Has Lego built an unforgettable retail experience for kids and adults?

Photo: Lego
Jul 07, 2021

One of the most popular toy brands is betting on experiential retail coming back in a big way. Lego just opened a two-story flagship store on Fifth Avenue in Manhattan.

The new location features Lego installations of famous NYC landmarks, a personalization studio that allows visitors to make customized Lego-brick portraits and a station for making customized mini-figures, according to a Forbes article. The site represents a brand-wide move toward a more immersive retail experience as Lego intends to fold some of the fixtures of the flagship into its mainline stores nationwide.

In addition to the new experiential strategy, Lego has been proving it’s not just for kids anymore, courting older customers through niche-oriented partnerships. The brand recently partnered with Adidas on a limited-edition Lego product aimed at sneakerheads which creates a replica of an Adidas Original Superstar shoe, according to Geekspin.

Lego has some competition when it comes to its adult appeal. A ticketed pop-up called the Brick Bar, which features themed drinks, DJs and Instagrammable installations created from off-brand plastic bricks, plans to begin touring major U.S. cities again after being shut down due to the pandemic, according to SFist.

Big toy stores have had their ups and downs in recent years in the Big Apple.

In the mid-2010s, two of the biggest experiential toy flagship stores in Midtown Manhattan — Toys “R” Us and the iconic FAO Schwarz — both closed their doors. Toys “R” Us cited overwhelming retail rents as the reason, though the chain was suffering from larger issues and shuttered all of its stores after declaring bankruptcy in 2017. In late 2018, FAO Schwarz opened a new iteration of its flagship at Rockefeller Center.

The FAO Schwarz flagship closed down alongside a great deal of brick-and-mortar retail at the onset of the novel coronavirus pandemic, but reopened its doors to customers in August of 2020, ABC 7 reported at the time.

Concerns remain both in NYC and nationwide, however, about the possibility of restrictions being reintroduced as the delta variant of the novel coronavirus continues to circulate. Such restrictions could negatively impact retail that focuses on in-store experiences in the short- or medium-term.

DISCUSSION QUESTIONS: Do you think now is the time for a brand like Lego to open up an experiential flagship and does the current retail landscape still lend itself to this type of play-heavy retail — for kids or adults? Do you see an experiential strategy like the one Lego has planned for NYC working throughout the U.S.?

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"Lego is, above all, an experiential product so it’s almost imperative that the shopping experience inspire and enable the sense of play."

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22 Comments on "Has Lego built an unforgettable retail experience for kids and adults?"

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David Naumann

Retailers need a draw to attract consumers to stores and creating an entertaining and engaging experience is one of the best way to increase foot traffic and brand affinity. As consumers are returning to stores, this is a great time for Lego to increase brand awareness and loyalty with its experiential retail strategy. Some of the flagship experiences can be rolled out to other Lego stores, depending on the market size of regional stores, but Lego will need to be selective, as many of the experiences are expensive to execute.

Lee Peterson

We have an experiential Lego store here at Easton Town Center. It’s fantastic and always packed. Reminds me a little of the frenzy American Girl used to create pre-Mattel. One rule of economics they should remember though; scarcity of good product creates increased demand. I.e., don’t open 100 of these beauties.

Bob Phibbs

The answer is yes. This is the evolution of what FAO Schwarz used to be. I love how the brand is incorporating the characteristics of the city in which each flagship is located like the one they started with in Amsterdam in 2019. I also love that this store is all about you doing, not actors or screen-only experiences. Lego wants the experience of smiling, waving, and doing to be what you take home. And I’m sure there are a ton of new Lego bricks.

Melissa Minkow

I do think there’s still opportunities for play-heavy retail — for both kids and adults — to thrive, but I’m not sure this exact moment is the right time to introduce it. Though the last 15 months have rejuvenated our appreciation for experiential retail, we still have a ways to go until we can safely say the battle against COVID-19 is in a stable place. If I were Lego, I would have waited until that were the case, but eventually I do think we’ll be ready and excited enough about experiential retail for it to drive valuable traffic again. That said, NYC/LA/Chicago and a few other major cities would be the ones I would limit flagships to. Building some of the retail strategy around tourism is a smart way to ensure predictable levels of foot traffic, versus relying on locals to continually find reasons to make it back to a destination store.

Oliver Guy

Toys “R” Us made a key error. They did not convert their huge stores into play and experience centers. Lego realizes that and are taking full control of their own brand with superb experience and play driven stores.

Lego’s product portfolio has moved well beyond “play” to include items that are suitable as ornaments for display in the home. Some of these products align to passions of adults – complex models of luxury vehicles, sports stadiums, landmarks and artworks are all great examples.

“Showrooming” these in an experience driven location is a superb way to position the diversity of products with both children and adults.

Jennifer Bartashus

Flagship stores that are inspirational and immersive are necessary in an increasingly e-commerce dominated world. The entertainment value of these venues cannot be overstated, and is invaluable for brand building. All of the digital impressions generated by store visitors via social media makes a difference. Younger consumers were already trending towards more experiential spending before the pandemic, and these types of stores can offer a blend of brand and experience that can then influence spending going forward. They don’t work everywhere, but can do well in destination cities.

Dick Seesel

Since the opening of the original LegoLand near San Diego, and then the rollout of flagship stores like the one inside Mall of America, Lego has always been smart about enhancing its brand image through experiences and through licensing deals. The New York flagship is just the latest example of this smart play, and it’s likely to pay big dividends as tourist traffic returns to Manhattan.

