Remarkable Retail

A look behind the Magic Door with Ben Kaufman, CEO CAMP

Episode Summary

This episode we welcome Ben Kaufman, CEO and founder of Camp, the fast growing "family experience" company, which now features multiple locations in the New York area and Dallas, with more on the way (including the Los Angeles and Boston areas). We explore Camp's unique approach to the toy category--and retail more broadly--which includes a mix of play, product and programming. In addition to learning what's behind "the Magic Door", we chat about what "experiential" retail should mean and how to measure success in the blended digital and physical world.

Episode Notes

This episode we welcome Ben Kaufman, CEO and founder of Camp, the fast growing "family experience" company, which now features multiple locations in the New York area and Dallas, with more on the way (including the Los Angeles and Boston areas). We explore Camp's unique approach to the toy category--and retail more broadly--which includes a mix of play, product and programming. In addition to learning what's behind "the Magic Door", we chat about what "experiential" retail should mean and how to measure success in the blended digital and physical world.

But first we open up the episode with our quick takes on recent retail news that caught out attention, including Amazon's rumored new "department store" format and what to conclude (if anything) from recent retail earnings releases. We also unpack Warby Parker's S-1 filing and--as a prelude to our interview--dig into recent toy industry news, including Toys R Us at Macy's and Disney's expansion with Target.

Here is the prescient Forbes article Steve references in the episode.

NOTE: We'll be back to weekly episodes after Labor Day.

Also be sure to check out our new  YouTube channel.


Steve Dennis is an advisor, keynote speaker and author on strategic growth and business innovation. You can learn more about Steve on his       website.    The expanded and revised edition of his bestselling book  Remarkable Retail: How To Win & Keep Customers in the Age of Disruption is now available at  Amazon or just about anywhere else books are sold. Steve regularly shares his insights in his role as a      Forbes senior contributor and on       Twitter and       LinkedIn. You can also check out his speaker "sizzle" reel      here.

Michael LeBlanc  is the Founder & President of M.E. LeBlanc & Company Inc and a Senior Advisor to Retail Council of Canada as part of his advisory and consulting practice.   He brings 25+ years of brand/retail/marketing & eCommerce leadership experience, and has been on the front lines of retail industry change for his entire career.  Michael is the producer and host of a network of leading podcasts including Canada’s top retail industry podcast,       The Voice of Retail, plus        Global E-Commerce Tech Talks  and       The Food Professor  with Dr. Sylvain Charlebois.  You can learn more about Michael       here  or on       LinkedIn. 

Episode Transcription

Michael LeBlanc  00:04

Welcome to Remarkable Retail Season 3, Episode 5. I'm Michael LeBlanc.

Steve Dennis  00:10

And I'm Steve Dennis.

Michael LeBlanc  00:12

Well, Steve, it's great to be back on the mic, I was at on a little bit of vacation time. So, it's great to be back together. Now, I, we should say right off the top, we've been doing episodes every two weeks in the summer. But starting next week after Labor Day, we go to back to once a week have lots of guests, lots of,

Steve Dennis  00:29


Michael LeBlanc  00:30

Lots of content for the rest of the year. So, I'm actually really excited about that. It's really great. Let's jump right in, top of my mind is, is what is going on with Amazon, they're talking department store, or people familiar with Amazon are talking department store, which is, you know,

Steve Dennis 00:46

A few things, first of all, Amazon as I think everybody knows, by now just experiments with a lot of things. I also think they like to jerk the market around because every time there's a rumor of an acquisition or a new format, you know, they were, open this hair salon in London, and I was oh my god, they're going into the beauty business. 

Michael LeBlanc 01:08 

Yeah, yeah, yeah.

Steve Dennis 01:09

So, so I think it's hard to extrapolate from any particular, particular thing. I do think, in fact, I posted on Twitter earlier today, an article I wrote for Forbes in 2018, and I talk about this in my book as well, that I do think the future of Amazon is much more physical. And there are many big categories, groceries been the one we've been talking about most recently. But apparel and accessories, particular on the higher end, 

Michael LeBlanc01:30


Steve Dennis  01:31

They're under penetrated, and even though they have a huge business. So, the idea that they might do something that is department store like, I think is inevitable, what that will look like including I think there's still the possibility to acquire somebody. The only other thing I would say about it is we're gonna have to sit down and have like a naming convention, because what they're talking about doing is not a department store, I don't think. You know I don't want to be too much of a literalist about it, but I don't expect it to look very much like what we would conventionally think about anyway. A department store, i.e., having departments. So, so I think it's a, it's going to be,

Michael LeBlanc  02:12


Steve Dennis  02:13

Apparel accessories, and kind of, omni service center.  But we'll see.

