Monday, March 4, 2013

Marketing Marbles (the Brain Store)

In my previous post, I wrote about marketing toys to Dads and Moms. This post is about Marbles, the Brain Store, headquartered in Chicago and headed by CEO Lindsay Gaskins and cofounder/chief merchant Scott Brown. After a disappointing start selling educational/brain development games through a mall kiosk in 2008, Marbles rebooted as a full-fledged store retailer in a busy downtown Chicago shopping district and has been expanding ever since by filling a need for people of all ages to exercise their brains.

Instead of jam-packed areas of gender-defined merchandise or aisles devoted to toy categories such as dolls and crafts, its "BrainCoaches" (aka store employees) help customers of all ages select from an edited assortment of games, toys, and accessories for specific brain-building interests, such as word skills, critical thinking, visual perception, memory, and coordination. Each of the 250 products has been selected, tested, and merchandised with one of these brain development areas in mind. (Some of Marbles' products were, in fact, created in-house or at Columbia College.)

Customers are invited to participate in a BrainSessions profile (at the in-store kiosk or online) that pinpoints strengths and suggests areas to be further developed, along with recommendations for specific toys or games that are suitable for strengthening those skills. "I think the experiential nature of the store has benefited us greatly," Gaskins says. In fact, the third Thursday of every month (except November and December) is Game Night at Marbles stores, a few hours where kids, adults, and multigenerational families can enjoy trying different games.

The company is not yet profitable but with sales exceeding $600 per square foot, the retailer is ringing up healthy revenues. It's gaining a following on Facebook and maintains both a Twitter account and a company blog.

I heard about Marbles from a friend who found its web site and was happy with the box full of products she ordered for her grandchildren's birthdays. Despite the challenging economy, positive word of mouth and repeat business is helping Marbles grow, month after month.

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