After a triumphant return to hometown New York City last year, FAO Schwarz this week said that on Nov. 1, it will open its first European flagship, within Selfridges' Oxford Street location in London.
The new shop at the upscale U.K. department store will feature play-based experiences similar to those in New York, including in-store demos and the FAO Raceway where shoppers "work alongside trained 'mechanics'" to build custom remote-control cars, according to a company press release. FAO Schwarz owner ThreeSixty Group and Selfridges are working together with third-party brands to introduce other experiences for customers as well.
The brand has also inked a deal with Hudson Group, which runs several airport stores in North America, and ran holiday pop-ups at European department stores, Canada's Hudson's Bay Co. and several American department stores.
In time for the holidays this year, London's famous Buckingham Palace guards will have to compete for attention with the toy soldiers who greet FAO Schwarz customers.
ThreeSixty Group, which bought the FAO Schwarz brand in 2016, has worked to revive it, both by restoring many aspects of its experiential stores and growing its footprint globally. The brand management company from the get-go pledged a merchandising strategy drawing on the over-the-top store experience tourists once flocked to Fifth Avenue to see. Months after the collapse of Toys R Us and three years after FAO Schwarz left New York, the company in December re-opened the retailer's doors to the city's residents and tourists. A spokesperson told Retail Dive last year that the company expects the location, now at Rockefeller Plaza, (10 blocks from its former, larger location), to attract customers all year long.
It's likely that Selfridges and FAO Schwarz hope for the same eventuality in London. In their statements, Selfridges Director of Accessories, Kidswear & Toys Eleanor Robinson and ThreeSixty Group COO Jan-Eric Kloth each said their company was attracted to the other as a partner because both hold iconic status.
"We like to think of Selfridges as a retail playground," Robinson said. "[T]he unparalleled product and experience that FAO Schwarz will bring to our Oxford Street store will mean that sentiment has never been more true."