U.S. Toy, a Fixture in South Kansas City, is Moving
By Brad Lucht
For over 40 years U.S. Toy has been making children’s dreams come true. A small, family-run business, today they’re fighting to survive against the Goliath that is Amazon. As part of that battle they’re relocating to a new facility at 119th Street and Metcalf, taking over the old Office Max location.
All in the Family
Seth Freiden is the third generation of his family to run U.S. Toy, which was started in his grandparents Elvin and Frances Klein’s living room. Their first location, still standing, was located at 85th and Troost, across the street from where Strouds used to be. But for more than 40 years they’ve been operating just south of 103rd Street on State Line Road, nearly hidden behind Fritz’s Smoked Meats and Gates Bar-B-Q in a nondescript warehouse originally built for indoor tennis.
Freiden grew up in the business and remembers going to the store with his grandmother. “She would have me sweep the aisles, clean up things, check out people and do odd jobs. That’s where I developed my work ethic,” he says. “I learned it from her.”
After earning a degree in finance, Freiden worked at an internet company in Boston. Later he rejoined the family business, first learning the retail side at their location in Chicago and then working as an outside sales representative at Constructive Playthings, U.S. Toy’s educational division. He finally returned to Kansas City in 2006 as a merchant buyer. “I had to learn every job in the business to understand the business,” Freiden explains. “That was always my mindset, working my way up.”
Declining sales due to an increase in online shopping forced U.S. Toy to close five of its stores in 2017, the same year that its flagship store on State Line Road dealt with flooding from nearby Indian Creek.
“It’s our most well-known store, but it’s on the same trajectory as all the others we closed. So we’ve been talking about what can we do to Amazon-proof our stores,” Freiden says. Numerous approaches have been tried, including promoting balloons, lamination services, a birthday club and in-store events, but those efforts met with limited success. So when he learned that one of their clients, a local Pump It Up franchise, was for sale, he was immediately interested.
Pump It Up offers inflatable slides, bounce houses, games and complete birthday party packages for kids. Freiden liked the synergy of combining their expertise in operations, creativity, marketing, technology, data analytics and purchasing with his toy stores. So he purchased the franchise. And after the flood hit, he knew it was time for a new location.
The old Office Max building will be a good fit, he says. The main store will house U.S. Toy, while a former Print Max section will feature a magic and costume shop. Bounce houses and other tall inflatables will be stored in the former Furniture Max area which has 19-foot-high ceilings.
“This stuff came together so well, I can’t tell you,” says an enthused Freiden, who notes that
U.S. Toy’s goal is to move by the end of May.
Freiden wants to make the birthday party experience even better for kids by introducing character visits, balloon animals and magicians, tying into U.S. Toy’s strengths. He’s also working with other locally owned businesses to bring an ice cream shop and specialty popcorn “to a fun, little area in back of our store.” And in the new location’s huge parking lot he plans to hold a big tent sale once or twice a year.
Meanwhile, U.S. Toy is running a moving sale. Everything in the store, with the exception of certain magic shop items, is 25 percent off.
U.S. Toy is located at 2008 W. 103rd Terr. in Leawood and is open from 9 a.m. to 8 p.m. Monday through Friday, 9 a.m. to 6 p.m. on Saturday and 11 a.m. to 5 p.m. on Sunday, or see ustoy.com/kansas.