff around to answer questions before the pressure of buying.”

Toys"R"Us Canada is also piloting similar concepts in Barrie, Ontario and Langley, B.C. Although those locations are larger in size, at 20,000 square feet and 45,000 square feet, respectively, they also feature demonstration tables for an interactive experience. The stores are also organized differently from the traditional Toys"R"Us stores, in an effort to create an easier shopping experience. For example, instead of organizing merchandise by brand, items are grouped together based on their targeted age group.

“It’s intuitive to shop,” says Teed-Murch. “It’s [organized] by age and stage, not by brand.”

The stores also contain more signage to help shoppers find the section they’re looking for, benches to allow parents to sit down while their kids try out toys, and an improved in-store pickup process for online orders. “We’re trying to think of all the things that help our customer through their journey,” Teed-Murch says. She notes that the company has been relying on focus groups and customer feedback to drive the changes and upgrades.

Melanie Teed-Murch, president of Toys"R"Us Canada, in conversation with Geoffrey the Giraffe. Below: Geoffrey the Giraffe and a store employee. Photos supplied.

Melanie Teed-Murch, president of Toys"R"Us Canada, in conversation with Geoffrey the Giraffe. Below: Geoffrey the Giraffe and a store employee. Photos supplied.

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In addition to the major changes that have rolled out at the stores in Guelph, Barrie and Langley, Toys"R"Us Canada has made smaller investments to approximately half of its other stores across the country. Having seen positive results from those improvements already, Teed-Murch says the retailer will continue making innovative upgrades to its store network.

With encouraging feedback on the Guelph store so far, she says the company will be considering bringing the Toybox concept to other cities, as well.

“We will be looking for small communities across Canada that can support this type of location,” she says. “Gone are the days when we just put 40,000-square-foot stores in every location. We need to be adaptive.”

Next year, Toys"R"Us Canada plans to experiment with other new features for shoppers, including introducing deferred payment options for baby registry items and creating facilities to be used for birthday parties and other community events.

“We’re going to continue to push the envelope,” Teed-Murch says. As many retailers shift towards e-commerce business models in which there is very little interaction between the customer and the retailer, she sees an opportunity for Toys"R"Us Canada to stand out as a destination for shoppers.

“I think there’s a convenience play for online or other mass retailers in our business,” she says, “but really, we want to stand for the experience. We want to bring moments of joy to Canadian [families].”

Megan Harman is a business reporter based in Toronto. She writes about topics including retail, financial services and technology. Megan covers Toronto’s retail industry through her blog Retail Realm (torontoretail.wordpress.com). Follow her on Twitter at @meganmharman.

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