Sunday, May 24, 2009

Take that big box! Toy store alive and kicking.

Yes, big box stores and national chains have made it exceedingly difficult if not impossible for the small, single location, specialty store to survive.

But some do.

Family and Company in my home town of Stratford, Ontario, for one.

Family and Company is a toy store - pure and simple. They face just as much competition as any other specialty store would. Perhaps more. Imagine competing against the likes of Toys R' Us, Walmart, eBay, Zellers/Bay and more. To be a successful David among Goliaths like these you have to be TRULY UNIQUE. Consider these examples:
  • They gift wrap, but not with normal gift wrap. It's a bag with loads of ribbon and decorations, additional toys thrown in (which the kids can pick out by the way), unique decorations, and branding, of course.
  • They hold regular magic shows.
  • Almost every toy has one opened sample for the kids to play with.
  • They carry toys that no one else does. Those truly clever toys that just may not have widespread popularity or, more likely, distribution.
  • They have tons of kids walking around (in uniform) playing with the kids and offering advice on which gifts to buy.
  • They have a small patio outside where entertainers sometimes perform.
Imagine any of those things happening at Walmart.

In addition to their uniqueness, they have also covered all the marketing fundamentals (relevant to them):
  • Prime location in heart of downtown.
  • Every receipt comes with a flyer attached highlighting upcoming events, sales and specials.
  • Extended hours in peak seasons.
  • Relentless focus on the kids.
So here's the lesson for the specialty shop:
  1. Address your marketing fundamentals.
  3. Be relentless.
  4. Be creative.
They remind me of the "Shop Around the Corner" from the movie You've Got Mail. Of course, that store had to fail against the mighty Fox Books for the storyline to work, but I wonder what would have happened to a store like that in real life. They had some uniqueness (storytime for the kids), but not as many as Family and Co. They had some fundamentals covered (location), but not all of them.

I think that's a lesson for small retailers too: You can't hang your hat on one or two differentiators. You have to really stand out.

But if Family and Company gives us anything, it gives us hope.

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