World 4 Kids/Best & Less and The Reject Shop – Bankstown, NSW

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Toys R Us was coming. The American toy giant had lingered on the horizon of the Australian retail scene since 1984, when it had first ventured overseas. Now, in 1993, Toys R Us had made its intentions to establish itself in Australia very clear. In a panic, and desperate to beat Toys R Us to the punch, Coles Myer set up their own chain of toy stores that attempted to outdo the American company in every conceivable way; a ‘category killer’. It wasn’t the first time Coles Myer had employed the tactic: in the same year, it had established Officeworks, basing it on the US stationery chain Office Depot. To give you an idea of just how contrived the whole concept was, here’s a 1993 ad preempting the World 4 Kids launch. If you can look past the kid’s stylish fashion, note the cynical overuse of the dinosaur to ride the success of the year’s biggest film.

I can still remember the hype surrounding World 4 Kids at the time of its launch. It was relentless. The Bankstown Square location was enormous, taking up an entire floor. To a kid, it was mind-blowing. They had video games available to try everywhere around the shop. They had aisles – not just a few shelves, like Grace Bros, but aisles – of action figures. They even had a ‘kids entry gate’ as an alternative to the regular entrance. Sure, it was just an archway over a little bridge, but that was for YOU! You weren’t meant to walk in the normal way like the grown-ups! This wasn’t just some toy department of a bigger shop. There was no threat of being dragged off to look at clothes or other boring stuff. It was ALL TOYS.

The launch of World 4 Kids didn’t stop Toys R Us from opening, and the closest store to the Bankstown World 4 Kids was at Hurstville. As expected, the Toys R Us store blew World 4 Kids away: it was two-storey, they had more of everything, and the name explicitly promised toys, rather than merely alluding to them in the case of World 4 Kids, which sounds like it could easily have been one of those lame play centres with the ball rooms.

1993 was about the start of the last big era for toys. By the end of the 90s, video games had eclipsed toys by a wide margin. Also by the end of the 90s, World 4 Kids was a world about to end. The company had bombed hard in the wake of Toys R Us, haemorrhaging millions of dollars each year it was open. By the end, it was losing $36m a year, and cost Coles Myer more than $200m during its short lifespan. World 4 Kids, supposed to be the successor to K-Mart’s dominance of the toy market prior to 1993, closed in 2002, and the brand name was absorbed back into K-Mart, which adopted it as the name of its toy department.

This particular World 4 Kids took over the floorspace of Venture, itself formerly Waltons Department Store (but more on that another time), so by failing miserably, it was only carrying on the strong tradition established by those two brands. Where the one store once took up the entire floor, a chemist, the Reject Shop and Best & Less have taken up residence. Immediately following World 4 Kids’ departure, a JB Hifi was set up in its place, but in a rare move for JB it was closed a few years later. Even Toys R Us is struggling these days, with the Hurstville location having long since been reduced to just one floor.

Note the poignant empty trolley.

The only evidence that World 4 Kids, the place that meant the world to so many kids in 1993, was ever a part of Bankstown Square is the faint afterimage of its sign on the outside facade of the building, along the Appian Way. Yesterday’s great hope is now just a stain on the wall. It’s a stark reminder that no matter how personally a store may appeal to you, it’s always business. After all, that’s the way of the World.

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12 responses

  1. same thing happened to the old hornsby westfield it was a waltons then the upper floor became venture then it was a world 4 kids before it was all torn down and rebuilt with what is there now

  2. It was Waltons in my earliest memory then Venture

  3. I can just remember the Waltons (previously a Nock and Kirby) and Venture in Liverpool. I’ve dredged up a faint recollection of spending my pocket money on something small (belt? necklace?). Wikipedia says the Waltons opened in 1972 which would make the Nock and Kirby one of my earliest memories. The site has been an RSL for many years now. This blog is fun!

  4. I’m not so sure that the whole W4K experiment was a failure for Coles. In a war of attrition, having a second category killer meant that Toys ‘r’ Us couldn’t compete against the buying power of Coles Group as a whole (Kmart, Target & Grace Bros)

    After an expensively short but brilliant 10 years, World 4 Kids goes out of business. But, with the consolation for Coles Group that in the purchasing publics mind, the giant toy stores are overpriced.

    So Toys ‘r’ Us survives but sorta drags along while most people have gone back to doing most of their toy shopping at the department stores.

    In the end World 4 Kids was but a pawn in Coles Group victory.

    Mercenary, but brilliant.

    Public Interest Disclosure: I was Charlie Bucket for the 4 best working years of my life at World 4 Kids Penrith.

    1. An interesting and very likely theory…

    2. Bradford, you raised a great point, and I agree completely on the part of giant toy stores being expensive. Sadly it’s a trend that is still going strong today, though moving into other mainstream departments (Myer, David Jones, and to an extent Uncle Pete’s). A shame, really. No wonder more people are buying their toys online.

      World 4 Kids Penrith, you say? Was this before or after the store moved to across the Plaza, as I have very fond memories of both locations.

  5. Wow fantastic stuff Michael Wayne, well written. I was actually at the Penrith store (cnr High street and Station street) on the grand opening day way back in I think 1993. It was a super store to shop in. Used to be Waltons once too. After World 4 Kids, it became Spotlight and now Trade Secret.

  6. Yes,i remember my 27 years in supply chain with myer. It was a huge thing for us to give the americans a run for their money with w4k.there was a great hype with the launch. We had the market share as a retailer then and this was another try at full market control together with our new brand,”officeworks”

  7. I’ve noticed a host of familiar brand name store disappearing in very recent times. Civic Video in South Penrith closed their doors the other week, followed by Blockbuster video Penrith this week, IGA Penrith earlier this month, and Harris Farm Penrith Plaza closing early next week. Crazy and scary days.

    1. I’m surprised Blockbuster Penrith lasted this long!

      1. I wonder who will be closing next?
        I’m expecting Myer will eventually become a company of the past.
        Yep, Blockbuster and all video shops are suffering so badly due to the Internet.

  8. Interesting article I just read my name is Steve Innes and I was the designer of the W4K stores I created the name and the whole shopping design, I was the head designer and creator of the whole shooting match. Coles didn’t listen good enough to understand it was to be a destination store they just wanted a Kmart selling toys, I wanted it to be a themed wonderland Thomas the Tank world, Barbie World etc and I wanted to created to create shops within shops. but that was so long ago now. It could have been so much more…..as for me now I design pubs…lol

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