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Zany Brainy: A toy story

As children enter the colorful world of Zany Brainy, these young consumers become mesmerized by magic and puzzles, stuffed animals and stationery. Parents are at ease with the knowledge that Zany's fun toys are non-violent, non-gender-biased and safe for their child. "Zany Brainy is filled with products offering the ability to enhance a child's development physically and mentally," says Michael Levin, senior vice president of real estate construction and design for the retailer.

Zany Brainy was born in Wynnewood, Pa. - the brainchild of David Schlessinger. He believed that children's products that appealed to both parent and child were nonexistent. Schlessinger's goal of filling this void in the children's marketplace was reached in November 1991. By 1994, through regional and national expansion, Zany Brainy had assembled a total of 16 stores. By the end of 1999, 103 stores were offering "a zillion neat things for kids."

Zany Brainy continues its growing spurt with the recent acquisition of 60 Noodle Kidoodle stores. The company plans to have 188 stores in the United States for 2000. Though Noodle Kidoodle stores are typically 8,000 sq. ft., Zany Brainy will continue to maintain the company's 10,600 sq. ft. format for future stores. At this time, there are no plans for international development. Franchising is not a possibility. Levin says the company will remain public with corporate ownership.

Demographics will continue to play a major role in the success of future expansion projects by Zany Brainy. Because the toys target children ages 0-12, the site's surrounding neighborhoods are ideally white-collar trade areas with an average population of 250,000, occupied by college-degreed professionals with young children. With this in mind, the company favors strip centers surrounded by traffic-driving, lifestyle-oriented co-tenants, explains Levin. Specialty grocery stores, bookstores, clothing and linen stores and bagel shops are welcome neighbors.

In an effort to attract customers and distinguish itself from other toy stores within the same community, the company offers activities and event programs seven days a week. Kids scurry across the colorful carpet, below the outline of neon lights to the "Zany show-time theater," hands-on computer stations or play areas. "`Free Fun Everyday' is a unique program embracing everything from mini concerts to learning arts and crafts," says Levin. Kids also appreciate, along with their parents, the low shelving, allowing products to be seen, reached and even touched by curious consumers. Parents are able to let go of their child's hand without losing sight of them.

Regarding competition, Levin explains, "anyone competing for the toy dollar would arguably be a competitor - stores such as Target, Wal-Mart, Learning Express and Store of Knowledge." However, Levin believes there are no real competitors. Zany Brainy is a niche all its own.

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