The 20,000 square foot department is now open at the iconic Oxford Street location.
FAO Schwarz, America’s oldest toy retailer, has opened a toy department in London for the first time, and Toy World joined a selection of personally invited guests from the toy and media worlds at the opening event yesterday afternoon.
Having seen the store in all its glory, the execution certainly doesn’t disappoint. The overall feel is that it offers “a real toy store experience” with the added wow factor you would expect from retailers of the calibre of FAO Schwarz and Selfridges. The department features a broad range of toys covering all bases: a mixture of classic and emerging toy brands are well represented – including Barbie, Hot Wheels, VTech, Lego, L.O.L. Surprise!, Little Tikes, Playmobil, Schleich, Nerf, Baby Annabel, Sylvanian Families, Le Toy Van and Tonies – while a selection of character licences also featured in dedicated bays, including Peppa Pig, Frozen II, Paw Patrol, Toy Story, Disney Princess and Marvel.
These brands and properties blended seamlessly with FAO own-branded lines to create a compelling offering. Perhaps unsurprisingly, given Selfridge’s affluent customer base, products generally seemed to be on offer at full retail price, and talking to some suppliers present, FAO’s margin requirements don’t appear to be especially onerous.
As you would expect from an FAO store, in-store theatre is at the heart of the experience. On any given day there will be 29 different hands-on activations for kids to try, and consumer feedback has already been excellent, according to Hannah, who is heading up the department with her colleague James. Among the customer experiences on offer yesterday were a magic demo by Marvin’s Magic, a Lego table where kids can build creations, a Table Hockey game, plus a Build-a-Bear section and another station where kids can create and build their own radio control car. And, of course, no FAO department would be complete without the iconic floor piano, given a bold, fresh twist in its new setting.
The sense of theatre is enhanced by FAO team members, who engage enthusiastically with visitors. The absence of screens is also noticeable: apart from one showing the Frozen II trailer; Hannah told me: “The idea is to deliver a truly interactive and hands-on experience, without screens. We want children running around, from one thing to the next.”
Comparing the new FAO store to other toy departments in the West End and Knightsbridge area, the general consensus is that it was good to see the space delivering “a real toy experience,” and with early sales said to be very encouraging, everyone involved seems confident that FAO Schwarz can establish itself a major destination store.
FAO will also be opening a branch in Dublin at Arnotts next week.
Click on the images below for a look around the new toy department.