Nick Muriella, Vice President of Merchandising and Supply Chain, and Allyson Banks, Marketing Director at Toys “R” Us Canada, discuss some big wins, future outlook, expansion in books, and the power of imagination 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!

The Toy Book: What were some of the big wins for Toys “R” Us Canada last year?

Nick Muriella: We launched our Books category in 2022 with great success. We grew the in-store footprint, expanded our partners, and grew our total assortment. We saw great attachment rates and more importantly, customers love the space we created and the expanded gift-giving opportunities. Another win for us this year was our holiday season: We are very proud of how our stores performed. From robust in-stock levels to engaged staff, the true magic of Toys “R” Us came back to life this year.

TB: Did any particular toys or games stand out as hits?

NM: We continued to see success with LEGO items like our exclusive City Train set. The Magic Mixies Magic Cauldron from Moose Toys had a great second Christmas and the new Magic Mixies Magic Crystal Ball was a big hit. The Encanto Magical Casa Madrigal from JAKKS Pacific was in very high demand. Brands like Jurassic World, Bluey, and 5 Surprise exceeded expectations.

TB: How did Toys “R” Us Canada manage inventory levels following the influx of products that may have been delayed due to hiccups in the supply chain?

NM: We have been ruthlessly focused on inventory, so for us, we weren’t surprised by what inventory we had going into the holiday season. We have a great team of merchants and supply chain analysts that are on top of their business and made appropriate updates to their programming as the year progressed. Our advantage of being a coast-to-coast, toy and baby speciality retailer is how we can remain flexible. We can take product later or earlier or skip a program as it meets the needs of our business; we have the flexibility to react to changing consumer behavior. 

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

NM: I am not loving the change. There is now a large gap between seeing prototypes to final products. The timing of the show in February allowed us to get some analysis done from this past Christmas and firm up plans live at a show full of excitement and buzz. It creates a bit of a hole now in the traditional line review schedule. As always, the industry will rally and make it all work to ensure we have the best toys to offer our customers come Christmas 2023. On the other hand, the September date should make the first pass at fall 2024 [products] simpler, but there is still a missing touchpoint as plans firm up.

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

NM: I expect 2023 to be a tough year. Customers have been stretched through 2022 and they may start to look to hold onto some additional savings. Value is going to win the day. I am not talking about cheap toys, I mean value. As long as we can continue to give customers great toys and a great experience we will consider that a success.

TB: Last year, Toys “R” Us Canada declared itself “Canada’s Big-on-Books Toy Store.” How are books complementing the traditional toy assortment in your stores?

AB: We’ve seen a lot of success in the Books category this year. Really, it was a natural step in our expansion. It’s a perfect marriage between what kids love and what grown-ups love for them. It allows us to further offer the breadth and depth of selection that Toys “R” Us is known for.

TB: During the holiday season, Toys “R” Us Canada introduced Mr. Ferguson, a new character in a campaign to bring back imaginary friends. Can you tell us a little bit about the underlying message?

Allyson Banks: We launched our “Imagination Included” campaign; we really want to help nurture children’s development through imaginative play, reclaim their time away from scheduled activities and programs, and give them a chance to nurture their world of make-believe. Mr. Ferguson is meant to represent every child’s imaginary friend — whatever that looks or sounds like — a child’s most fantastical ideas! When a child picks up a toy, it only comes to life through imagination. As Canada’s leading toy retailer, it’s important for us to make sure kids don’t lose that magical part of childhood.

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!