Is it the right time to open an experiential, socially-distanced toy store?

Discussion
Photo: Toyish Lab/Assaf Eshet
Nov 12, 2020
Matthew Stern

COVID-19 has made it difficult for people of all ages to socialize safely, including children. A new retailer in Brooklyn is trying to give kids a safe, socially-distanced experience while still letting them have fun in a shared space.

The toy store and play studio, called Toyish Lab, opened in the borough’s Clinton Hill neighborhood earlier this week, according to an AM New York report. The studio is built around playing with the brand’s flagship product, a flexible magnetic toy called Clixio, which can be folded and connected to make creative three-dimensional structures.

The play area features a magnetic wall where kids can hang their completed structures and modular pedestals for individual play. In the interest of safety, visitors must sign a contact-tracing waver, wear masks and practice social distancing at all times. Small-group walk-ins are welcome, but people are encouraged to book in advance.

An engaging, hands-on in-store shopping experience had become an important differentiating factor for retailers up through 2019. Customers had begun to look at physical retailers as places for entertainment that extended beyond the easy purchasing offered by e-commerce. This came to an abrupt halt in March 2020, however, as the novel coronavirus pandemic made in-store shopping potentially dangerous and lockdowns to prevent the spread of the virus went into effect.

Is it the right time to open an experiential, socially-distanced toy store?
Photo: Toyish Lab/Eilon Paz

While playing in groups has fallen off due to social distancing, toy sales have actually increased due to the pandemic, with dollar revenues climbing 16 percent in the first half of 2020.

Social distancing’s impact on both the toy category and events aimed at children has taken on greater significance as the holiday season approaches. For the first time since 1861, the pandemic has led Macy’s to replace in-store Santa appearances and posing sessions with kids with an online experience.

While the state of New York’s COVID-19 rate remains the third lowest in the nation, according to numbers from Johns Hopkins University quoted in the New York Daily News, experts warn of pandemic fatigue leading to the relaxation of social distancing and a further spike in cases.

DISCUSSION QUESTIONS: Is now an appropriate time to launch an experiential store for children, as Toyish Lab has done? Do you think the safety proposition is enough of a selling point to get people in the door?

Please practice The RetailWire Golden Rule when submitting your comments.
Braintrust
"Kids need a physical and creative outlet for play. Obviously, health measures need to not only be expressed but executed at a high level by the toy store."
"Yeah, NO. It is impossible to separate kids so they can safely play together, children don’t work that way."
"Yes. When is it going to be “the right time”? It just isn’t. I applaud entrepreneurs knowing the risks and skepticism that are building something new."

Join the Discussion!

16 Comments on "Is it the right time to open an experiential, socially-distanced toy store?"


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Mark Ryski
BrainTrust

Given the current trajectory of the pandemic, the timing of this initiative is terrible. For many parents, just sending kids to school is challenging enough, a play date in an environment like this seems a bit reckless. You can build it, but it doesn’t mean people will come and that’s what I believe will happen as long as the pandemic is spreading unabated as it is now.

Paula Rosenblum
BrainTrust

I think everything about this is an oxymoron, to be honest. “Socially-distanced, experiential?” Seriously? Play together, but not too close. Let’s wipe everything down in between guests?

Bad timing. And people might want to go to it, but it’s not going to be healthy.

Neil Saunders
BrainTrust

This is a nice concept, but isn’t New York on the verge of locking things down again? Even with distancing and precautions, I don’t think this is something many people would be comfortable using at this time.

Richard Hernandez
BrainTrust

For parents that are still wary about taking their kids to Target or another big box that has toys this looks like a good experiment for kids, however the success of it right now will be hard to measure.

Bob Phibbs
BrainTrust

Yes. When is it going to be “the right time”? It just isn’t. I applaud entrepreneurs knowing the risks and skepticism that are building something new.

Brian Cluster
BrainTrust

The news and reporting of the pandemic have rightfully focused on the terrible physical toll of the pandemic but what is less reported is the impact on mental health. Many children according to the CDC are facing significant increases in anxiety and depression. Hours of Zoom calls in an empty room with limited peer connections are unhealthy and many kids feel so isolated and lonely.

