Everyday Play

Toy Kingdom is more than a toy store—it is story brought to life. The characters and products invite children—and adults—to take a moment to experience the joy of play again.

By Jenny S. Rebholz

When Shinsegae, South Korea’s largest retail operator, hired Columbus, Ohio-based global design agency Chute Gerdeman, the company’s clear project goal set the design bar high: deliver a specialty toy store “unlike any other in the world.”

As the company looked to add an entirely new brand and retail category to its portfolio, Shinsegae wanted to far exceed the competition by providing a highly engaging retail experience that creates emotional connections on a global level. And the Chute Gerdeman team did just that. They created Toy Kingdom, an experiential toy store that, upon opening, exceeded expectations and customer satisfaction with a performance at 200 percent of the forecasted sales.

“There is a lot of competition in the toy market in South Korea,” explains Jay Highland, chief creative officer for Chute Gerdeman. “The typical household has one child who is indulged by many family members who want to give them everything their heart desires.”

Chute Gerdeman needed to connect with those hearts and create an experience that customers would fall in love with. The team looked outside of the product at experiences, like Universal Studios and The Wizarding World of Harry Potter, which center on engaging the child (and adults, too).

“We looked at countless experiences and how to engage and deliver that magical experience simply,” Highland says. “We did a deep dive into strategy to think about store visits and why people would come to Toy Kingdom. The store had to provide a feeling, a connection, something that captures them and keeps them coming back and exploring.”

The final concept is about “play in the everyday,” so every element is focused on play. And this playful experience begins at the entrance, where colorful light balloons pour from the ceiling and spill into the mall. Kid-sized tunnels with interactive flooring immediately engage children, beckoning them to begin their unforgettable journey. This kids-only entry point creates a connection between the child and the characters of Toy Kingdom.

“Toy Kingdom is a vibrant, playful world that ignites the imagination of guests and wins the hearts of children,” describes Mary Lynn Waite, creative director, brand communications at Chute Gerdeman. “Its story is presented through a group of friends (imagined characters) that have different personalities and forms, but live together in Toy Kingdom.”

The design team took great care in crafting the story for each character. And each character’s interests relate to the four primary product categories—imagination toys, ride-on toys, building toys and smart toys.

“Each zone within the store has a supporting interactive element where kids can play and escape with the brand,” Waite says. “These key experiential touchpoints—six in total—combine physical, analog and digital elements that reinforce the immersive and transportive quality of the space.” At every turn, there are things to do, tunnels to go through and cranks to turn, keeping them moving to the next exciting thing. These zones also provide photo opportunities that encourage word-of-mouth marketing via social media.

“The layout is meandering on purpose,” Highland says. “We did everything to avoid a racetrack circulation plan. We wanted to encourage a sense of discovery. From a floor swirl color maze and ceiling directional elements to balloon lights and key product/brand zones, the navigation is literally in the floor plan.” A large air duct in the middle of the space, while posing a challenge, really made the team get more creative, and supported their meandering layout.

Distinct play areas—connected to each character and a type of play—serve as larger-than-life beacons on the perimeter of the store. The intent was to get products out of the box and create moments that embrace the spirit of play, moments that could be captured by parents and shared via social media. The Wacky Track, Fun Tunnel and Lego zones are key points of interaction that get kids hands-on with the products and time spent connecting with specific brands.

The team creatively employed low-tech analog movement, motion and light in unusual ways. These low-tech applications provide the bullet-proof durability needed for this high-traffic, play-hard world. Technology, such as high-definition screens, could easily be damaged in this hands-on environment. The methods of interaction needed to be functional and long-lasting to support play at all times.
For example, the Fun Tunnel allows kids to play and ride on toys, power cars, bikes, etc. Digital projection on floor video screens take them on a journey in a contained, kids-only space, while parents watch. Special mirrors in the Marvel City and Disney Castle allow children to transform into their favorite princess or superhero. A crazy loop-to-loop track overhead in the Wacky Tracks area directs attention upward. Every surface, every corner, is built for fun. “Buzzers, levers, noises,
remote controls, moments of interaction carry visitors through the store creating a rhythm between play and shop,” Highland says.

The saturated color and materials palette was important to stimulate children and reinforce the playful and imaginative environment. A white background served as a neutral color to add a level of sophistication with black contrasts to make things stand out. There are no gray areas in this space; it is about clear contrasts of black and white with hard pops of color.

The material selection process was unique for this project and required considerable communication, translation and collaboration. Chute Gerdeman offered western suggestions and then worked with local consultants to make material translations. “Not everything is readily available in this part of the world, so we made consultative suggestions,” says Wendy Johnson, executive vice president, account management and COO for Chute Gerdeman. “It is an interesting and collaborative way to work across borders and language barriers.”

The design of the store, the layout and material selections maintain a distinct point of view for the Toy Kingdom brand while allowing the store to seamlessly house brands such as LEGO, Hot Wheels, Disney, Marvel and others.

Toy Kingdom is a magical and wacky world where everything comes to life. The stories, characters and interactive experiences all take place in this fantasy world. But the Chute Gerdeman concept is much bigger than one location. In fact, after the success of the first store, a second location was opened just three months later. The character development was also for more than just the store design, it provides an opportunity to be supported by apps that will keep building the brand and allowing kids and their families to continue to explore the world of Toy Kingdom on and offline—truly a toy store unlike any other.


project file

Toy Kingdom
Seoul, South Korea


Chute Gerdeman

37 Volts

S&P Solution


Samwon S&D

Design Luna

Midas, BMT

JSP Media

Gosung Design, Sungwon JS

Information in the project file is provided by the retailer and/or design firm.

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