Toy retailer to expand children's department to 170 stores


August 25, 1993|By New York Times News Service

After years of introducing American children to cutting-edge interactive video games and the latest variety of Teen-Age Mutant Ninja Turtle, Toys "R" Us is gearing up to sell a more traditional form of entertainment: books.

The toy retailer, which sold nearly one-fourth of the toys bought in the United States last year, is planning to open Books "R" Us departments in about 170 stores by October, after testing the concept in about 30 stores nationwide for almost two years.

"It's been an absolute success," said Michael Goldstein, vice chairman and chief administrative officer of Toys "R" Us Inc. "It's creating a whole new group of buyers of books."

Books "R" Us is one of several departments that Toys "R" Us is testing to expand the reach and enhance the ambience of its standard warehouse-store format.

The company, which also operates the Kids "R" Us children's clothing stores, is also testing Parties "R" Us, a department stocking candles, paper plates, favors and other party gear, and Movies"R" Us. Two stores have Lego boutiques, and the company is also testing an in-store shop for stuffed toys, which never lent themselves to the warehouse environment.

Analysts said the experiments were part of an effort to make shopping at Toys "R" Us, known for selling goods at rock-bottom prices in a no-frills, self-service environment, more enjoyable.

"They're still maniacally devoted to a low-cost structure, but they're trying to find areas where they can make ambience and service pay for themselves," said Barry Bryant, a retail analyst at Ladenburg, Thalmann & Co.

The Books "R" Us departments will be carpeted, unlike the rest of the floors in Toys "R" Us stores. The lighting will be brighter, and shelves will be low enough to encourage children to browse through the books.

Most of the stores with a book department will have child-sized tables and chairs, and salespeople will answer questions, a departure from the company's self-service standard.

Toys "R" Us has also devised a carrot to promote reading and, of course, book sales. A program called Geoffrey's Reading Railroad rewards children with prizes for reading. The company is also contributing $50,000 to Reading Is Fundamental, a children's literacy organization.

Toys "R" Us, based in Paramus, N.J., is entering a book market in the throes of rapid change. Book superstores, most of which have carved out a space for children, are bringing down prices and putting pressure on smaller, more traditional bookstore operators in much the same way that Toys "R" Us staked its claim in the toy market.

But Mr. Goldstein said the development of Books "R" Us was not likely to unfold along the same lines as Toys "R" Us. "This is not going to take business away from small shops and chains, because we don't think they're getting to the child anyway," he said.

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