Wednesday, February 10

The Muppet Whatnot Workshop at FAO Schwarz

For a while now, I thought the great American toy store was dying, and I was a little sad about it. When we were kids, there were toy stores everywhere. Going to the local toy store was a big part of my childhood ... maybe not always buying, but certainly browsing and playing.

Slowly but surely, though, the toy stores have died off. The boutique stores just couldn't compete on price with Wal-Mart. Even Toys 'R Us has struggled through the years, and together Toys 'R Us and Wal-Mart nearly killed FAO Schwarz.

Ahhh ... FAO Schwarz. The fabled toy store on 5th Avenue in NYC which then quickly expanded into select locations around the country. Every Christmas I would take the kids to FAO Schwarz for our holiday shopping. It was magical, almost like going to Disney World.

But the FAO Schwarz brand nearly died, with stores closing left and right as shoppers flocked to the lower priced alternatives.

Some smart marketer got a hold of the brand though, and kept its essence alive. The company stripped down to just one flagship location, the original one in New York, and then put everything else online. The brand reinvented the toy store experience with exclusive merchandise and lots of mini-boutiques within the store, much like the old toy stores when we were kids.

The product line is incredible -- larger than life and displayed magnificently. The latest is The Muppet Whatnot Workshop. A build-your-own Muppet boutique. So much fun, and available no where else. It a bit like Build-a-Bear, but with the brand equity of The Muppets.

If you are not familiar with the Muppet franchise, the Whatnots are the "extras" in all the films. The "filler" Muppets that make up the rest of the cast along side the "stars" like Miss Piggy and Kermit. Well now you can build your own, right in store, and bring home a piece of the Muppet (and FAO Schwarz) magic. Or do it online.

Branding at its finest -- and a brand experience at its best. Marketing magic that has revitalized the great American toy store.

What's your experience? Jim.

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