CMO of the Week: Toys R Us’ Kim Miller

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The Toys "R" Us brand has struggled in recent years –filing for bankruptcy in 2017 and closing its last two US stores in January 2021 – but through a ownership under WHP Global, Toys R Us has made a massive comeback this year with branded stores set up inside of Macy’s across the country. 

The Toys "R" Us brand has struggled in recent years –filing for bankruptcy in 2017 and closing its last two US stores in January 2021 – but through a ownership under WHP Global, Toys R Us has made a massive comeback this year with branded stores set up inside of Macy’s across the country. 

Kim Miller joined the brand in June 2021 as chief marketing officer, as the company was planning its return. Her mission: to help refresh the iconic brand in a modern context. Miller has a lot of experience reviving brands and making them attractive to different audiences, learning on the job at Martha Stewart Living Omnimedia. So when she was offered the CMO position at Toys R Us, she was up to the challenge.

“I was really excited about Toys 'R' Us because it's such a beloved brand,” says Miller. “It's an emotional brand. People have wonderful memories of their experiences in Toys R Us stores. It was a really exciting opportunity. I always say that my job is to take the same magic that there always was and bring the new modern method to it.” 

When she started the job, Miller asked herself, what's the 2.0 of Toys "R" Us. “It can reach consumers where they are and really build a community as the global retail authority on toys and play, making sure that they feel empowered and informed on all things related to play in helping their kids develop and thrive,” explains Miller. “Play is such an important part of the development of human beings.” 

Miller has focused on digital community building and larger-than-life in-store activations in the new locations. Since last August, Macy’s has offered an assortment of Toys“R”Us products online exclusively at macys.com/toysrus and ToysRUs.com, powered by Macy’s digital and fulfillment ecosystem. 

Last November, the brand remixed the iconic “Toys“R”US kid” song and dropped it on TikTok with the help of famous rapper DJ Khaled.  This year, Geoffrey added a new dance that is being performed in stores worldwide. In May, Geoffrey went on a world tour visiting stores around the globe. “It was a 360-degree campaign that was social and drove consumers into stores with a sweepstakes and then ended in an event where there was an identified brand ambassador child that welcomed Geoffrey,” says Miller. “We shot video of them welcoming Geoffrey to their city and being proud of where they live and what their culture is like and then bringing him to a cheering crowd at Toys 'R' Us.”

Beginning late July, Toys "R" Us began opening shops within Macy’s across the country in time for the holidays. These stores range from 1,000-10,000 sq. feet in over 450 stores. The biggest in flagship locations in Atlanta, Chicago, Honolulu, Houston, Los Angeles, Miami, New York and San Francisco. Geoffrey made an appearance at last year’s Macy’s Day Thanksgiving parade and is gearing up to debut his new float “Geoffrey’s Dazzling Dance Party” on Thanksgiving morning.

Brand Innovators caught up with Miller from her home office in New Jersey to discuss TikTok, holiday and the return to retail inside Macy's. This interview has been edited for length and clarity.

Can you talk about how you are telling the Toys "R" Us comeback story?

When we started in June 2021, we revived the song. It was all about bringing back those things that people remember. It was a remix of the Toys "R" Us Kid song. This year we created a dance to go with it that we debuted at New York Comic Con. Fans love it and danced along.

Last December, we opened our global flagship store, which is 20,000 square feet, and with over 10,000 toys in the experience mall American Dream, in East Rutherford New Jersey. This year, we opened over 450 stores in stores throughout the US, at a rapid pace with our amazing partner Macy's. The Herald Square store in New York has Geoffrey on the awning outside of the store and the brand is featured in the windows. There are fun signs on all of the escalators and amazing elevator experiences for kids. It’s a 13,000 square foot store in Macy's, it's just a whole big experience. 

It's about the magic of kids being able to be there and see all the top brands and being able to have fun. Geoffrey is going to be there every day for the holidays with a meet and greet around Santaland. There are photo opportunities at every store with “Geoffrey on a Bench,” where Toys“R”Us kids of all ages can take their pictures.