Michael LeBlanc  02:16

Have you ever been to London, England? 

Steve Dennis  02:19

I have, many times. 

Michael LeBlanc  02:20

Have you been on the tube, their, their subway? And the very famous, what do they say just about when you're, when you're in the tube, "Mind the Gap"? And so, that's my segue into earnings. So, the Gap just today, recording this on Friday just released some earnings that were really good. And some other companies have released earnings. What's your observation about the, the current, or the latest roster of earnings releases?

Steve Dennis  02:45

Well, as we've talked about multiple times, it's a little hard, I think, to make sense of, of a lot of these earnings, because we've been in such unusual times. And the comparisons are, are really easy for the apparel players anyway. So, we look at the Gap anybody, Macy's, Kohl's, some of the others that are generally in the more casual part of apparel and accessories, they're comparing against, really, really easy comparisons. So, most of those numbers look really good. I'm not particularly surprised it's translating to the bottom line pretty well. 

I know a number of the analysts, and it's another thing we've talked about a bunch of times how, how wrong analysts have been they've been surprised by some of these earnings reports. But I think at the core of it is most of these retailers really locked down on expenses. They bought inventor-, inventory pretty tightly. So, we're not seeing nearly the kind of markdowns that we would typically see. So, I think they're just getting a lot of operating leverage as the, as the sales go up. So, kind of as expected. Nordstrom was a bit of a disappointment. But then again, Nordstrom more higher end apparel going out, you know more that kind of stuff. And with COVID, that's, that's not back to the degrees.

Michael LeBlanc  03:58

And the back to office, right. So, my, I mean, you could see actually through the numbers, the back-to-school period, kind of kicking in and going more normally. 

Steve Dennis  04:07


Michael LeBlanc  04:08

But what is missing, It feels like is that back to the office kind of back to, you know, September and that's going to hit Nordstrom and that category retailer, right?

Steve Dennis  04:18

Yeah, and I think as long as we've got, at least in the States and some other markets, we still got this kind of COVID overhang, where we're not beyond the way we, I think we all, many of us expected and certainly probably all of us hoped. It's going to be tough I think for that to really get going. I think it gets more chronic creeps back as opposed to this big acceleration we've seen with, with more casual back-to-school kind of apparel.

Michael LeBlanc  04:44

Yeah, let's talk about Warby Parker. 

Steve Dennis  04:48


Michael LeBlanc  04:49

We've talked about them before we were kind of rubbing our hands kind of saying, ‘Hey, it looks like we're going get our hands on some numbers’.

Steve Dennis  04:53

Yeah, well they've been rumored to, to be filing for going public and sure enough, they filed and the S-1 for those of us so like inside baseball. I enjoyed, I don't know if I enjoyed is the right word but, I did dig into it, and, and there's a lot of interesting facts there.  The one that I have to say I got to call up a few people because several people you know, sometimes when I've been critical of some of these digitally native vertical brands growing very, very quickly but losing a ton of money. Several people who I thought actually knew what they were talking about said, ‘Well you know, Warby Parker, they're the exception, they've been making money’, well it turns out that's not true. They have lost money and continue to lose money. Doesn't necessarily mean they're not positioned for, for a successful future because some of their customer, underlying customer economics retention those sort of things that point to long term customer lifetime value, actually, looks pretty, pretty positive. So, some encouraging signs they're great growth. A bit smaller business than I expected as well. So, that's interesting. 

The most interesting thing perhaps is that their business is now about 50% brick and mortar and 50% online.  A little bit of movement because of COVID and you know, it's a little bit hard to tell how that is going to look going forward,

Michael LeBlanc  06:08


Steve Dennis  06:09

But, they're already up to I think about 140 stores, planning to open a bunch more. So, again, one of these brands that thought perhaps they could be a successful business online only, that is now making a big play in physical and, and it looks like they're, they're you know, there's a little bit of issue of how they account for it. But looks like their physical retail is actually quite,

Michael LeBlanc  06:29


Steve Dennis  06:30

Profitable at the four wall level, which is encouraging for sure.

