Struggling Bon-Ton soldiers on with FAO Schwarz toy brand leading the charge

October 27, 2017

Gary Haber | York Daily Record

Toys from legendary retailer FAO Schwarz will be in Bon-Ton stores in time for the holidays, a move struggling Bon-Ton hopes will help attract more shoppers during the crucial holiday season.

Bon-Ton locations in Hanover and at York Galleria, Queensgate Towne Center and Park City Center in Lancaster are among the sites that will carry toys from the venerable toy retailer featured in movies including “Home Alone 2: Lost in New York” and the 1988 Tom Hanks film “Big.”

Movie fans may remember Hanks tapping out a tune on an oversize keyboard at FAO Schwarz’s flagship New York store.

“This cherished brand has been enjoyed by children and families for 155 years and we are delighted to carry this unique toy collection in our stores,” Bon-Ton Stores Chief Merchandising Officer Chad Stauffer said in a news release.

FAO Schwarz merchandise will be carried at 186 stores in the Bon-Ton Stores family including some locations of each of its seven department store names and on the Bon-Ton Stores website.

FAO Schwarz, founded in 1862 by Frederick August Otto Schwarz, closed its flagship store on Fifth Avenue in New York City in 2015 but remains one of the best-known names in retail.

The deal is “a significant consumer and competitive coup,” for Bon-Ton, said Burt Flickinger, a New York retail consultant.

The deal comes as Bon-Ton looks to reverse several money-losing quarters, including a loss of $33.2 million in the second quarter.

Comparable stores sales, a key measure of a retailer’s profitability, declined 6.1 percent during the quarter, which ended July 29.

Bon-Ton has also closed some locations and added more locally made products to its stores to help turn the tide.

Adding FAO Schwarz toys could drive more people into Bon-Ton stores including folks who don’t normally shop there, said Flickinger, the New York retail consultant.

It they come in to buy a toy, they could wind up buying other items, too, he said,

Bon-Ton toy sales this holiday season could total between $20 million and $25 million “and could really take off from there,” Flickinger said.

Bon-Ton shares rose Tuesday and Wednesday on news the company amended an $880 million credit line.

The move gives the company “additional liquidity cushion and strengthens our financial flexibility through the holiday season,” Chief Financial Officer Nancy Walsh said in a news release.

Bon-Ton isn’t the only department store chain turning to toys to drive more shoppers through the doors.

JCPenney too is adding toy shops to its stores, noted Howard Davidowitz, a New York retail consultant.

Most department stores used to carry toys but as Toys ‘R’ Us grew, department stores narrowed their focus to apparel and home goods, said Davidowitz, chairman of Davidowitz & Associates, a retail consulting and investment banking firm.