First opening its doors in 1862, FAO Schwarz is the oldest toy store in the USA. The toy retailer is well known for creating lasting memories in the lives of children and adults alike with its life-sized stuffed animals, games, and in-store interactive experiences. FAO Schwarz carries a reputation for providing high-end toys, and the brand is synonymous with innovation and quality.
“[FAO Schwarz] truly is the best department store in the world and is fully aligned with our goal to innovate and push the limits of traditional retail with our customised on-site experiences and activations,” says ThreeSixty Group Chief Operating Officer Jan-Eric Kloth.
The toy retailer suddenly closed its doors at its flagship New York department store in 2015, when it was still owned by Toys R Us. Three years passed without much news about a FAO Schwarz comeback, until 2018 when the brand (now owned by ThreeSixty Group) announced it was re-opening a New York branch – and had plans to expand operations to other territories . These plans were quickly set in motion, when in May 2019 FAO Schwarz opened a truly breath-taking outlet in Beijing, China – its biggest ever retail store. The toy brand, best known for its iconic ‘giant piano’ as seen in the 1988 Tom Hanks blockbuster, Big, then set its sights on the United Kingdom. This led to the October 2019 opening of its second-biggest store within Selfridges’ flagship London store.
“Selfridges is the perfect partner for FAO Schwarz in the UK and to start our expansion into Europe,” says Kloth.
The first-ever FAO Schwarz UK outlet houses more than 2 000 product lines within almost 7 000m² of space, and exclusively offers the FAO Schwarz toy line. The store also features dolls, plush toys, children’s technology and souvenirs – along with products from iconic brands such as Lego, Build-a-Bear, Playmobil, Steiff, and Bunnies By The Bay.
The first-ever UK store will also house two new product ranges from the brand – a science and technology line called Discovery #Mindblown and the Sharper Image robotics, remote control cars, and laser tech. Heeding the global need for a more interactive and personalised shopping experience, FAO Schwarz offers something unique to the toy brand: toy customisation stations.
“We are thrilled to bring the wonder, excitement, and passion for toys at the heart of FAO Schwarz and offer them to our customers,” says Selfridges home and toys director Martyn Stroud.
The first toy personalisation station is all about dolls. Named the My FAO Doll, much like the highly successful Build-a-Bear concept, children can acquire their perfect doll through an exclusive immersive experience. FAO staff, dressed in doctor’s outfits and toting clipboards, will ‘screen’ children looking to ‘adopt’ a doll from the store. They have a range of clothing and accessories to choose from, and can leave the department store with a doll they created all on their own.
Another world-first in unique retail experiences is FAO Schwarz’s remote-control car customisation station. Children get to build their ideal car, choosing the perfect chassis, wheel styles, colour configurations, bodies, and controllers. There’s even a section in the store where they can test out their new cars.
“FAO Schwarz is the premier global brand in toys and today it is certainly the most dynamic experience and customer driven within its field,” says Stroud.
FAO Schwarz is so much more than a toy store – it is a destination of imagination, inspiration and discovery. Children visiting the brand’s recently-opened UK outlet will be blown away by the colours, sounds and overall joviality exploding from all four corners. Children and parents alike can expect to be submerged in a world of fun and fully engage with the retail space and its innovative interactive offerings.
Play and exploration zones within the UK outlet include FAO’s iconic dance-on piano, Rocket Ship, and giant Clock Tower. Staff are on hand to oversee the in-store shenanigans, and trained piano dancers are ready to train patrons of any age and skills level on how to play songs while dancing on the giant piano keys.
Other than professional piano dancers, there are hand-selected toy ambassadors and product demonstrators on site to provide a truly unique and world-class shopping experience with theatrical showmanship and whimsical wonderment, the brand has always been known for. The UK branch even has an in-store candy station, called FAO Schweetz. The exclusive branded candy destination offers delicious sweets of the highest quality, including the highly-popular giant gummy bears.
The diversity, quality and interactive nature of the FAO Schwarz retail experience sets it apart from any other similar retail outlet. These elements elevate the brand to a point where it sets a new standard for global retail brands, regardless of industry. The future certainly is bright for the new and improved FAO Schwarz.