Michael LeBlanc  06:33

What do you think from a strategic perspective about the moat around Warby Parker? I wonder sometimes how big a moat they actually have. Because there's, you know, from Bailey Nelson, I mean, there's half a dozen eyeglass brands with pretty much the same model. And when I walk into the different, you know, like type organizations, and I'm a Warby Parker customer.

Steve Dennis  06:55

I would frame, hahaha, frame the question a little bit different. I do think, I'm pretty impressed with their moat, because I think they have not only executed really, really well, they've built a very strong brand. And, and ultimately, there's plenty of examples of products that are very, very similar, but it's the branding, it's the story that really allows them to, to charge those margins. So, I would say I'm pretty positive, towards, towards Warby Parker's differentiation and ability to grow. 

My bigger question is really how high is up? Like I said, the business a little bit smaller than I thought it was, mainly because I thought the on-line business was bigger. I think we had pretty good information on what the physical volume could be like. You know, they have a very particular model, they're at a certain price point, they're at a certain quality level, they have added opticians, and so forth. But you know, they're not competing in the same way, or as holistically, I guess, you could say, as some of the traditional players and there's lots and lots of competition.  Not only some of the brands you mentioned, but, the Sam's Club and you know, so, so how can this, can this brand be three or four times as big, without fundamentally changing the model that's gotten them there? That's, that's more my question, not, not as much the branding differentiation, I think they've done a really, a really good job on that, and I'm a customer. 

And you know, I guess the other thing I'd say about the size of the business which there is some indication in the S-1 that this is working is, is people are because of the lower price point, because of a little bit more of a fashion orientation, people are buying more frequently than the traditional eyeglass purchase of you know, I buy a nice pair and then unless my prescription changes, or I break them, or I lose them or something, you know, maybe 

Michael LeBlanc  08:51

Right, right. 

Steve Dennis  08:52

Multiple years before I buy another pair or maybe have a cheap backup pair. So, they seem to be changing the purchase frequency a bit but again, how many people are going to build you know, buy into that model, compared to the more traditional model?

Michael LeBlanc  09:06

Yeah, well, my bold prediction is the way they're going to grow is, is they're going to consolidate the market and start buying competitors. So, you know, there are many, like very similar models at the same price point. I think somebody's got to come in there and start consolidating that business sooner than later and I think it could be them.

Steve Dennis  09:24

Well now they're gonna have that, that equity could be.

Michael LeBlanc  09:27

Alright well, let's move on to the toy category. Our very special guest today is Ben Kaufman from Camp. There's so much activity over the past couple of weeks in the toy sector. Like it's almost as if we planned it we got,

Steve Dennis  09:39

We use very powerful machine learning to, to determine our guest. And, and the algorithm predictiveness.

Michael LeBlanc  09:44

Real intel.  What do we got, we got Toys "R" Us going into Macy's, we've got Disney opening up, shops-in-shops really in Target. In Canada, here, Toys "R" Us got sold. So, they move from private equity into operating ownership which is great to see. And the Toys "R" Us business by the way in Canada was a fantastic business they were shipping cash by the wheelbarrow to the US business.

Steve Dennis  10:07

Yeah, it's you know it's a little bit of I guess a story we've seen played out and a lot of categories where you've got strong players like Toys "R" Us. We also had KB Toys here in the US which were these mega brands really, I mean they had lots of stores and then Walmart, Target, others made toys more of a lost leader or at least a traffic driver and so I think they started to steal share from some of the traditional players. 

But, but Toys "R" Us really did not evolve to modern retail you know, they tried to be a little bit of everything, nothing inspirational really about their, their merchandising, they were pretty slow really to do digital. Then they were leveraged buyouts a lot of things went wrong at Toys R Us. A lot of things went wrong at KB Toys, FAO Schwarz, much smaller player but you know they got themselves in trouble. So, I think this created this big opportunity kind of a vacuum. 

