Does the child in your life absolutely crave an inflatable remote-controlled shark that floats around your living room this holiday season, and will it be a long miserable winter for both of you if you don’t get it?
Toys R Us hopes so. The mega-retailer has unveiled its holiday sales gameplan, which includes (as we noted last week) opening fewer temporary Holiday Express “pop-up” stores this year and a shift from from brick-and-mortar ubiquity to fun-and-games exclusivity and mobile (including Foursquare check-ins).
Though the brand is no longer the primary plaything paradise — thanks to cheaper alternatives at Target, Amazon, Walmart, and even your local supermarket —Toys R Us is hoping its expanded line of TRU-only toys from brands including Hasbro and Imanginarium will give it an edge over its competitors.
This weekend’s mailing will promote some 350 of these products, including that Air Swimmers helium shark blimp, which was a hit at the 2011 New York Toy Fair.
The strategy looks like a good play. Locating the lowest price is always a top consumer priority, but it’s not the only factor in a buying decision, particularly when it comes to gifts. (Granted, not everything bought at a TRU store is going to be shrouded in wrapping paper, but the company earns almost half its revenue during the holiday quarter.) Opening fewer temporary stores and focusing on product offerings and customer service in the existing locations — the company plans to hire as many seasonal workers as last year — is a better investment.
TRU knows it will be beaten to the price-punch on many products, and the brands themselves know TRU’s not the only toyland in town: Lego covers its brick bases by sponsoring specific promotions at Target, TRU, and its own branded retail stores. By offering a deep array of exclusive products, TRU can make itself an important stop (in person or online) during the retail hell that begins on Black Friday. As CEO Jerry Storch declared at Wednesday’s press conference, “Price matters, but kids want the right toy.”
(As it was revealed in a British courtroom this week, price didn’t matter to one particular TRU executive when it came to having the right, er, toy.)
Toys R Us needs a big win this holiday season. Its plan for an IPO, which once looked promising, now has investors as excited as a teenager finding a Tickle Me Elmo doll instead of an Xbox under the tree. Unique product offerings have the potential to make TRU as exclusive a toy brand as the toys themselves, but if kids (and their parents) aren’t so choosy, those flying air-sharks sitting on shelves will haunt the company like a different kind of blimp entirely.