The recent demise of the beloved toy store chain reminded me of a story I read back in the 80’s about the company’s research and development department. At least I think I read this somewhere …
“It started out like any other day in the Toys R Us experimental labs. The toy makers had a rigorous yet startlingly simply approach to finding new toy ideas: put one child in a plain, open white room and give them an ordinary, everyday household item subject to the child’s whims of fancy.
“There was an occasional problem, of course. For example: have you ever wondered why those large plastic dry cleaning bags and other similar items now carry the warning ‘this is not a toy’? Let’s just say that one awful morning in the lab has gone on to save tens of thousands of children from parents who sincerely believed the shiny, smooth clear things would calm and entertain their loved ones for hours.
“Anyway … the Toys R Us labs had become so hugely successful that the marketing department struck on the handsome notion of coupling the lab work with public tours, a kind of research-themed amusement park. Those curious enough to want to peek in on the imagination process could observe the lab by standing outside and looking through a one-way mirror.
“‘Won’t the monsoon conditions deter people from coming?’ asked one naïve toy scientist. A few marketers admitted they hadn’t really thought about that, but no worries – some complimentary corn dogs and chips could be included and increase the park admission ticket price.
“Now you think you’d have a difficult time attracting curious looky-loos to pay good money to covertly observe children playing with mundane objects while they stood eating in the pouring rain. And in most corners of the world, you’d be right. But Toys R Us had the good fortune to partner with mega-retailer *******, which was always on the lookout for new ways of attracting more customers to its stores in tens of thousands of rural locations across the country.
“No amount of rain-soaked corn dogs would ever get in the way of the possibility of horrific child accidents and the consolation to be found within the huge white spaces that encompass every discount item imaginable. Toys included.”