DeAnn Campbell

Lego is, above all, an experiential product so it’s almost imperative that the shopping experience inspire and enable the sense of play. I think a tiered strategy with play heavy flagships in dense population areas across the country, supplemented with smaller but still experiential stores in smaller markets, is an ideal way for Lego to help customers not only learn about the product possibilities, but will prompt serious brand love and lifetime customers. On top of that, brick-and-mortar is an essential part of improving online profit margins through micro-distribution and click and collect.

Jenn McMillen

Experiential retail is the trend, but is it enough to get people off their couches and into stores?

Kathleen Fischer

Lego has created a strong brand that transcends age groups and its Lego stores are generally busy with kids and adults enjoying the environment. Taking it to the next level to open a flagship store with an even stronger experiential focus seems like a good fit.

Steve Montgomery

My answer is yes, the timing is right. Things may change, but right now people are anxious to get out of their homes and this Lego flagship store with all the experiential offerings it offers can be a destination for the family. Can it work elsewhere? Again, my answer is yes — but.

The but is that this looks like a very expensive site and as such would require significant customer traffic make it profitable. I can see a limited number of similar sites in cities that attract tourists and have a sizeable population within a reasonable driving distance.

Georganne Bender

How lucky are the kids who live in and visit NYC? There are countless immersive store experiences to explore, like Camp, the new Harry Potter store and now Lego.

Playing – creating – with Legos doesn’t end in childhood, adults love them, too. It’s sad that this store opened at a time when we are not sure about what will happen pandemic-wise, but that’s the world we live in right now. Legos are beloved, this store will be a hit.

Shep Hyken

The Fifth Avenue FAO Schwarz experience is back. They are filling a void. They are an early-adopter of post-COVID-19 experiential retail.

Raj B. Shroff

Yes, now is always the time for brands like Lego, and others who can, to create play-heavy retail. But Lego works because it’s also created suites of products that are relevant to today’s media consumption (e.g. Star Wars, etc). I think that more holistic view keeps them top-of-mind and kids can relate. They’ve also tried to integrate online/digital so there is likely more to come on that front overall.

I do see an experiential strategy working in smaller markets for them. But they really need a finger on the pulse of those locations that are most aligned with their goals. This may seem obvious but I am not convinced others get it.

Jeff Sward

In this digital and tech age, it is absolutely amazing what Lego has accomplished with a mountain of little plastic blocks. The creativity that has gone into continually updating the product is a masterclass in evolving a product over time. Lego teaches people to think about “kits” and how to explore different outcomes, all with the same building blocks. FAO Schwarz was its own masterclass in experiential retailing long before we made it a buzz word. The mere mention of FAO Schwarz immediately brings to mind the movie scene of Tom Hanks dancing on the piano keyboard with Robert Loggia. Talk about inner child — literally. Explore + Experiment = Experience. And if the experience brings out the inner child, all the better. Go Lego!

Brian Cluster

Yes, experiential toy retail is a great fit for children and families as it brings the toys alive and the families together. The last time I was in NYC, I visited the retailer Camp in Hudson Yards. This retailer has expanded from one store to six stores including one in Dallas and created a slightly different but engaging experience for each of its stores. Experiential strategies will work in this category as they deliver something that you can’t do online. The key is to continue to have measured growth, keep the high experiential standard and find locations that are best suited to attract families and kids that love Camp.

Ian Leslie

No brand lends itself more to this than Lego. Forget about how tactile the product is, the brand has done an amazing job of lending itself to children and adults alike. I’m 42 and still LOVE diving into a new Lego project. That being said in this COVID-19 environment I don’t know if every brand has the brand awareness and loyalty to be able to be successful with something like this. I would love to hear other’s thoughts.

Doug Garnett

I don’t see this as much of a change for Lego. They have had excellent stores, including experiential outlets, all over the U.S. for decades. They have had huge stores with sculptures and goods near resorts like Disneyland for decades. And they have had amusement parks dedicated to the glory of Lego for a very long time. There have been Lego conventions with outstanding Lego sculptures for decades.

This seems to me not new – it’s only bringing that which already exists into a different high profile location. It is a smart move.

David Mascitto

Retailers like Lego need to make their stores a destination if they want to compete with private label knock-offs and the likes of Amazon and Walmart who can ship their products same-day/next-day for free. The more shoppers that buy playsets directly from Lego stores, the more margin Lego can hold on to. That in addition to additional impulse purchases and generational brand building.

Natalie Walkley

Experiential retail (especially toy stores) gives people something to do, which after a year of sitting at home people are craving. As a parent, this scratches two itches for buyers — a fun memory with your kids and a new toy. Yes, we could all buy Legos online, but seeing your kid’s face light up in the store is priceless. We’ll see more brands take on stronger “experience” plays to bolster sales to enable their shoppers to make memories with their brand that will last beyond the purchase.

Ken Morris

Experiential retail is where all retail should go. Highlight the difference between e-commerce and brick-and-mortar by making the store a stage (see our website for a white paper on the subject). Retail is theater and what better way to showcase it than with an experience that lasts long after Amazon has delivered your package.

Venky Ramesh

I think it is the best time to open an experiential store — right when consumers are shifting online, the role of offline is being questioned and the boundaries between online and offline are constantly blurring. We are seeing increasing instances of retailers introducing bits and pieces of experiential commerce in-store by way of immersive brand interaction (e.g. Nestle Purina using computer vision and AI to drive interaction at the end cap). Flagship stores can take it to a whole new level, making every step of the path-to-purchase experiential and at the same time, bringing in a lot of local flavor like Lego is doing at the NYC store.

"Lego is, above all, an experiential product so it’s almost imperative that the shopping experience inspire and enable the sense of play."

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