So, I think it's an attempt to bring perhaps a little bit more certainly more distribution to put toys in a department store like Macy's and then I think Target just continues to try to find those noteworthy brands where they can create more of a shop within a shop. Ultimately, I got quoted in a news story this week about whether I thought Macy's would, you know, like this would make a big dent and, and my answer is "No". I don't think it's gonna make a big dent you know it's 400 stores which is not massive it's a temporary offering Macy's still I think has plenty of issues in terms of terms of traffic.  I don't know that toys are top of mind as you know for Macy's shopper necessarily, but you know certainly there's by virtue of their traffic of being the holidays you know they're, they're going to do some business, but I doubt.

Michael LeBlanc  11:49

Yeah.  They’re going to do some business.

Steve Dennis 11:52

I think, I think Disney and Target's way more interesting, and you know even though Camp, as we'll talk about is way smaller. I think that's a much more remarkable story than, than putting some toys on the Macy's website and having a little offering for a couple months during the holidays

Michael LeBlanc  12:04

Before we get to Ben Kaufman, just a reminder to the listeners of that we have a YouTube channel and our episodes are on our YouTube channel. The last episode a little slow getting up it should be up now as you're listening to this and then this episode will be up in a day or two, and you get to see will get to see the full on the bonuses. We do edit some of stuff for time that you and I talked about so the full episode, you know you get a bit of bonus content, I guess you could say yeah, plus you get to see your smiling face. So that's a big bonus in and of itself. There you go. 

Alright, without, without further ado, let's get to Ben. Ben welcome to Remarkable Retail podcast. How are you doing?

Ben Kaufman  12:44

I am remarkable.

Steve Dennis  12:46

We've heard 

Michael LeBlanc 12:48

Just, just like my cohost and his book Steve Dennis. Steve How are you?

Steve Dennis  12:51

Almost remarkable, just a notch below remarkable, but you know I'm gonna work up to remarkable by the end of the week.

Michael LeBlanc  12:58

Well, I tell you what work into remarkable today on the podcast, Ben your, your brand and your story and your perspective on retail it's truly remarkable. You know, Steve and I put lists together of people we'd love to speak with and you're at the top of that list in terms of this experiential retail and whatever you have going on and Camp's and we are thrilled to have you on the mic. So, why don't we start we've kind of jumped in when we start the beginning. Tell us a little bit about yourself, professional journey you've quite an entrepreneur you've got media you've got all kinds of mix of things and then you've got Camp. So, tell us a little bit about your background.

Ben Kaufman  13:32

Yeah. Started Camp about three years ago with, with my wife and a few others. And you know the, the basic idea for Camp was to, to do for families, what Starbucks did for professionals. Give them a place to hang out together, outside of homework in school. And the journey to Camp was a was a windy one, we went at this point at which I started Camp, I was the CMO of BuzzFeed. Really helping to turn them into more of a direct consumer business and moved them away from being 100% advertising driven business instead using the scale of the BuzzFeed audience to really develop products and experiences that allowed us to have a direct relationship with the consumer instead of just a direct relationship with that with an advertiser. 

Prior to that, I ran a company called Quirky which is an invention platform where people submitted product ideas and we manufactured and sold the best ones into national retailers. And directly before that, I was a founder of a company called Mophie which was an Apple accessory company. most known for the Mophie juice pack which is the Apple battery case for iPhones but, that's what the world knows it as I know it as the company named after my two golden retrievers Molly and Sophie.

Michael LeBlanc  14:50

You know what's interesting about, and you and I have had the option to speak recently on my Conversations with CommerceNext podcast, more about your career and, and different elements. But we also spoke about, you know what you learned in your past entrepreneur pursuits that actually has continued to fuel your future pursuits, right? I mean, that seems to be a kind of consistent thread of stitching these things together. And one of the things you, you that jumps out at me is the ability to create ideas and then, but you got to still get them to market. And that's where it seems like Camp has, has come together for you. Yeah.

Ben Kaufman  15:23

Yeah, absolutely.  Like, the every experience has, has built, built another kind of part of our, our you know arsenal of things we know how to do. You know, in Mophie, we learned how to make products and Quirky we learned how to how to make products for other people and manage large online communities and loyal customers. At BuzzFeed it was how do we take those, the that audience and actually turn them into transacting customers and, and explore new business models. And really what we do at Camp is, is bring all that together into an ephemeral retail concept that that's anchored in, in fun and, and creativity.

