Do you remember KB Toys? KB Toys was a chain of inline stores found in malls nationwide in the 70s, 80s, and 90s, with a few tenacious remnants making it into the early aughts. I loved this store! They had the best selection of Barbie clothes anywhere – of course, with matching shoes.
Then the 80s brought the likes of Toys ‘R Us to markets nationwide. While KB Toys was a large chain of small stores, TRU was a large chain of huge stores. Now, TRU is closing its doors, demolished by billions in corporate debt, as well as its big box store competitors. According to CNN, Amazon and other online retailers did not mark the beginning of the end of TRU as previously suspected.
The vast entities known as the major online retailers – walmart(dot)com and Amazon, to name the two biggest – certainly didn’t help matters any. In the past ten years or so, while many people dragged themselves out into chilly late November weather to battle the after Thanksgiving toy store mobs, many others stayed home and shopped in their pajamas, enjoying free shipping and avoiding the crowds. As Cyber Monday became more of a thing, businesses everywhere encouraged customers to buy online instead of from brick and mortar businesses.
Toys ‘R Us’s problems were at the corporate level. Too much debt, too poorly managed assets. Sure, I shopped at TRU several times, and I’ll never forget the excitement of completing our baby registry at Babies ‘R Us when Hubby and I were expecting our first child. However, I never got that feeling shopping at TRU that I remembered from KB Toys. While the warehouse-feeling space was vast, it felt impersonal, and there was seldom a great selection of what I wanted. Two aisles of console games? No, thank you. An entire creepy doll aisle? Get me outta here! And by the time my older daughter was into Barbies… Where the heck are all the Barbie ensembles??? Plus, I thought the prices were ridiculously high compared to KB Toys (when I was at a toy-buying age during the companies’ overlap).
Small retailers do struggle with this to some degree. When will a corporate giant sink us? Yet, a lot of us indie retailers were born, grew, and thrived over against our big box store counterparts. We can offer what customers want. Products I make and sell are not available from Bath & Body Works, for example. Customers get to meet us personally and often get a sneak peek behind the scenes at what’s going on with our brands. Many times, they also get the opportunity to give us quick feedback on products we carry that impact the business directly. Small indie business becomes a relationship between seller and guest, and we love nurturing that relationship.
And now, what do I see but that KB Toys is coming back! A company that revitalizes old brands has bought the KB Toys name and plans to open 1000 stores for Black Friday and the holiday selling season. I suspect that a lot of GenXers who share my nostalgia around the brand and the experience of shopping there will line up to bring some of that remembered joy to their own children. I hope the owners will not go big but will instead focus on smaller size with outstanding customer care.
The likes of Amazon and Walmart will be with us for the foreseeable future. They’re both retail giants who have managed to maximize profits. Additionally, Amazon treats its employees well and pays them far above the minimum wage favored by some retailers. I enjoy my Prime membership and the perks it brings me as I happily click my way to new stuff. Yet, the small indie retailers will also be around for the foreseeable future, because we can offer what no dot com can; a personal and personalized shopping experience. Amazon is not going to message me to let me know that they have a new assortment of workout tanks or that those shorts I ordered are on sale if I want to get more of them. However, a small business owner will take the time to contact a customer, making that person feel important. Plus, we humans are tactile shoppers. We like to feel, smell, and experience the things we’re thinking about buying. No online experience can duplicate that.
How do you like to shop? Will online retailers wipe out your brick & mortar shopping trips?