AFJ Interviews Ellia Kassoff, Head of KB Toys Revival, Who Wants to Save the Toy Industry
Action Figure Junkies interviewed Ellia Kassoff, CEO of Strategic Marks, which had picked up the dead KB Toys brand for an online presence, only to see Toys R Us collapse. He sees KB Toys as a chance to step into that vacuum and “save the toy industry” by keeping a social, tactile, show room presence alive for toys.
The new KB is in touch with major toy manufacturers, including Hasbro, to make that step into Toys R Us’s vacated footprint possible. Ellia Kassoff, CEO of Strategic Marks and, effectively, KB Toys, told CNN Money that:
My assumption is that there’s about half a billion dollars worth of toys that have been produced for Toys “R” Us with no place to go […] That’s a big, big void that we’re hoping to fill up.
Now, Action Figure Junkies has interviewed Kassoff about how he intends to do that – and what form the stores themselves will take.
Kassoff intends to relaunch KB Toys in the form of “1000-1500” pop-up stores for the holiday season. While toy manufacturers have been enthusiastic, he describes the pop-up providers he’s approached themselves as “hesitant”, but believes that KB Toys has a lot to offer them as a brand.
Part of his case is that KB Toys is only one of two toy chain trademarks with mind share, and that one of those is Toys R Us. But he also insists that the new business Strategic Marks is building will nonetheless be KB Toys on a deeper level than just the branding. While it’s true that the value of the trademark depends on exactly that perception, it indicates something about where the company is intending to go with this revival.
We know if we can deliver an experience that the kid of 20 years ago can walk into, with their kids, and say, ‘This is awesome, this is KB’. There is no way we’re going to sell the trademark because it’s not just a trademark, its experience that we’re going after and that’s what we do for a living, that’s our core competency.
If the chain succeeds past the initial pop-up store phase into permanent locations, Kassoff intends to follow the model of the original in small-format mall stores and some larger-format showroom locations, painting a picture of “30-40 of those [showroom locations] scattered around the country” with another four times that number in permanent mall shops.
Kassoff doesn’t see online retailers – retailers like, lest we forget, his original planned relaunch for KB Toys – as a substitute for the brick-and-mortar toy store. He dismisses changing retail and changing as the cause of the original KB Toys demise as well as that of Toys R Us, pinning the blame squarely on the leveraged buyout both stores underwent. His feelings on malls and specialty retail seem similar: “malls are not going away”, but they are suffering for the lack of the “experiences” that brought the customers there; a toy store needs “at least one toy specialist” on site who can answer customers’ questions if it wants to offer something an online store doesn’t.
He sees adult collectors as a “huge space” to tap into:
We just had some collectors asking us saying, ‘look, please help us, we don’t like buying online because the boxes could get damaged, the package could get damage, we need to buy it in a store, we need limited edition stuff, we need a lot of it.’ So, we’re also going to be getting a lot of input from the collectors.
This probably isn’t surprising, since almost by definition, no child younger than mid-teens has ever asked their parents to take them to a KB Toys. A store that is itself a nostalgia-fueled reboot would seem wise to consider how adult nerds seeking nostalgia properties fit into its model. Kassoff intends the stores to have “something for everyone” with “the right mix” of big toy companies and smaller, collector-oriented ones.
It’s hard to tell at this stage how much of Kassoff’s tale is a business plan, and how much is a pitch to those reluctant pop-up providers who need to step up and help him save retail and the toy industry from certain doom. But a very boutique brick-and-mortar toy chain for malls with an ear toward adult collectors certainly sounds like a plan worth keeping an eye on.