Can you talk about being in Macy’s?

The thing that I love about what Toys R Us is doing in Macy's is the fact that the experience surrounds you. The logo is there. The colors are there. The way the toys are presented are curated. There are little play tables everywhere with open boxes. It's an experience and a celebration. It feels very much like you want to be a part of it and stay and explore. 

Macy's had a scavenger hunt in the first few weeks for kids to find Toys "R" Us within the stores. 

For Geoffrey's 9th birthday, which is now a worldwide initiative, there were nine days of celebrations. Brands participated each day. For instance, there was a Barbie day and a Rainbow Loom day where kids would come and there'd be activities. There is all of this activity beyond just going in and buying a toy. 

How are you curating content both in store and online?

We'd like to really help parents in the purchases of toys with information on play. To relate to kids, it is about showing the magic of Toys "R" Us. We've done it in a bunch of different ways. The biggest is through our YouTube series “Geoffrey Vision.”  We release a new episode weekly where kids learn about the world through Geoffrey’s lens. Geoffrey has also become a TikTok star. We also have our YouTube series Geoffrey Vision. We've done really well engaging with the Gen Zers there. 

In store and online, we're making sure that there's always tools and information about toys. For the holidays there are buying guides to personalize the shopping experience. We provide information that helps parents understand toys and play in new ways and makes them feel informed in their buying decisions. With kids, there's the play element in stores. In our Herald Square store, there's a whole playground. 

Can you talk about how you are helping with product discovery?

Kids have so many interests that there are toys that are connected to toys. You’ve got your little scientists and there's all these ways to have scientific experiments. If you have a kid that loves to play pretend, there's all sorts of toys that help with that. You’ve got your kitchen sets, puppets or even dress up costumes. What we tried to do is showcase toys with that different kind of framing. So you're looking at it through a fresh lens. 

Can you talk about how you're thinking about retail this holiday?

It's important for us to meet the consumer where they are and give them the opportunities to buy in the way that's most convenient for them. Definitely people love to go into the store for the experience, especially around the magic of the holidays. Macy's released a toy catalog where kids can actually circle the toys they want. They can also select their picks on ToysRus.com or macys.com or in store. We are present in all the ways that the consumer can shop. It depends on what the consumer is looking to purchase for the holiday season. We want to make sure that we're everywhere they are and we offer up a lot of insight into what toys relate to characters kids love,  interests kids have by age and make sure that it’s available so they choose to come to us for purchase.

The 34th Street store is iconic, especially around the holidays. People are excited to visit Toys "R" Us throughout the country, because everybody has their memory of visiting the store as children. There's definitely a magic to bringing our children to Toys "R" Us to share that experience of having all of the brands surrounding you in one place.

Can you talk about how your role at Martha Stewart helped prepare you for this position at Toys R Us?

Martha Stewart was brilliant and early at looking at every way to combine content and products. All of the hundreds of product launches that Martha did while I was there really prepared me to understand how a consumer wants information and how to make sure that it's everywhere. When we have a conversation on social media, we make sure that we're answering the appropriate questions and serving the customer. 

We also want to make sure that as we're building relationships with the community. We have people feeling connected to us and we want to check in all the time to really understand their needs. Martha is a genius at seeing what people want, and making sure that she's there at every turn. 

We're doing that with Toys "R" Us now, too. It's not as much about discounting and offering 10% and 20% off. It's all the other ways to look at things in exciting ways. Toys and play, just like cupcakes and house decorating, are all very fun, exciting and life elevating aspects. Bringing that celebration is something that Martha is very good at. I am doing that with this brand now.

Do you have 2023 predictions for retail and brands?

People want to be out in the world experiencing different things. People are going to continue to shop online, but many want experiences in retail in stores. That's going to continue. It's our responsibility as retailers and marketers to make sure that we are hearing what their needs are, and that we're giving them the choice to be in all those different places.

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