Steve Dennis  16:01

In that regard, Ben, could you, I'm sure we've got some listeners that have been to a Camp location. I have been several times. In fact, I when I'm in Dallas went over to the Camp store just yesterday to kind of refresh my memory and see what was new and next, but can you just help, help paint a picture for folks that haven't been to Camp? What, what's, what's it about, what was the inspiration, what might they expect if they were to go check out one of your locations?

Ben Kaufman  16:28

Sure. So, the cork Camp concept is anchored around something we call the magic door. And so, the story of Camp is that you walk in, and, and when you first walk into the store feels like a cozy 2000 square foot old school general store like it's been there for 100 years. And in that, in that front of the store, you'll find toys, you'll find gifts, you'll find apparel you'll find candy. It's kind of like, again, entering a general store in a, in a po-dunk town. 

But the secret to Camp is that there's a magic door and families find the magic door and they push it open. And behind the magic door is an 8000 square foot kind of black box theater, where the entire theming and merchandising and experience in that space behind the magic door changes usually on a quarterly basis to seamlessly integrate what we, what we call play product, and programming. So, play it's an indoor space, it's kind of think about it like a bougie playground. It's a, it's a playground that's always, always open, regardless of what the weather is outside. It's a nice place to be. 

Product, we merchandise a curate the store with about 80%, 70- 80% wholesale items from great vendors around the world. And then we have a growing business of our own, our own products which are, which are stocked in our stores as well. 

And then lastly, programming and the programming has a couple of dimensions to it. Obviously, the themes changing and moving from store to store. And the experience completely changing every quarter isn't in essence programming. But we also have a space in the very back of Camp, which we call our campy theater. And this is where we'll do things like family yoga in the morning, date night drop off, where you drop your kid off at six and pick them up at nine. So, you can go out and have a date night. We'll do celebrity book readings, etc. That's really a place where we can fill the calendar with amazing repeatable things for families to do over the course of the days and weeks to fill our year.

Steve Dennis  18:27

And you, you actually sell tickets to things that's that's right. Hmm?

Ben Kaufman  18:31

We do in the very back like things like the yoga and things like the, the date night drop off, those are ticketed experiences.

Steve Dennis  18:38

One of the favorite stories that I've discovered over, over the years, it's on, in fact I talk briefly about Camp in my book. So, I'm a big fan. One of the things I haven't been such a fan of, though, is the term experiential retail, because I'm not sure that there's a, there's a standard definition or a working definition of what that means. And of course, people said, well, you know, the future of retail is going to be about experiences and then COVID hit and then it was like, well, no, experiential retail is dead. Because I've got a couple questions. One is, what's your definition of experiential retail broadly? But in particular, how do you bring this all together in a physical space complemented by, by digital,

Ben Kaufman  19:20

Experience retail is definitely an overused term. Like I've heard retailers, you know, mass market drug chains, talk about experiential retailing, being like signage, or a place in the store where you can take a picture of yourself and like, 

Steve Dennis 19:34


Ben Kauffman  19:35

that's not an experience. So, to me, I think about, forgetting of the verbiage attached to any of this stuff. I think about this stuff very simply. Is there a reason to leave your house? If the store doesn't provide a reason to leave the house other than the procurement of a thing, then that could be done somewhere else, that can be done online that can be done through a courier or it can be done somewhere else. The store has to be the reason to leave the house and that to me is why we do what we do. If you know you want a Hot Wheels, whatever set, you're going to buy that on Amazon, I'm not even going to try and compete for that transaction, not a thing for me, not at all. Instead, I want to get you out of the house, I want you playing with your kid, I want you smiling and having fun. And listen, if the Hot Wheels happens to be there, chances are you will buy it.

Michael LeBlanc  20:19

So, Ben you've you're in a category that's to say the least, dynamic.I mean, this week alone, we've seen a lot of news in the category we've got some great product launches in Canada here where I am at Toys "R" Us Canada, it's just been bought, sold, bought, sold by private equity, and it's actually a going concern and you've got, you know, Disney stores going into whatever is Toys "R Us is going into Macy's is going all these different things. I mean, you didn't choose a boring category, let me put it that way. What drew you to the toy category? Was it, was it the opportunity to provide that experience for kids and their parents and just naturally became toys? Like, you know, which, which came first in that cart and the horse really when you started thinking about your next venture? I mean, for me toys is, you know, particularly when you started it was, you know, struggling a bit right? 

