David Niggli, Chief Merchandising Officer, FAO Schwarz, discusses the iconic retailer’s growing partnership with Target, its plans for expansion, and predictions for the future in this extended edition of The Toy Book’s 2023 State of the Industry Q&A roundtable. Want more insight from the all-stars of the toy industry? Click here to explore this year’s lineup!

FAO Schwarz celebrated 160 years of toys in 2022 | Source: FAO Schwarz

The Toy Book: FAO Schwarz was back in the mainstream in a big way last year. How did the expanded partnership Target partnership perform last year and how will it grow in 2023?

David Niggli: 2022 was a historical year for FAO, as we celebrated our 160th anniversary with a birthday celebration takeover of Rockefeller Plaza, and the City of New York declaring Oct. 8 officially as FAO Schwarz Day. We saw great success in our New York City Rockefeller Plaza Flagship location throughout the year, seeing customers from across the globe returning to New York and making sure their trip included a visit to our iconic store. Sales and average transaction values were all above pre-COVID levels, with our guests thoroughly engaging in our demonstrations, experiences, and the best specialty toy brands from all over the world.

Bullseye’s Top Toys at FAO Schwarz in Rockefeller Center | Source: AP Images for FAO Schwarz

Additionally, our Target partnership was very successful across multiple categories, and I am happy to say that we will be expanding in 2023 and beyond. We are thrilled to bring FAO Schwarz to the biggest audience in the history of the company by way of our presence at Target stores nationally.

Related: The 2023 Edition of The BIG Toy Book is Here!

TB: What were some of the additional big wins for FAO last year — are there any specific products or categories that performed particularly well?

DN: We focused this year on bringing unique design languages to our key categories. Plush continued to be strong, with great success in our Adopt A Pets and Glow Brights collections. Our FAO-abulous fashion role-play and activities collection continued to grow in popularity with makeup cases, a fully stocked vanity, and trendsetting role-play handbags being among the top-sellers. Creativity was another key category, taking classics like a potter’s wheel and updating it with a contemporary, yet classic design approach, and our wood and preschool items also gained momentum.

The FAO Schwarz mini store at LAX, June 2022 | Source: James Zahn/The Toy Book

TB: Prior to the pandemic, FAO was opening new stores internationally and had spread into airports in the U.S. What is the status of new store openings?

DN: We currently have stores in England, China, Ireland, and Italy, and airport stores in LAX, LaGuardia, and Norfolk. While COVID did impact some international store openings, we continue to create plans to increase our international presence over the next few years via new store locations and by growing our international wholesale distribution.

TB: How does Toy Fair moving from February to September impact your business, and what’s your take on the trade show shift?

DN: Overall, the move does not really affect our business. We work with our vendor and retail partners throughout the year, so whether it is February or September will not make that much of a difference. We did enjoy having Toy Fair take place in February as it provided a great opportunity to check in at the beginning of the year, but the move really won’t impact us. We are excited for Toy Fair [in New York] to return later this year and reunite and celebrate with the industry.

Source: FAO Schwarz

TB: What are your overall predictions for the state of the toy industry and toy retail this year?

DN: There are numerous challenges facing all businesses today, and as we all have learned over the last several years that change can happen overnight. Fortunately, in these uncertain times, brands like FAO Schwarz, that have such a great history and continue to bring magic to our customers and to create memories across generations, become even more relevant. That being said, we will continue to focus on creating products that celebrate classic play patterns, innovative designs, and great quality.

The legacy of our founders to bring experiences and theater to all of our channels of distribution is as important — and maybe more important — as it has ever been in our 160-year history. In our 161st year, we look to bring the wonder of FAO Schwarz to our flagships, Target and target.com, fao.com, and with our international wholesale partners through exclusive products and experiences, and to be the best in class in creating engaging theatrical environments. We are very excited for the next 160 years!

A version of this Q&A was originally published in the 2023 edition of The BIG Toy Book. Click here to read the full issue! Want to receive The Toy Book in print? Click here for subscription options!

About the author

James Zahn

James Zahn

James Zahn, AKA The Rock Father, is Editor-in-Chief of The Toy Book, a Senior Editor at The Toy Insider and The Pop Insider, and Editor of The Toy Report, The Toy Book‘s weekly industry newsletter. As a pop culture and toy industry expert, Zahn has appeared as a panelist and guest at events including Comic-Con International: San Diego (SDCC) Wizard World Chicago, and the ASTRA Marketplace & Academy. Zahn has more than 30 years of experience in the entertainment, retail, and publishing industries, and is frequently called upon to offer expert commentary for publications such as Forbes, Marketwatch, the Wall Street Journal, the New York Times, USA Today, Reuters, the Washington Post, and more. James has appeared on History Channel’s Modern Marvels, was interviewed by Larry King and Anderson Cooper, and has been seen on Yahoo! Finance, CNN, CNBC, FOX Business, NBC, ABC, CBS, WGN, The CW, and more. Zahn joined the Adventure Media & Events family in 2016, initially serving as a member of the Parent Advisory Board after penning articles for the Netflix Stream Team, Fandango Family, PBS KIDS, Sprout Parents (now Universal Kids), PopSugar, and Chicago Parent. He eventually joined the company full time as a Senior Editor and moved up the ranks to Deputy Editor and Editor-in-Chief.