Smarter toys need smarter retail displays. And that’s the concept that Mark and Karen Carson, owners of Internet-based Fat Brain Toys, wanted to encompass in their first brick-and-mortar toy store in Omaha, Neb. The couple, who successfully based their virtual store on providing families with high-quality, “smart” toys, knew it was time to move their business to the next level but didn’t want to settle for a typical, product-heavy, big-box toy store format. Rather, they found a solution via the talented design team at Omaha-based Randy Brown Architects (RBA).
“The Carsons’ toys are not cheap, plastic things but very sophisticated toys. We felt these are more works of art, rather than just toys on a shelf, so we should display them differently,” says Randy Brown, FAIA, principal of Randy Brown Architects, who nicknamed the overall project as “PLAY.”
The design team decided that the 2,000-sq.-ft. store should be more like a gallery, featuring toys solitarily on shelves to make them really stand out. “The overriding goal was to build a physical storefront that accurately represented our brand and do it in a cost-effective way that would be appealing to parents and children,” says Mark Carson, co-owner of Fat Brain Toys. “I liked the look of museum gift shops that are very high-design, but at the same time I didn’t want a space that was inaccessible to kids.”
Thus was born the store’s signature display box concept, which also conveniently functions to provide virtually unlimited display flexibility. The wooden boxes, mass produced by Fat Brain’s own CNC machines, easily attach and detach to one another via metal pins and a metal pipe wall system. The cost-effective boxes allow for an infinite number of display combinations for both floor and wall. “It plays on the traditional toy box or blocks idea. Just as kids play and build with blocks, the owners and employees can rearrange the store at whim,” Brown says. According to Carson, the Fat Brain Toys staff reconfigures the display boxes about every three to four weeks to give the store a fresh look.
To keep with the clean, modern style of the display box theme, RBA created an open store plan. Except for the floor displays and a few ride-on toy models, the space is inherently clutter-free. The minimalist dark floors, black ceilings, and white walls keep eyes focused on the colorful toys; while an architectural ceiling installation over the back-wall computer kiosk draws customers into the store. Illuminated by a group of single, florescent pendant lights, the kiosk allows customers to engage with the online portion of the store and search Fat Brain Toys’ database of product offerings. It’s one element of the store that Carson says they were firm on incorporating, no matter what the cost. “The kiosk really had the potential to differentiate ourselves and bring the customers beyond just the confines of our store to make it really special,” he says. “We thought it was that important.”
Brown adds, “Trying to create a toy store on a very low budget really allowed us to focus our energy on the few, architectural elements that had a simple palette of materials and a simple design concept. That drove the architecture and aesthetic.”
The result? A unique, upscale design that engages children and is visually pleasing to adults. “There’s not a lot of primary colors splashed around and goofy characters stickered on the walls,” Carson says. “It is really some great architectural design and incorporating a playfulness that invites the kids to do what it is that they do—play!”
Project: PLAY. Owner: Fat Brain, Mark and Karen Carson. Architecture firm name/location: Randy Brown Architects; Randy Brown, FAIA/LEED-AP, project designer; Brian Kelly, Neil Legband, assistants. Contractor: DiCon. Consultants: Kelley Electric. Photographer: Farshid Assassi.
Lumasite: American Acrylic Corporation. Paint: Sherwin-Williams.Laminate: Nevamar. Millwork: Custom. Lighting: Del-Ray, Halo, Metalux,
Store fixtures: custom fabricated with owners cnc machine.
Location: Village Pointe, Omaha, Neb. Total floor area: 2,000. No. of floors: 1. Total staff size: 18. Cost/sq. ft.: $30.