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Experiential Retail Builds ‘Real Brand Loyalty’ Among Consumers

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Few retailers would open a store nowadays and leave eCommerce as an afterthought, considering that nearly every U.S. consumer has shopped online for something in the past year.

But for toy retailer CAMP, which opened its first of seven stores in 2018, that’s exactly what happened. Tiffany Markofsky, co-founder and chief communications officer at toy retailer CAMP, told PYMNTS that she and her fellow founders, husband and wife Ben and Nikki Kaufman, felt there was a real demand for a “retail destination” for families.

“When you go toy shopping with the kids, you maybe forget about the toy five hours after you get home — but you don’t forget the experience,” Markofsky said.

CAMP locations are typically between 10,000 and 12,000 square feet, with a front-facing section called the “canteen,” which functions as a general store of sorts, with a “magic door” on the wall that acts as an entrance to the more experiential part of the store. “It’s like a speakeasy for kids, and so it’s really fun,” Markofsky said.

Beyond the door are different “narrative retail themes” for kids to interact with and play in, such as cooking, art and travel, with products related to the theme surrounding the play areas. Markofsky said CAMP regularly rotates the themes at each of its stores, closing the “magic door” for a week at a time to change everything and relaunch. CAMP stores also host programming, such as performances and shows, for families to enjoy.

“We’re very proud that we can tell stories in a way that other retailers don’t,” Markofsky said. Additionally, the model means CAMP isn’t solely reliant on toy sales for revenue — it also has sponsorships and ticket sales.

Creating an experience, Markofsky said, also results in “real brand loyalty,” with 57% of CAMP customers returning once a month and 17% returning at least once a week. “It’s a destination for families,” she said.

CAMP is doing business in a space where two of the most recognizable brands, Toys R Us and FAO Schwarz, were unable to stay afloat and were forced to file for bankruptcy — though both brands have been resurrected in recent years.

Related news: Macy’s Brings Back Toys R Us, Exceeds Q2 Expectations

Additionally, CAMP is facing stiff competition from Walmart and Amazon, the two largest retailers in the country, and supply chain issues are hitting toys particularly hard. Earlier this week, Hasbro reported that $100 million of goods ordered in the third quarter went undelivered.

See more: Hasbro Had $100M of Undelivered Product in Q3

Expanding to eCommerce

When CAMP first launched, Markofsky said, the company was “firmly a brick-and-mortar retailer” with no eCommerce presence. “We believed there was room in the market and a real appetite for a retail destination that was experiential and that combined play, product and programming,” she told PYMNTS.

But when the pandemic forced all nonessential stores to close — including CAMP — the retailer had to reevaluate, though Markofsky said they didn’t want to just put up a website that would be boring and transactional.

Instead, CAMP developed several iterations of “experiential eComm,” an extension of some of the initiatives started at retail locations. Initially, the company hosted a daily birthday party for any kids who signed up, with in-store brand partners eventually reaching out to sponsor and help design the experience. Then, during the holidays last year, CAMP created a digital version of the gift swapping game White Elephant, which eventually led earlier this year to the creation of Present Shop, an eCommerce platform for kids.

Present Shop, which will soon be rebranded to KidShop, allows parents to choose an amount for a child to spend. They will then receive a one-time code through which kids can make a purchase, guided by an animated bear named Scout.

“It’s a great way to teach kids about the value of money, about the gratification of being the gift-giver,” Markofsky said. “Normally it’s like … I’m going to buy my husband a present and might give it to my daughter to sign the card. This really gets the kids involved in the process.”

Opening New Locations

The expanded eCommerce presence — and particularly the birthday parties — have brought hundreds of new customers to CAMP, with many clamoring for a store to be opened near them, which is one reason the company has committed to doubling its number of stores each year. In the coming months, new locations are set for Boston and Los Angeles; the goal is to have 18 stores by the end of 2022.

When identifying where to put a store, Markofsky said some of the most important factors are a concentration of young families and which sponsors might be available either because they’re based nearby or because they want to get in front of a particular consumer segment. “We are a very community-driven store,” she said.

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