Middle-Eastern retailer The Toy Store has opened its first UK branch in the West One shopping centre, at the heart of London’s West End
Fantasyland. A world of adventures. Playtime. All of these are terms that might and possibly should be applied to a toy shop. This is where kids are meant to be overcome by the urge to pester their parents to dig deep.
The arrival of a toy shop should therefore be something of a celebration for children, while for those looking after them, it may be a matter of damage limitation as far as the bank is concerned.
When the toy shop in question is on Oxford Street and is called The Toy Store, it’s a fair bet that it will have the world beating a path to its wide-open entrance.
Toy shops are, almost by definition, destinations - few end up in such stores by accident and in the Oxford Street/Regent Street area there are now four options for shoppers.
Selfridges and John Lewis both have sizeable toy departments in which parents can find many of the toys that will probably also be available in Hamleys, the famous standalone toy specialist on Regent Street.
It is the latter that will probably be most alarmed by the arrival of this retailer, which has become established in the Middle East.
For shoppers walking along Oxford Street, The Toy Store will be quite hard to miss. In its previous life, this was a two-floor outpost of Dorothy Perkins that boasted a modestly sized ground floor and a large first floor. In part this has to do with the geography of the West One centre, of which this shop forms the Oxford Street face.
Access to The Toy Store at ground level is via the main external entrance, a smaller entrance within the shopping centre and an escalator which feeds shoppers from Bond Street underground station in the basement directly to the heart of the store on the first floor.
Externally, the shop announces its presence to passers-by with an unfurling banner-style logo and windows that feature life-size imperial troopers from Star Wars, a tiered cake-stand display of Beefeater teddy bears and models of London landmarks. As such, The Toy Store ticks several boxes.
This may be a retailer from several thousand miles away, but it has endeavoured to anchor its first UK store by localising its visual merchandising. It is also a playtime statement of intent – this is a store that offers a wide range of toys.
Those opting to head into the store from Oxford Street are confronted by a large escalator on the right-hand side of the ground floor.
To the left a sign using the same font and format as that deployed for the logo reads The Sweet Store.
Before the candy is reached, however, shoppers will encounter a mid-floor unit filled with small Lego kits and a perimeter Paddington bear display in which multiples of the red-hatted Peruvian favourite are placed on shelves, suitcases and sacks.
The Paddington display sets the branded theme for almost the whole of this interior on both floors. Every merchandised space takes a particular, mostly licensed, toy or theme and creates a shop-in-shop from it.
On the day of visiting, it was hard not to look at the large composite video screen on the wall next to the escalator. Only about a third of this was functional as some of the screens that formed the image bore the message: ‘No cable connected.’ This was disappointing in a store that had only just passed its one-week trading anniversary and little effort seemed to be being made to put it right.
That said, arriving on the first floor matters improved. Here, two options are available for the shopper. In one direction, a bright red walkway extends towards the back of the shop, while a second heads off at a right angle into an area above the rest of the West One centre.
Whichever route is chosen, the two parts of the walkway meet at the back of the shop and visitors will pass a parade of well-defined shop-in-shops, ranging from Barbie to Lego.
The Barbie shop was also failed somewhat by technology with a kiosk that purported to allow the enthusiast to ‘share your fashions worldwide’. Sadly, although there were images on the two screens that were intended to help shoppers do that, neither of them actually did anything.
The rest of the Barbie area was imaginatively executed and really did succeed in fostering the sense of a discrete brand shop.
The same could be said of the other brands that border the walkway, with Lego and Thomas & Friends being particularly noteworthy for their use of outsize figures and models.
There was also a demonstrator standing in the middle of part of the walkway throwing around a four-armed boomerang that he managed to catch every time.
Demonstrations are an area in which Hamleys and, to an extent, Selfridges, excel and The Toy Store has some way to go if it is to overtake its rivals in this respect.
A balcony at the end of the circuit and beyond the Lego department affords the visitor views of the front door and Oxford Street.
More figures, including another imperial trooper in white Lego, are positioned alongside the balustrade.
Back down the escalator and overhead a figure rides a suspended dragon – a final fantasy flourish before heading out the door.
This is a toy shop that will certainly have West End shoppers walking through its doors and what confronts them will be a large dose of familiar toys, likely to find favour with children.
Whether the store’s roomy 27,000 sq ft can outdo the multi-level emporium that is Hamleys – which really does have a global reputation in much the same way as FAO Schwartz does in New York – is a moot point.
The real question is whether there is room for another large toy retailer in this part of London. On the basis of the number of shoppers that were inspecting this one on a sunny Wednesday morning, the answer is probably a qualified yes.
The Toy Store is a bold move by a new market entrant and provides locals and tourists with an alternative to the tried and trusted.
The Toy Store, West One shopping centre, London
Size 27,000 sq ft
Opened September 24, 2015
Number of floors 2
Ambience Diverse – dominated by branded point of sale
Standout area Lego