Connect with us

Forbes Business News

Experiential Retailer Camp Widens Its Playing Field With New Mall Store

Published

on

Camp, the company that is reinventing toy retailing, is continuing its expansion push, with a new store in one of the East Coast’s largest malls.

The new location in a high-profile shopping center – Westfield Garden State Plaza in Paramus, N.J. – could play a key role in accelerating Camp’s expansion to other parts of the country.

The store opens to the public Oct. 19.

The 6,500 square-foot space will be one of Camp newer formats, a store that is more retail, and less experiential, compared to the flagship Camp store on Fifth Avenue. But it will still have plenty of the hands-on activities that have made Camp a hit with parents and kids, and fueled its rapid growth.

Camp is taking over the site of a previous failed experiment in toy retailing – one of the reimagined, next-generation Toys R Us stores. The company that owns the rights to the Toys R Us name opened two stores – one at Garden State Plaza and one in The Galleria in Houston – in fall, 2019.

Those stores were envisioned as the start of a Toys R Us revival in this country. They were closed permanently at the beginning of this year, although the new owner of the Toys R Us brand is promising an eventual return to retail stores.

The Paramus store, Camp co-founder and CEO Ben Kaufman said, will be similar to the company’s store at Hudson Yards in New York City. The Paramus store won’t have a “magic door” that revolves to reveal a play space, or themes that change seasonally, but if the Paramus location is successful it could be converted into a full-size format in the future.

“We’re hoping that’s what happens here, that this is kind of a test towards a bigger space in that location,” Kaufman said.

The Paramus store has a treehouse and slide in the center of the space, and a vintage pickup truck in the entrance that children can play on. “There will be experiences through out, with play built into all of the shopping moments,” Kaufman said, but unlike the flagship stores it will not have rotating themed experience like Travel Camp, Cooking Camp, or Cosmic Camp.

The Westfield Garden State Plaza location is Camp’s seventh store, and two additional stores, one in Los Angeles and one in New England, are scheduled to open before the end of the year.

Camp opened its first store, in the Flatiron district of New York City, in December 2018, and opened four more stores in late 2019.

When the pandemic hit, Camp proved to be the perfect toy store for the digital age, pivoting quickly to offer virtual birthday parties, downloadable activity books, and virtual scavenger hunts. It also created online Secret Santa-style gift exchanges and an kid-friendly app that lets children shop for gifts for themselves or family members with a spending limit set by their parents.

It has held over 50,000 virtual birthday parties, and its activity books were downloaded more than 500,000 times.

From the start, Kaufman, a former chief marketing officer at Buzzfeed, and Camp have been particularly savvy about brand partnerships.

Last summer, it joined with Walmart

WMT
to create CAMP by Walmart – a virtual summer camp with 100-plus videos featuring arts and crafts, fitness, and other camp activities with celebrity counselors including LeBron James, Drew Barrymore, and Neil Patrick Harris,

For brands, sponsoring themed activities at Camp stores, such as a gardening activity sponsored by Scott’s Miracle Gro

SMG
, connects them with parent consumers while entertaining their kids.

For Halloween, the Garden State Plaza Camp and other Camp locations, are partnering with Ferrara, which owns candy brands including Brach’s, Nerds, and Sweetarts, to offer online games and in-store events.

Camp executives prefer to describe the company as a “family experiences” business or “retail media company” rather than a toy store. At the original New York City store paid activities typically generate the bulk of the revenue.

In picking locations, Kaufman said, Camp looks for places that will generate repeat visits, and become a neighborhood gathering place for families. Fifty percent of Camp’s customers return once a month, and 17% return once a week, Kaufman said.

The Garden State Plaza location is better suited to repeat family visits than an experiential mega-mall like the American Dream mall, also in northern New Jersey, Kaufman said. “We like to be in centers where we are the thing to do,” Kaufman. “I don’t really feel like competing with seven other amusement parks.”

Kaufman also was impressed by the strong traffic at the Plaza. The Camp team visited the mall on a Tuesday in April, 2021 and was surprised how busy it was despite the pandemic. “I’ve never seen so many people,” Kaufman said. “It wasn’t just packed with people, it was a packed with people with shopping bags.”

In addition, a member of the Camp board, Michael Goldstein, had touted Paramus as a premium spot for a store. Goldstein, a CEO and Chairman of the board at Toys R Us in the 1990s, frequently reminded Camp executives that Paramus was the top-selling location for Toys R Us.

Camp is the type of innovative retail Westfield Garden State Plaza wants to attract, said Dennis Marnick, senior vice-president, flagship leasing, for the mall’s owner, Unibail-Rodamco-Westfield.

“Camp is one of those tenants we’re going for – experiential, family, entertainment. It just clicks a lot of categories for us,” he said.

The Plaza has another advantage for Camp. The New York Times

NYT
in 2005 famously characterized it as place where Wall Street analysts, hedge fund managers and institutional investors shop for clues about the health of the retail economy. It also is a place where potential investors can assess how a startup retailer will perform in a large suburban mall.

Camp is hoping to double its store count each year, to 18 by the end of 2022, 36 by the end of 2023, and so on.

Wall Street analysts and hedge fund investors undoubtedly are familiar with Camp’s highly successful flagship New York City store on Fifth Avenue, and its other stores in Manhattan and Brooklyn, but Garden State Plaza could be the place that helps them decide if the Camp model plays well enough for a broader national expansion.