Ben Kaufman  21:14

It wasn't a product-based decision, it was an experience-based decision. So, we, we wanted to create a place for families, because we felt like there was no national destination for families to spend time together outside of the home anymore. So, once you do that, and you realize oh, wow, I have a lot of families coming on a repeated basis. What do you sell them? What do you put them in the store? Yes, toys are part of the picture. Yes, apparel is part of the picture. Yes, food and beverage, is part of picture, giftable is part of the picture. So, the store is very much like a general merchandise retailer, not necessarily a toy store. We, we consider ourselves able to sell anything. And we really think that we're trading on, on time, instead of transactions, if that makes sense. So, when we think about what we do, we want to, we want to have a good enough experience that you want to spend time with us. And if you spend time with us, chances are you will transact with us. But to us the equation is very much focused on how do we win families time, not necessarily how we win families money, we focus on, on the experience and then the money will come.

Michael LeBlanc  22:24

And is, and is that what brought you to do things like the partnership you've got going on with Paw Patrol, Spin Master, Great Canadian Company, is that, did that, was that always part of your vision? That kind of taking both the media side and the experience side and as you say the merging that together the fun part, maybe some merch as well, was that always part of it? Or is this evolving?

Ben Kaufman  22:46

Yeah, it was from the start, you know, like one of the observations I had at BuzzFeed, as a CMO talking to other marketers was just how much money people spend on experiential marketing, which is incredibly inefficient, right, you like you come up with a pop up idea, you find space, you have to hire a staffing agency, you have to train that staffing agency, you have to build a set, you run that thing for either, like, sometimes run for a weekend, some pop ups run for a month or two. And then it all goes in the trash. 

And one of the early inspirations for Camp was if we build this black box theater, with the proper infrastructure, a fulltime team that's highly trained and warehouse, you know, in stock or in systems and all sorts of, all sorts of things. experiential marketing could be a lot more efficient for people like the spin masters and people like the studios and even non endemic sponsors like Ally Bank, that, that whole sponsorship angle and, and, and the rotational nature of our stores was baked into the business from the start.

Steve Dennis  23:42

You know, you know, one of the I've got like, 15 different questions, I'll try to boil it down. But, you know, there's been a lot of discussion about and one of my least favorite words phygital. But you know, the blending of physical and digital and how to think more broadly about brand performance with stores driving online, and vice versa. Doug Stevens talks about stores as media, and it seems like you guys, you know, sort of lean into that, but you know so many retailers seem to have a hard idea, or a hard time getting their hands around this kind of total brand experience. And this idea of, of capturing the customer's time rather than just sales per square foot or, you know, something that's a very traditional metric. So, how’s your approach to Camp inform the way you go about merchandising and, and marketing strategy? And ultimately, how do you measure success? Because clearly can't just be about how many books or toys you sell on a given weekend in just in that particular location. 

Ben Kaufman  24:48

Yeah, I have one single metric that I obsess over, which is the stickiness of what we do, and we look at that on an omni basis. So, it's, it's just interactions with the family. We track, we track customers, we'd like to know, are they on our website finding crafts to do with each other? Are they coming to our store? Are they, are they buying things? All of those things are important to me. I want families to touch Camp every week. That's the goal. Camp should be your answer to what should we do today as a family? And everything we do, what we do is just judged on how successful we are and being the front line the answer to that question. And so, it isn't just like a revenue per square foot situation. It isn't, it isn't, you know, repeat store traffic. Instead, it's repeat interactions with, with families and making sure we're delivering on, on the promise of helping them answer the ‘what to do question’.

Steve Dennis  25:44

And what would be your advice to and, I think it's incredibly interesting, I guess what would be your advice to retailers that might be listening to this in terms of how they might think differently about their business, because one of the things just the initial observation I had when I was in the Camp store was, you know, there wasn't the kind, not anything close to the kind of product density you would see at a at a Toys "R" Us or any other traditional toy retailer. And you've got the space devoted to theater basically or experiences and that just kind of fights I think with the with the traditional way that retailers think about it. And but obviously a lot of retailers are struggling to be successful. So, if you're talking about somebody that maybe in a different category, or serving really different kind of customer, what advice would you give them about how they can reimagine their brand experience?

