and other chains are setting aside more floor space for toys in hundreds of stores. A chain that usually operates Halloween pop-up shops is opening dozens of temporary Toy City stores. Even
is planning to distribute toy catalogs to shoppers visiting its Whole Foods stores, according to toy manufacturers.
While other general retailers are looking to increase their toy sales, no store can completely replace Toys “R” Us in providing the broad selection of toys and reliable supply of hot products on shelves in the days before Christmas, say toy makers and analysts.
The result across retailers will likely be a selection focused on the most popular items and the best-known brands, with supplies dwindling during the final week, industry executives and analysts say. And that is when shoppers flock to buy toys, despite efforts by retailers to promote shopping earlier by offering discounts.
Toys “R” Us did $2 billion in sales during the last two months of 2017, including more than $1.4 billion in December alone, a person familiar with the matter said.
The toy superstore could stock up late into the season because it could afford to carry unsold inventory into the next year. Large mass-market retailers are focused on selling down the items so they aren’t left with extra stock.
“The other guys don’t plan the business to have inventory at the end of the year,” said Neil Friedman, a former Toys “R” Us president.
The dynamic played out last year with “LOL Surprise! Big Surprise!,” a giant ball filled with 50 smaller items, which was a top seller. Toys “R” Us held back much of that inventory until December, selling the item for $10 more than the $69.99 suggested retail price and adding more product closer to Christmas, said Isaac Larian, founder of MGA Entertainment Inc., which makes the product. Other retailers, he said, had already blown through their allotment, with Walmart even selling it for $59.
To prepare for a post-Toys “R” Us holiday,
pored over data, analyzing which closed locations may have had better sales of Barbie accessories or Hot Wheels tracks and reallocating that product to nearby retailers.
“This year more than ever, getting the right toys in the right stores at the right quantities at the right time is going to be the game,” Mattel Chief Commercial Officer Steve Totzke said. “The companies that do it best—the manufacturers and retailers—are going to win the season.”
He said some retailers are also committing to carrying big-ticket items, like its $200 Barbie Dreamhouse, in stores after the holidays, as opposed to prior years when they would aim to sell it out before year’s end.
Several toy manufacturers say Target has been the most aggressive in going after the dispersed Toys “R” Us business. Later this month, Target plans to add up to 500 square feet of toy retailing in more than 500 of its stores—half of which are within 5 miles of a closed Toys “R” Us. It will borrow space from its CD, DVD and book sections to offer a bigger selection of ride-on toys, outdoor-play toys and other items.
Target’s chief merchant, Mark Tritton, said the retailer placed final purchases with manufacturers at the end of August. Its toy inventory is already higher than last year and will continue to increase in the coming weeks, with about 80% of it in “tried and true” items.
“We are making a big commitment,” Mr. Tritton said. “There’s going to be the same amount of traffic, but it’s going to be in less places. We’re crazy not to think that’s going to be an opportunity.”
Walmart is expanding its toy section as well, especially at stores near former Toys “R” Us stores. In addition, Walmart plans to stock those stores with more toys throughout the season, said Anne Marie Kehoe, the retailer’s vice president of toys. “The plan is to be in stock on the best items all the way through Christmas,” she said.
Several toy manufacturers say Amazon is planning a hard-copy toy catalog to be distributed at its Whole Foods stores. An Amazon spokeswoman declined to comment.
Other retailers going after toys are
, which is now selling Lego sets;
, which plans to distribute a toy catalog; and FAO Schwarz, which is re-emerging with a new flagship New York City store. Even the investors that control Toys “R” Us in bankruptcy say they plan to revive the brand and reopen stores, but that is unlikely to happen in time for this holiday season.
The ghost of Toys “R” Us looms large at Party City Corp.’s attempt to go after the toy business. Inside a former Toys “R” Us location in Rockaway, N.J., Party City is pairing its typical Halloween pop-up store, Halloween City, with a new concept, Toy City. Soon after Oct. 31, the costume racks will give way to a broader toy section.
The goal at this and 54 other planned Toy City locations is to carry the most popular toys and sell out by the time it is time to pack up in early January, said Party City President Ryan Vero.
“We want the winners of the season,” Mr. Vero said inside the store where the former tenant’s backward “R” is still visible. “Being a pop-up, our goal is not to carry product out of the store.”
Write to Paul Ziobro at Paul.Ziobro@wsj.com