Legacy Toys</URL>, an Ely, Minn.-based toy store, is hoping to succeed where Creative Kidstuff could not.
It will open in the same mall locations in Ridgedale and the Galleria recently vacated by the venerable Creative Kidstuff.
"Creative Kidstuff was one of our inspirations for opening our first store," said Legacy co-owner and co-founder Brad Ruoho. "The thought of being compared to them is humbling so we want to differentiate ourselves."
Legacy is swimming against a wave of toy-store closures. In addition to the six Creative Kidstuff stores that closed last month, local neighborhood stores such as Peapods in St. Paul, Wonderment in Minneapolis and Flying Circus in Albertville have shuttered. Nationally, Toys 'R' Us closed all of its 735 U.S. stores last year (although there is a plan to resurrect the brand with a smaller footprint).
Legacy also is facing a new dynamic as Target, Walmart, Kohl's and Best Buy have responded to the closures by beefing up their toy selections.
Legacy opened its store in the northern Minnesota city of Ely in 2012. Stores followed in Duluth in 2014 and Fargo in 2015.
The first store came about when Ruoho's wife, Mistaya, who managed a Toys in the Woods store in Ely until it closed, decided the town still needed a toy store. The Ridgedale store will open at the end of the month and the Galleria store at the end of August. The Ruohos have not announced the location for Legacy's largest store in the Twin Cities, but it is also in a mall. The plans are still developing, and the store is tentatively set to open in October. More Twin Cities stores are planned for 2020.
Roberta Bonoff, president of Creative Kidstuff and KidSource, said for brick-and-mortar toy stores to be successful they need to have a relevant solid product selection the consumer wants.
"But the most valuable part of the store is your well-trained staff and creating a great experience for the customer when they are shopping with you," she said in an e-mail.
Legacy will carry some of the same brands as Creative Kidstuff but plans to distinguish itself with a strong focus on a fun environment. Stores are equipped with large animatronic dinosaurs, trees and plush houses.
"It's very experiential. We have a lot of test toys," said Peter Cpin, Legacy's marketing and events coordinator.
Like Creative Kidstuff, Legacy plans to hire an experienced staff that knows toys, including some former Creative Kidstuff employees. "Our staff tells kids jokes and teaches them how to play with certain toys," Ruoho said. "Our customers tell us that their kids can come in to play and not be worried about breaking things."
The selection, attentive staff and focus on fun are paying off. All stores have seen double-digit same-store sales growth since the inception. "We're bucking the trend and that's allowed us to add stores," Ruoho said.
Legacy still has company in its independent neighborhood toy-store niche, including Kiddywampus in Hopkins, Hub Hobby Center in Richfield and Little Canada, Something Safari in Excelsior, Mischief Toy in St. Paul and Kremer's Toy and Hobby in Albertville.
"We all want to prevent the loss of specialty toy stores, so we help each other out," Ruoho said.
Ruoho wants to put down retail roots for his Twin Cities' stores, but he is being cautious. Both mall stores are temporary leases for a year with the intent to go permanent.
"Malls are a good fit for us," he said. "They know toy stores are a desirable feature to draw families."
All of Legacy's stores are in malls except the Ely location. Store sizes range from 2,000 to 7,000 square feet.
"There's something special about browsing in a local toy store that the internet can't duplicate," said Erin Koster of Prairie Farm, Wis., as she shopped with her toddler in the Galleria on Friday. "It's nice to see another toy store going into the Creative Kidstuff space."
In addition to Legacy Toys, several other stores will be opening soon in the Galleria. Johnny Was, which sells women's clothing with a boho slant, opens in September in the former Tumi store, which moved to another spot in the Galleria.
Suitsupply made-to-measure suits for men opens in the fall. Similar to Indochino in Mall of America, it supplies men with custom suits for $400 to $600.