Ben Kaufman  26:35

Yeah, so first, first, I would just challenge the density assumption, I mean, the I think we're doing our job by making you feel like we're not as dense as other stores. But we're a 10,000 square foot space with, you know, over, over 5000 skus at some point, at some points during our year. So, we have a pretty good density of product. But we, we just believe that you don't have to choose either or, you know, product versus experience. Instead, it's our job to be creative around the use of space. So, for example, our Hudson Yards store, you know, the entire, like eye level and below experience is devoted to merchandise, but we just put the kids up high. So, we put the kids on top of the fixtures, and let them climb up and discover a whole kind of indoor playground that sits on top of all of the usable merchandising space, you're not going to stock product at eight feet and above. So instead, we put the kids up there. And that's the experiential moment. So, you know, my advice is, is don't, don't make it a choice, find a way to do both, because with enough creative people in the room that I do believe there's a way and the reason other retailers haven't done it is just because it's a little harder, but it's not impossible.

Michael LeBlanc  27:49

Ben, tell me a little bit about, we haven't talked about digital. And I know initially, and I'm aware initially in the Camp idea of digital didn't have a strong certainly from a product sales perspective, didn't have a strong foot forward. But it you know, thanks to COVID I'm sure you had to reassess that. And, and what are your thoughts on that integration is, as Steve likes to call it about hybrid retail, obviously, you mentioned about, you know, making sure that there's activities, so to speak virtually. But talk a little bit about your thoughts around the, this integration of what you plan to do online. So, important in some ways, but how important is it to your concept? And how do you think about it?

Ben Kaufman  28:27

You know, yes, as you said, it became important over the course of 2020 when our stores were closed, but it is going to continue to, to be a huge, huge anchor and in our work in the sense of being that, that answer to what to do today. You know, our site isn't just a site that tries to sell you the latest toy or the latest gadget. Instead, our site is meant to help your family figure out like how to have fun together through editorial content through mini-games through all sorts of interactive features. 

You know, one of the things we grappled with as a company in relation to eCommerce is that, again, because we're not a transactional brand, because we're not you know, 20% off toys today, or this is the new hit toy. We didn't want to be a traditional eCommerce site. So, we've worked really hard to kind of pioneer what it would be like to be any experiential eCommerce company. And we built things like Camp White Elephant, which was basically an online game version of a secret Santa White Elephant party where, you know, families jumped online and, and were able to buy gifts from each other, I'm sorry, buy gifts from us. And then they would they would wind up in a virtual game room where they could unwrap each other's gifts, steal gifts from one another, and then when the game was over, we shipped the right gift to the right person. So again, experience plus commerce. We want you to remember the experience you had getting something not just the thing you got. 

And then our latest version of this is something called the Camp Present Shop which is the first place, kids can shop online. So, parents set a budget and then kids can drag and drop products into their card design a custom card and everything that shows up to the home kind of wrapped as a beautiful gift.

Michael LeBlanc  30:07

What's next? I mean expansion of physical locations you know what's, what's on your list of you know where you want this brand to be in, pick a number, in 5 years, but, but how do you think about what comes next is it is it growth exponentially both vertically and horizontally talk about that a bit.

Ben Kaufman  30:27

I mean, we will open three more locations by the end of the year which will get us close to 10 operating, operating stores. And yeah, more, more stores is definitely part of the vision, but again, we don't, we don't think in those terms necessarily at Camp instead we think, how do we become the brand that families grow up with, and that, that drives the strategy that drives the location, growth plan, drives the digital strategy. We, we really think of what we're doing is not building a retailer but instead building a brand that is helpful to you and your family and inspires you and your family to smile and have fun and you know, spend time together.

Michael LeBlanc  31:06

And you've done partnerships with other retailers. Do you see that as a big part of, of your universe moving forward, is, is that would you describe that as ancillary or pivotal to the, your growth and success?

