Mastermind Toys Shifts Operations as Stores Reopen Amid COVID-19

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Mastermind Toys has been focused during the COVID-19 crisis on accelerating its strategy which includes rolling out several new offerings for customers as well as enhancing its social media and digital presence.

There are currently 69 stores across Canada in every province with the exception of Quebec. The first store was opened in 1984 in Toronto.

“When I came in January, one of the big things that lent itself to my expertise was doing a digital transformation. We had grown pretty rapidly over the last two to five years. We went from 12 stores to 69 stores and we feel that’s a really good number in Canada right now. We’re happy with the customers we’re serving that way. But what we recognize even pre-COVID is that our digital experiences were actually lagging our competitors and our industry,” said Sarah Jordan, CEO of Mastermind Toys.


“So when I came in January, even pre-COVID, of course we were going to look at our footprint and make decisions either opportunistically on where we could add a select few but really our focus was to turn our attention to digital. And it was really about how do we up our game on a host of experiences that rely on our website. As you can appreciate with COVID, we’ve actually seen an ability to accelerate some of that agenda.

“We’ve introduced curbside which is a service we did not have before and we’ve also upped our game in terms of our website and we’ve experienced triple-digit growth over that time, over COVID. But that is where we still believe that we can make better experiences.”

Jordan said a key pillar of Mastermind’s success is that it truly believes it is customer obsessed and it tries to keep the customer and its employee experience at the core of everything it does.

“When we think about our in-store experience, we really think about providing delight and wonder around every corner. So we love to be the experts on age and stage and we actually curate our toys based on our model that we call why kids play which is based on for each age and stage how do the kids develop their body, mind and expression. We really believe in providing a great experience when you come in the store, but we also deeply believe in being the best toy curators,” said Jordan.

“So you won’t find everything in our store. We tend to try and balance imagination and development. We’re often called the educational toy store and it’s really for us about helping parents, grandparents, kids, kids at heart, play. We deeply believe that play is critical and central to kids’ lives. So that makes us a bit different from a toy store perspective.”

One of the other initiatives that sets the store apart is its Mastermind wrapping paper which is a free service in its stores as well as loot bag assembly.

“Everyone who touches a customer at Mastermind really takes pride in that. One of the things we’ve noticed even with COVID is what our customer service agents do. And we don’t just help someone navigate the website, they also are experts in helping them navigate to play pattern for either their own kid or for the gift recipient. And actually through COVID we’ve been able to assist five times the number of customers that we would traditionally do at this time because we’ve extended our hours as we’ve rolled out different service offerings because we couldn’t do that while our stores were closed,” said Jordan.

Those stores closed in mid-March. Today, 65 stores have reopened.

Jordan said the company has tried to reimagine its website as much as it could at this time to create boutiques to help customers navigate to the most relevant items they are looking for.

“Parents have now been tasked with homeschooling and they’re also about to be tasked with summer camps. So while we haven’t revolutionized our website we did believe that we could help our customers navigate them better by helping them find puzzle boutiques, or games, and help them get to those hard-to-get items quickly,” she said. “And with that we’ve also used our social channels to make sure people know where to find those items or what items might be helpful in helping them solve those problems.

“So we’ve really taken our authority on play seriously where we’ve noticed the categories that matter. We’ve been trying to highlight what those are. We’ve been trying to get ahead of what parents need whether it’s sidewalk chalk for their driveways, puzzles for their new family bonding, outdoor activities for their driveways or their backyards, we’ve really tried to make our website more navigable. We’ve also extended our customer service hours to be more friendly coast to coast and also for extended weekend coverage.”

Jordan said Mastermind will continue with curbside pickup which is completely contactless.

“We have launched curbside with the intention that it is an experience that will be valuable to our customers. So while we were rolling it out we tried to make sure that our signage in our windows were permanent. We tried to make playful emails along the journey that’s true to our brand. We’re trying to stay a little bit whimsical but on brand,” said Jordan.

Also, as the retailer’s doors have opened to foot traffic, it has had to alter the experience in the store. It has taken the guidance of the province’s safety and health measures. But Mastermind has also created signage that caters to families and kids.

“We want our customers including our littlest customers to feel comfortable when they come into our stores. We’ve tried to create signage whether it’s on the door or even on the floor that reminds customers, little ones, big ones, what social distancing means. One of the positive pieces of feedback we’ve heard from customers is how grateful they are on how we’re describing to our little customers, to the kids, what social distancing means,” explained Jordan.

For customers visiting a physical store, a concierge at the door will assist them and also remind people to respect that it’s a low touch environment. No demonstrations will take place in the store. Customers will also be helped to navigate to the right spots in the store.

The retailer also started daily readings online by well-known personalities. There are virtual birthday parties. A Lego master taught kids how to build Lego.

“For us right now, it’s about making sure that we deeply understand what our customers are going through. While we offer them new experiences, ways that they can choose their own adventures, curbside, online, in-store, it’s also really important that we’re helping them through this time,” Jordan said, adding that it is rolling out a program to help parents set up summer camps at their homes.

“We really want to make sure that our customers appreciate that we’re here for them and that we understand that they want to shop in new and different ways and that they’re also trying to engage their children in new and different ways. We’ve really tried to keep kids in mind during this time and help parents solve those problems.”

Article Author

Mario Toneguzzi
Mario Toneguzzi, based in Calgary, has more than 40 years experience as a daily newspaper writer, columnist, and editor. He worked for 35 years at the Calgary Herald covering sports, crime, politics, health, faith, city and breaking news, and business. He is the Senior National Business Journalist with Retail Insider in addition to working on his own as a freelance writer and consultant in communications and media relations/training.

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