FAO Schwarz (US) Opens In London
23 Oct 2019 - The FAO Schwarz toy brand was born in the United States 157 years ago, and spent most of its life in just one location – New York City.Now, its new owners are looking to make it a citizen of the world, with flagship stores in major cities around the globe.
FAO, which has flagship stores in New York and Beijing, kicked off its European expansion today with the opening of a FAO Schwarz store in London. A second European store will open a week later in Dublin.
FAO is a brand that has been resurrected and reinvented many times over its lifetime.
In its latest reincarnation, consumer products company ThreeSixty Group bought the brand in 2016 from the previous owner, Toys R Us, which had closed the beloved Manhattan flagship in 2015, citing sky-high rents.
ThreeSixty brought FAO back to New York in the fall of 2018, with a new store in Rockefeller Plaza. It opened a Beijing store in May.
The two new stores in London and Dublin follow the FAO model for international expansion, and will be licensed or franchise stores operated by an international partner.
The London partner is Selfridges, which has created a 22,000 square-foot store in its Oxford Street department store. In Dublin, a 6,000-square-foot FAO will open in the Arnotts department store on Henry Street on October 29.
Selfridges and Arnotts were looking to dramatically expand, and improve their toy departments, and FAO was looking for new homes in Europe, making the partnerships a perfect fit, said Jan-Eric Kloth, chief operating officer of ThreeSixty Group, which owns the FAO brand, in a phone interview from London.
The London and Dublin openings, Kloth said, are part of a five-year plan to establish 12 to 15 flagship stores in major cities around the globe.
FAO, through a partnership with airport retailer Hudson News, this year began opening small FAO-branded toy and candy stores in U.S. airports, but there are no plans to open additional flagship stores in the United States at this time.
“To be honest, it doesn’t get any better than 30 Rock in New York City,” Kloth said, explaining why there are no immediate plans for other U.S. flagships. “Given the success there, we’re happy with the brand halo that it has provided for the brand.”
The 30 Rock store, located in some of the most expensive real estate in Manhattan, draws tourists from around the United States and the world.
The tourist traffic FAO has attracted over its long periods in its iconic Fifth Avenue locations, and now at 30 Rock, has made the brand well-known overseas, even though the brand hasn’t had stores there previously, other than temporary pop-ups.
And FAO’s Hollywood appearances, such as Tom Hanks dancing on the giant piano keys in the New York store, also spread the brand’s fame. “The brand recognition is pretty meaningful considering the brand never was physically outside of the United States,” Kloth said.
The FAO at Selfridges will be about 2,000 square feet larger than the New York flagship. Selfridges and Arnotts will hire the employees for the stores, and FAO will help train the employees, Kloth said. The London and Dublin stores, and all future international flagships, will have the four key trademarks of the New York store – the dance-on piano, the clock tower, the rocket ship, and the greeters dressed as toy soldiers. “But every store will put their own local spin on those signature features, Kloth said.
“We really want every store to have its own character,” Kloth said. “The overall design theme is the same but it will feel very different when you’re inside compared to the U.S. store.”
Kloth expects the international stores will become tourist attractions themselves, as travelers will visit the stores to see the local differences.
In its heyday, FAO’s greatest strength was that its New York store was an experience. The ThreeSixty Group is continuing to offer experiences like the piano, that don’t necessarily lead to sales, but is also being smart about creating experience where the purchase is part of the experience, such as adopting a baby doll, or creating your own remote control race car.
ThreeSixty Group, as a consumer products company (it also owns the Sharper Image brand) has been able to create proprietary FAO-branded toys, many of them based on nostalgic toys of the past, along with new toy lines featuring drones and robotics, that the competition doesn’t have.
ThreeSixty Group has shown its reborn New York FAO flagship can draw crowds. Now we get to see how its brand plays in London, Dublin, and around the world.