Ben Kaufman  31:18

You know, we've been really lucky with our, with our partnerships, whether it be with the Walmart's and Kroger's and an Ally Banks of the world or with, with studios like, you know, Spin Master and Paramount, we do, we are firm believers in retail media and, and those sponsorships and partnerships really allow us to grow at a, at a rate that we wouldn't be able to grow if we were just relying on our four wall revenues. So, we're, yeah, we're excited to keep pushing, pushing down that that track.

Steve Dennis  31:49

One of the things in hearing you, you talk Ben, is that I find kind of ironic is when I was early in my career a million years ago, one of the brands that was, was talked about particularly from kind of a vision and strategy standpoint was Disney, you know, is the happiest place on earth. And I forget their exact mission statement, but you know, it's like to provide fun or joy or happiness or something like that it was this, this really big idea, and then you know, also Toys "R" Us just kind of had this magic to me as a kid of you know, you want to go to Toys "R" Us and here we are with, with Disney, you know, having gotten out of the experience business, basically, and just doing a shop within a shop at Target and Toys "R" Us who knows what's gonna happen with Toys "R" Us, but obviously they, they pretty much went out of business. And you know, here you are recreating, you know, kind of this same idea about being the place that, that families want to go, and, and thinking about kind of a higher-level outcome as opposed to we're just gonna, like you said, we're just not about selling you the, the, the toy of the moment at 20% off. So, it's just there's something I don't know, sort of poetic about an upstart, I am going to recreate this when, when Disney is, you know, lost their way, I would say in a lot of respects, at least, you know, when this outside of the theme parks,

Ben Kaufman  33:02

We're definitely not the first people to play in this space, we wouldn't be able to do half the stuff we're doing if all the companies you just mentioned hadn't paved the way. I think that the big difference between, you know, what we're doing and what other people have tried in the past is, you know, we don't think of ourselves as a retailer. 

Steve Dennis  33:20


Ben Kaufman  33:20

And, and you know, even, even the Disney example, like Disney retail was thought of as a retailer. It wasn't, it was, it was kept very, very separately from the parks.

Steve Dennis  33:31


Ben Kaufman  33:32

And so yeah, because we think of ourselves as, as a brand. And as, as a kind of pseudo media business. I feel like well, we'll make decisions that will allow us to think more comprehensively about what a, what a location-based family experience looks like at scale.

Steve Dennis 33:49

As I said, it's a, it’s a remarkable story. I hope people, if they have a Camp store in their area or are getting one soon will, will go check it out. It's really quite extraordinary. And obviously you can go to, also to see what the digital experience looks like. Ben, thanks very much, so much for coming on and giving us a little, little taste of what Camp is about and where, where are those just quickly, where are the three stores that you're opening going to be just so people can look out for those.

Ben Kaufman  34:19

I think the only one we've announced so far that we'll be opening this year that, that, that I talked about is in LA so we'll be opening in Century City at the Westfield, the Westfield experience there. And then the other two are on the on the East Coast, one in the one in the Boston area and one, and then Metro New York area.

Steve Dennis  34:41

Alright, well Ben thanks. Thanks again for coming on the podcast and best of luck with the expansion and as you go forward.

Ben Kaufman  34:48

Okay, thank you so much.

Michael LeBlanc  34:50

If you like what you heard, please follow us on Apple, Spotify, Amazon Music or your favorite podcast platforms. You can catch up with all our great interviews. Subscribe so that just automatically shows up that tell your friends. And, also in new insights and new episodes will show up every week so tell your friends, because that will help us share the word, the good, the good wisdom now to share and check out and be sure to check us out on our new YouTube channel, not so new anymore get a couple episodes up there and just look for Remarkable Retail.

Steve Dennis  35:20

And I'm Steve Dennis you can check out more of my work at my website,, or on Forbes or on Twitter. And please check out my second edition of my book, ‘Remarkable Retail, How to Win and Keep Customers in the Age of Disruption’. Available just about everywhere books are sold.

Michael LeBlanc  35:40

I am Michael LeBlanc, Producer and Host of The Voice of Retail podcast and a bunch of other stuff. You can find me on LinkedIn learning about me on  Alright Steve, great episode. Look forward to chatting again. Next week, be safe, and have a great rest of your day.

Steve Dennis  35:57

Same to you.


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