Dr Louis Mittoni, CEO and managing director of Toys“R”Us ANZ, talks to TnP about plans for Toys“R”Us and Babies“R”Us to return to the UK in 2022

Dr Louis Mittoni
Dr Louis Mittoni, CEO and managing director of Toys“R”Us ANZ

What’s your career background?   
I trained as a computer scientist, physicist and chemical engineer, and studied (and applied) my learning in software development and machine learning to e-sports wholesaling, logistics and then ecommerce retailing, establishing Mittoni Technology and Hobby Warehouse, and extended that to Toys“R”Us – a much-loved brand since childhood.

Tell us a bit about Toys“R”Us in Australia.
We relaunched Toys“R”Us in Australia in late 2019, restarting almost from scratch, but managed to acquire the shopper database from the former business which was accumulated over many years by the former Toys“R”Us teams. The business is currently online only. However, we are constructing physical experiential stores that are scheduled for completion from mid-2022 onwards.  

Of course, like many businesses – and in particular those in the toy industry – the world shifted on its axis at the commencement of 2020 – around the time that the toy fairs in Europe and Australia were wrapping up. 

We weren’t prepared for the pace of sales growth during the pandemic, and we were certainly grateful to have been in the business we are in. In late 2020, our group was acquired by an ASX listed public company, which has enabled us to invest in state-of-the-art technologies, which we will be able to apply to other locations, including the UK.

“While Toys“R’’Us Australia has a ‘digital-first’ ecommerce approach, that will be followed by physical EXPERIENTIAL interactive stores – it’s much more than being just about ‘products and prices’”

Dr Louis Mittoni, CEO and managing director of Toys“R”Us ANZ

While Toys“R”Us Australia has a ‘digital-first’ ecommerce approach, that will be followed by physical experiential interactive stores for the young, and the young-at-heart to enjoy – it’s much more than being just about ‘products and prices’.  

Our belief is that toys are an important part of childhood that informs development and inspires life choices. Toys and play help children develop their imagination, collaborate, problem-solve, explore, create, or simply express themselves freely.

We do, however, believe digital-first is the right strategy for how toy and baby shoppers are – and will be – exploring and purchasing products currently and into the future.  

The UK, US and Australia all have high internet shopping rates. Our very wide range of items is best offered nationally online, and then in key areas in large format, destination experiential stores, allowing children to experience toys before purchasing.

How would you describe your range?   
We aim to offer a wide and deep range of toy and baby items and categories, providing shoppers with a vast choice from well-known and trusted brands, as well as upcoming new and sought-after brands. We aim to have the widest range possible in the market and are well on our way to achieving this in Australia, and will endeavour to do the same in the UK.

What’s your selection criteria?    
We work closely with our partners and are open to ranging new items and items from new and niche suppliers. This allows our shoppers to decide what suits them and their families.

“We were amazed by the support from shoppers, suppliers and partners when we relaunched in Australia. Seeing this same support (times 10) in the UK is truly incredible”

Dr Louis Mittoni, CEO and managing director of Toys“R”Us ANZ

What are your key categories? 
We offer a wide range of brands and items across three key markets: toys, baby and hobbies. This allows us to engage with shoppers from birth through childhood, adulthood, and through to retirement. We have the unique ability to go on a lifelong demographic journey with our shoppers: a key differentiator for Toys“R”Us and Babies“R”Us versus other e-tailers or retailers.

What are your plans for the UK?   
We are planning dedicated websites for Toys“R”Us and Babies“R”Us and will share our more detailed plans for the UK over coming months as we move towards implementing each phase. We are currently in discussions with a large number of existing and new employees, suppliers and service partners, and we have a dedicated ‘expressions of interest’ page set up for potential partners to register their interest here.

What’s the most rewarding aspect of your job?   
Technology and toys – for me this is exactly where I want to be! Technology has always been my field and is a continuously evolving platform that excites me. Combining toys and technology is amazing. Also, ordering toys online and receiving a parcel: what could be better? It’s like receiving a present – and who doesn’t enjoy receiving presents, right?

What’s the most challenging aspect of your job?   
I’ve had the privilege of developing a number of businesses from scratch. The most challenging aspect is usually managing rapid growth. Certain periods of growth can be challenging; adapting various processes to match the growth, and warehouse and office teams through to our senior leaders work tirelessly to make our vision a reality.

What’s your favourite toy or game?   
There are too many favourites to choose just one!  However, I remember vividly visiting a local toy shop in the small town I grew up in and admiring a remote control racing car.
I can still picture that racing car and must have gazed at it for what seemed like hours over weeks leading up to the holiday season. 

My parents couldn’t afford the RC car, and I received a much smaller car that was operated by clapping your hands to activate forward, reverse (and turn), and stop. I loved it all the same of course! 

This particular memory inspired me to start Hobby Warehouse in 2011 (the 10-year-old me isn’t too far below the surface), and again illustrates part of my belief that toys really are a powerful part of childhood and development.

 I absolutely love vintage toys – Hasbro/Kenner, LEGO and Meccano in particular – and own a small selection of vintage sets, including an Ampol service station. The attraction is so strong that I commissioned an artist to recreate some old LEGO and Meccano images. The Meccano art original had the father playing with his children, with a cigar in his mouth – of course, I had that removed in the recreation! 

Is there anything that you would like to add?     
We were amazed by the support from shoppers, suppliers and partners when we relaunched in Australia. Seeing this same support (times 10) in the UK is truly incredible. Our digital-first strategy will allow us to relaunch relatively quickly and eventually have the widest range of items available to every household in the UK rather than via pure retail strategy one postcode at a time – and we’re very excited to get started.

Did you know…
Toys“R”Us ANZ is an Australian-based listed company with a mission to enrich the lives of people by encouraging exploration, creativity and living life more fully through the enjoyment of toys and hobbies. In addition to distributing products throughout Australia for key partners via its trading business Funtastic, the company acquired 100% of the Hobby Warehouse Group in November 2020, including Australian ecommerce websites Toys“R”Us, Babies“R”Us and Hobby Warehouse and the distribution business Mittoni Pty Ltd. The company changed its name from Funtastic to Toys“R”Us ANZ on 24 June 2021. 

Source: Toys n Playthings magazine: https://www.toysnplaythings.media/2021/11/05/toysrus-talks-to-tnp/

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