In recent years, toy manufacturers have been getting involved with retail on another level: opening their own stores. This allows more control over their inventory, pricing, and customer experience. While this may seem like a precarious situation at first, many companies are touting the benefits — for both their brands and their retail partners. The stores aim to serve as a destination experience for new and existing customers while raising brand awareness and providing an opportunity to connect in new ways.


Some manufacturers, such as The LEGO Group, have been running branded stores for decades, while others have been around for just as long and are now making their first foray into retail. Radio Flyer’s legacy dates back more than a century to the introduction of the Little Red Wagon, but the Chicago-based company just opened its first flagship retail store in Schaumburg, Illinois in November.

“We’ve always dreamt of creating a space where families could immerse themselves in the Radio Flyer brand,” says Chief Wagon Officer Robert Pasin, a third-generation toymaker. “Years of planning and hard work have gone into making this store the ultimate Radio Flyer experience for our customers.”

The Radio Flyer retail location features a Race Track for customers to test products. | Source: Radio Flyer

In recent years, the company has expanded into product categories that benefit from an in-store experience. As such, customers can shop the complete Radio Flyer product line, including stroller wagons, tricycles, scooters, go-karts, and bikes for the whole family, and test them in person before purchasing. Families can cruise the Race Track, customize and personalize wagons and other store-exclusive items, and visit the Flyer Bike Shop for professional assembly, professional servicing, and custom bike and accessory fittings.

Another brick-and-mortar location that launched last fall is Melissa & Doug’s store at The Westchester in White Plains, just outside of New York City and near the company’s headquarters in Wilton, Connecticut. Melissa & Doug celebrated its 35th birthday in 2023 and wanted to give consumers a new way to engage with the brand.

“The store enables us to showcase our toys and connect with consumers in a personal and hands-on way that goes beyond what can be done online or in traditional retail,” says Jessica Kuring, Director of Consumer Relationship Marketing. “The goal is to be a retail store first but still encourage interaction with our brand and toys through fun moments.”

Funko opened its second store in Hollywood, California (pictured) in 2019. | Source: Funko

The destination features a curated selection of top-sellers and new products including playsets, educational toys, baby and toddler toys, puzzles, and arts & crafts. The store also carries the 35th Anniversary Rainbow Giraffe, a special edition of the iconic 4-foot plush, which is only available at this location and online.

The store includes interactive elements to drive engagement. There is a photo opportunity where kids can measure how many “scoops of ice cream” tall they are, as well as take-home activities and stickers. Melissa & Doug is working on an interactive display to feature its new Sticker WOW! collection to give consumers a firsthand experience with the product, which showcases a new way to play with stickers.

The location was a strategic choice, and the holiday traffic proved to be strong. “While online sales represent a sizable part of our business, we have been very impressed with how consumers showed up to retail and the Melissa & Doug store in particular during the holiday season,” Kuring says.

Bandai and Kawada, parent company of Nanoblock, chose the American Dream mall in New Jersey for the first Nanoblock physical location, which opened in September. “American Dream is an absolutely incredible shopping and experiential destination for consumers,” says Jared Kasan, Senior Brand Manager, Nanoblock. “When the opportunity came up for us to do something here, we jumped right in.”

The Nanoblock store features LED brick displays and a free-build wall where guests can build unique creations. The brand also hosts free workshops and offers in-store coupons to encourage sales of the store’s products, including its exclusive Kirby playset.

Kasan notes the American Dream store has been eye-opening for retail partners in terms of what is possible when a complete brand statement is created with displays, lights, built samples, signage, statues, video, and more. “We have received requests [from retail partners] to add more display and interactive components based on the Nanoblock store.”


Funko opened its first store in Everett, Washington in 2017 followed by a second store in Hollywood, California in 2019. “At Funko, we connect fans to fandoms and there is no better way to do that than through experiences,” says Dave Bere, Vice President Retail & POP! Yourself. “We wanted to find a way for fans to immerse themselves in their favorite fandoms, characters, and stories. That’s what our retail destinations are all about.”

The stores are a mix of products and experiences. Not only can fans purchase products featuring their favorite intellectual properties from the company’s portfolio of brands including Funko, Loungefly, and Mondo, they can fully immerse themselves into the experience through photo opportunities and “merch-tainment.”

Bere notes that as e-commerce continues to grow, so do the stores. While the products may be similar, aside from store exclusives that drop a few times a year, the store experience continues to serve as a destination which makes the trip worth it for fans. These stores are also differentiated from retail partners so that they don’t compete and instead enhance the brand overall.

Squishable now has more than 30 official Squishable locations throughout the U.S. | Source: Squishable

It’s all about the fans for Squishable too, which started opening physical locations about five years ago and now has more than 30 official Squishable locations throughout the U.S. The company has a long history of consumer interaction, including crowdsourcing ideas from die-hard fans online. “Interacting with fans in the real world was an obvious next step,” says Zoe Fraade-Blanar, CCO.

Squishable uses its stores to test a wide variety of new designs that could potentially see a wider rollout. The stores also help determine what will sell best in different areas of the country for the brand’s retail partners. “Locations where we already have a retail presence almost always show an uptick in Squishable sales if we put an official Squishable store nearby,” Fraade-Blanar explains. “It creates recognition and interest in the brand; once people become familiar with us they start actively seeking us out elsewhere.”

The Super7 stores feature posters, furniture, decor, and more to tell one cohesive story and make visitors feel welcome. | Source: Super7

Super7 opened its first physical store in San Francisco in 2003 to cater to collectors, then opened its second store in San Diego in 2015, taking advantage of fan traffic from Comic-Con International: San Diego. “The best part of the physical Super7 stores is the uninterrupted time they offer our fans to live within the brand,” says Brian Flynn, CEO of Super7. “They can hang out and immerse themselves in the world of Super7, surrounded by everything that makes us unique — and truly live in that moment.”

The Super7 stores tell one cohesive story, with posters, furniture, decor, and more positioned to make visitors feel welcome and create a space to meet new people. The company takes pride in the fact that its staff — who are also avid fans — enjoys discussing toys with customers and meeting fellow fans. After all, Flynn notes, “People visit retail stores to have an emotional and tactile exchange. If they aren’t craving that experience, they can simply order online in minutes.”

This article was originally published in the February 2024 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!

The Toy Book Magazine, Volume 40, No. 1 — February 2024
The Toy Book Magazine, Volume 40, No. 1 — February 2024 | Cover by Kenny Kiernan

About the author

Nadia Velit

Nadia Velit

Nadia Velit is the Senior Editor at Adventure Media & Events where she writes for The Toy Book, The Toy Insider, and The Pop Insider. As a trusted source for parents and gift-givers and a toy industry expert, Nadia focuses on all things toys and stays on top of all of the hottest trends. She loves to be outside with her chickens and is always ready for a game of giant Jenga or old-fashioned Twister. When she’s not playing with friends and family, you can find her curled up with a Sandra Brown mystery novel or obsessing over The New York Times Spelling Bee although truthfully she would rather be at Hogwarts. Nadia has been featured on CBS, NBC, FOX, and more.