Although its two stores remain dark, New York-based toy marketer FAO Schwarz relaunched its catalog business this week, mailing 1 million books that try to distance the company from its recent past. FAO Schwarz was bought in January by private equity firm D.E. Shaw Group from bankrupt parent company FAO.
Although FAO Schwarz has always been more upscale than most of its competitors, the new catalog offers the toy equivalent of haute couture. Products include a line of $30,000 custom playhouses, a $15,000 Mercedes gas-powered kiddie car, and a $12,000 tree house. More-modest items include teddy bears, wearing flag-adorned sweaters, that range in price from $15 to $50.
Spokesperson Burns Patterson points out that uniqueness as much as extravagance is a prime differentiator of the new FAO. Over the years the FAO stores and catalogs had become more mainstream, offering many of the same licensed-character products available at Wal-Mart for less money. The new catalog consists primarily of exclusives, such as the limited-edition Badgley Mischka Bride Barbie doll, only 1,000 of which are available.
At one time, FAO Schwarz operated 14 stores in addition to the catalog and a Website. But the company closed all but its New York flagship store and a shop inside Caesar’s Palace in Las Vegas. Both of the stores have been closed for renovations since the beginning of this year. The Las Vegas store is scheduled to reopen Oct. 15. The New York store will reopen in late November, around the same time that the company’s Website, which has also been dormant, will relaunch.