One On One: J&R's Jason Friedman
By John Laposky On Feb 28 2012 - 9:27pm
NEW YORK –
J&R executive VP Jason
Friedman sat down with TWICE to
discuss the retailer’s latest “super boutique,”
J&R Jr., on the day of its grand
TWICE. I love you guys.
It’s interesting that you want
to cover this. I’m really glad.
TWICE: Well, we recently
returned from CES and
saw a lot of kids stuff and
baby technology. Seems
like a natural direction to go.
Yes, I went to
CES specifically to see all
the cool kids stuff. It was
clear we were onto something
TWICE: Have you had
much experience in this
market? Obviously J&R sold some kids
stuff. Did you have to bring someone in
from the kids market for this?
Yes. We brought is some
people who had some experience in
this market, both locally and nationally,
and also relied on our team’s experience
here at J&R. We have been selling
Leapfrog and VTech stuff, for example.
The LeapPad was our hottest seller at
Christmas time. That was kind of our
foray into it. Plus we have a lot of kid’s
musical instruments, video games and,
of course, DVDs and CDs, so that was
the core foundation and we built on that.
TWICE: Is this something J&R has
been talking about for awhile?
It’s something I’ve been
talking about for a while. Once I had my
second child a year ago and I saw I was
buying a lot of the same kids gear over
again: the stroller, the car seat and all, I
decided that there’s definitely some kind
of fusion here, of kids tech and cool gear.
Especially a lot of the strollers are pretty
high tech and pretty high priced, so I saw
a synergy there. I had kids, and my parents
are J&R, and I was always nicknamed
J&R Jr. The idea almost wrote
itself. It’s my baby.
TWICE: Pun intended. Is
this new space?
This was actually
the computer software
floor. With downloads and
apps, people aren’t buying
much boxed software
anymore, so that’s been
consolidated to one display
rack downstairs as opposed
to the 15,000 square
feet we have up here.
TWICE: So are you doing as concentrated
an effort online with this concept?
Absolutely. That’s actually
where I started. I started JandR.com
16 years ago. So that was actually my
primary concern, getting the stuff online
where we can reach the most amount
of people, and then I saw downtown
Manhattan becoming the fastest-growing
part of the city for young families, I
decided, ‘OK, let me dip my toe in real
retail.’ Before that I kind of kept to my
office and ran the website.
TWICE: So you had a lot to learn?
Yes, and I have a core
team here that has a lot of experience.
We started with half the floor and as we
went along we kept adding things. We
originally didn’t think we were going to have toys. We didn’t plan on being in
car seats ... definitely not cribs. But as
we went along and designed the space,
things started to snowball.
Eventually I had to have a conversation
with my dad, and I said, ‘I think I’m
going to take over the whole floor.’ And
now we’re already talking about what
other space in the building we can take
over because this is already busting out
of its space. We expect this to grow.
TWICE: What other non-traditional
categories has J&R been expanding
into in recent years?
Definitely toys. For J&R
Jr. we’re concentrating on educational
toys, and as you can see around you,
arts and crafts right upfront as you enter.
This is all great grab-and-go stuff,
for birthday gifts for example. You can
find a $30 or $40 item — we do free giftwrapping.
This kind of stuff flies off the
It’s not a coincidence that we scheduled
the grand opening for today because,
as you know, Toy Fair starts this
morning at the Javits Center, so to really
make a statement with the toy industry,
telling them ‘Hey, we’re here!’ We’re running
a free shuttle from the Javits. This
is a relatively small category for us right
now, but we’re definitely looking around
at Toy Fair for direction to expand. And
that’s going to require more floor space.
TWICE: Tell me about the electronics
merchandising. I see everything from
VTech to iPads ...
Well, that was a big
thing for me. My five-year-old knows
how to work my iPad better than
my wife does. I ended up giving my
daughter my old iPhone when I upgraded,
my old iPad when I upgraded.
Meanwhile, the portable DVD player
has been abandoned. She’s completely
comfortable with it, and that’s
not unusual for kids that age. So we incorporated
iPads in kid-friendly cases
throughout the store for kids to play
while mom and dad shop. We loaded
them up with all the kids apps. That
led to stocking all the iPad accessories
— for hanging it over the car seat,
different mounts and holders, games
from Lego, Crayola, etc.
In other electronics we’re stocking
decibel-limiting headphones, walkie
talkies, boomboxes, kids digital cameras
from Fisher Price and, of course,
the nursery staples. Baby monitors and
humidifiers have become so high-tech,
We’re trying not double up on stuff
that you would find in our regular housewares
boutique. We edited our mix
and tried to find the four or five most
kid-friendly or parent-friendly models of
each device. We wanted a mother to
come in here and have a clear choice
of good, better, best, to do the work for
them so they can come in and get out.