Therefore, I think that this is a fitting time to introduce this concept to the market. Kids need a physical and creative outlet for play. Obviously, health measures need to not only be expressed but executed at a high level by the toy store. I also think that toy stores like this can potentially set up a scheduling system in a separate room to set appointments with other families and your kid’s friends that are also following similar health precautions.

Georganne Bender
BrainTrust

Yeah, NO.

It is impossible to separate kids so they can safely play together, children don’t work that way. Kids in the same bubble, maybe, but it would be impossible for staff to continually sanitize every spot touched by kids while they are there.

It looks like a cool concept but there is no way I would take my grandkids to play there during the pandemic.

Brett Busconi
Guest

Wrong target audience — even if you support this effort during this time, anyone who has kids (or the chance to observe kids interacting) can safely predict that kids will not stay six feet apart, nor wait to touch things until they have been sanitized. The picture — is this meant to represent the “safe environment”? I think this is a fail.

Some people are going to love this. I believe they are the same people who already are going into stores, though.

Brandon Rael
BrainTrust

If this were a year ago, my kids and I would be running to check out an experiential toy store such as Toyish Lab. Unfortunately in life timing is everything and, with the COVID-19 pandemic not going away any time soon, even socially-distant, safe and sanitized toy stores are simply not going to work.

Especially in a world where we are concerned with the safety and security of our kids, and with NYC as a hot spot once again, this endeavor is doomed to fail. While we applauded the return of FAO Schwarz in Rockefeller Center two years ago, the timing couldn’t be worse for an experiential toy store.

Ricardo Belmar
BrainTrust

While the concept is a good one, it seems like terrible timing. How reliably can appropriate health and safety measures be executed in an environment that is designed to encourage kids to play? Schools are having a difficult enough time with this at all ages of K-12, and it’s especially tough with younger kids. For consumers who are more concerned about staying safe as we enter the winter season and see increased cases of COVID-19, I don’t see them visiting this store at all. For those who simply don’t worry about it, sure, they may check it out. But the environment is not the same as when the FAO Schwartz store opened at Rockefeller Center a couple of years ago. This is just bad timing.

Rich Kizer
BrainTrust

This is crazy. What are they thinking? You can’t send your child to school, but it’s OK to go to the store and play among others? Think of the repercussions to the store if one, only one child should test positive. Was it the store visit? You be the parent.

Rich Kizer
BrainTrust

Hey, here is an idea: let’s try it out first with adults. Then if no one gets sick, open it to the children. Any volunteers?

Carlos Arambula
BrainTrust

It is never the proper time to open a retail environment that’s one step away from disaster. The safety proposition is not a deterrence to infection, it’s a legal proposition that might not offer the retailer the protection it deserves.

It makes sense that toy sales have increased. I’m certain parents are seeking stimulating play while the children are stuck at home, and there are other methods to promote and increase sales without having a gathering location.

Craig Sundstrom
Guest

Let’s cut to the chase: “social distancing” — “distancing” is the important part here — takes space and space costs money. So that’s seldom going to be a winning formula, except in upscale shops in tony neighborhoods (which of course is what this appears to be).

Superficially, I suppose, one could say this is the best time, because rents are collapsing and (many) lessors are desperate for tenants, but that doesn’t sound like a winning formula for more than a few months … or at least we all hope that’s the time frame.

Shep Hyken
BrainTrust

This will be interesting, at the least. I’d like to see this in action.

chris-marti
Guest

While I think the picture in the article doesn’t do the retailer’s strategy justice (e.g. the “modular pedestals for individual play” aren’t shown), money made today is certainly not worth the cost to a business of being labeled a COVID-19 hotspot.

wpDiscuz
Braintrust
"Kids need a physical and creative outlet for play. Obviously, health measures need to not only be expressed but executed at a high level by the toy store."
"Yeah, NO. It is impossible to separate kids so they can safely play together, children don’t work that way."
"Yes. When is it going to be “the right time”? It just isn’t. I applaud entrepreneurs knowing the risks and skepticism that are building something new."

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