For Nik Nayar, Target’s vice president of toys and sporting goods, every day holds a new puzzle to solve: Which new toy, board game or action figure will guests fall in love with next? With the toy industry growing like crazy, there’s inspiration everywhere—from nostalgic brands and franchises making a comeback, to the latest “it” games gaining traction on crowdfunding sites.
This week, Nik was a guest speaker at PlayCon 2016—the Toy Industry Association’s annual conference, where toy leaders, creatives, innovators and decision-makers come out to play … and connect with colleagues to share ideas. At the conference, Nik talked about the exciting things happening in Target’s toy department, and he sat down to answer a few of our questions about how he and his team are bringing them to life:
Sounds like an exciting time to be in toys! With all the great content and inspiration out there, how do you decide what to focus on?
Over the past year, our teams and leaders have been going out and getting to know our guests better, making sure we’re really listening and understanding what they want. And we’ve learned a lot. These days, families are busy, and they’re looking for ways to carve out quality time to spend together. Not only that, parents are looking for activities that teach kids teamwork, and how to be a good sport whether they win or lose.
We realized that our toys aren't just entertainment; they need to be solutions. Experiences matter more than ever. So now, we’re always asking ourselves: How can Target come up with meaningful new ways for families and friends to come together and have fun?
One thing we’re doing is bringing back classic board games—crowd-pleasers like Clue, Scrabble, Candyland, Uno and Rock ‘em Sock ‘em Robots—to help parents capture the nostalgic memories of family game nights when they were kids. On the flipside, we’re also working with the biggest game-makers, specialty companies and the newest start-ups on first-to-market, exclusive and new launches. We have a mass exclusive with a smaller company, Peaceable Kingdom, which specializes in games like This or That and Engineering Ants, where kids and parents work together to beat the board.
We’re also looking to crowdfunding sites, like Kickstarter and Indiegogo, to find more up-and-coming games. We brought in our first game that originated on Kickstarter—Utter Nonsense—last year and it’s already become a hit with our grown-up guests. Having the right mix of classic and new options means there’s something for everyone.
At PlayCon, you talked a lot about licensed products. How do they help bring families together?
People of all ages bond over their favorite characters and stories, so Target is partnering with studios and franchises to bring in popular toy lines and other products families will love. There are some fantastic opportunities coming out of Hollywood right now. With the recent surge of film sequels and reboots (think: Star Wars, My Little Pony and Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles), parents who grew up on beloved franchises are introducing them to their kids, and creating a whole new generation of fans.
Superhero movies are booming as more comic book characters get their own feature films, and they’re appealing to broader audiences. Newer franchises like Frozen, Minions and Angry Birds are amassing huge fan bases, while veteran brands like Barbie and LEGO are refreshing their offerings and creating whole worlds with characters and stories that feed guests’ imagination and desire to play.
And having the right mix of products is just the beginning of the experience, right?
Our goal with licensing is to take something that’s already big and create a really memorable experience guests won’t find anywhere else. Take our work with Star Wars: The Force Awakens last fall: To build on the anticipation around the upcoming release, we opened more than 200 of our stores at midnight on Sept. 4 for special Force Friday shopping events. Attendees were first in line for our exclusive toys and merchandise, and took part in giveaways, photo ops and other activities. The stores were decked out with Storm Trooper door clings and a life-size Chewbacca and BB-8 Droid.
I went to one of the Minneapolis events, and the enthusiasm was amazing. We learned about the power of a retailer to amplify a big pop culture moment, which gave us the confidence to place a big bet this year with product and an exclusive marketing campaign for Disney's Zootopia. Judging by what we’re hearing from guests, that bet is paying off!
At the end of the day, it’s about innovating, getting creative in where we look for new products, breaking through the clutter and becoming a go-to retailer for toys and experiences other stores don’t have. The big strategy is simple: listen to guests, understand what they want, and do whatever it takes to deliver.
Want to see more? Check out Target’s latest and greatest in toys by visiting your local Target store or Target.com.
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