Wednesday, Nov. 15, 2000 | 2:21 a.m.
In a town where everything is done on a grand scale, toy stores are no different. Case in point: the 56,000 square-foot, three-story FAO Schwarz at the Forum Shops, whose 48-foot tall Trojan horse ushers customers into a land of fantasy and fun.
The FAO stands for Frederick August Otto Schwarz, the German immigrant who, with his three brothers, started the chain 138 years ago in New York City.
The Vegas store is second in sales to only New York City, which recently surpassed the Forum Shops' store as the country's largest.
That's not surprising for one of the top-grossing stores in the retail industry's top-grossing mall. As of September 2000, the Forum Shops generated more than $1,200 in sales per square foot, according to the International Council of Shopping Centers, which is based out of New York. The average gross for malls across the country is $300-$350 per square foot.
And with daily traffic averaging 4,500-5,000 customers, and 8,000-9,000 in summer, it's likely FAO Schwarz sees a large percentage of those earnings.
"It's one of our top producers," said Maureen Crampton, marketing director for the Forum Shops at Caesars.
She added that market research shows that a visit to FAO Schwarz is tops with tourists.
"People come here to see the storefront," said Crampton. "It's one of our main visual attractions."
So why shop at FAO Schwarz, when you can get the same merchandise at Wal-Mart for a substantial savings?
"The thing that distinguishes us from our competitors is customer service," said Jake Sammaripa, public relations and special events manager for the Vegas store. "You might be able to find an item cheaper in another store, but it's the little things that make a customer come back," he said.
Those little things include complimentary giftwrap, worldwide shipping and merchandise carryout. A personal shopper is also available to every customer, regardless of the amount spent; the Best of FAO room, containing high-end toys (including a six-foot tall woolly mammoth, at $6,500) is secluded from the main store for private shopping.
Customers will also find that employees have intimate knowledge of the products and are stationed throughout the store according to their areas of expertise. Employees are also encouraged to play with the toys.
"When we get a new product in, we'll tell them (the employees) to take it apart and play with it," said Sammaripa. "If you ask them 'what's hot in infant toys?' they'll tell you, and they're right."
And play they do - with balls, puppets, anything they can get their hands on. Walk through this ultimate playground and you'll witness how much these employees love their jobs - striking up conversation with customers, with no sales pressure, teaching a customer how to play a game, lining up displays with precision. The store employs 75-80 people year-round and 150-200 during the holidays.
Sammaripa said each FAO Schwarz is different because of the special design of its clock tower, created specifically for that store. The clock tower on the second floor pays homage to Vegas' icons with a white tiger's paw (Siegfried & Roy), a sequined Li"bear"ace, Barbie and Ken in the Lego "Chapel of Love," and Elvis PEZley.
Other favorites include the life-sized replica of Darth Vader in the Star Wars boutique, the 3-D Monopoly Cafi, and FAO Schweez, the resident candy store.
The store also has its own visual department that designs most of the displays.
A constant seller, and one many consider the centerpiece of the store, is the Barbie display, located on the second floor. "We're always restocking it," said Sammaripa. "We sell out of the dream house every year." Prices range from $24.99 for the FAO Schwarz Barbie to $399 for the porcelain Faberge Imperial Splendor Barbie. The Le Papillon Barbie, designed exclusively for FAO Schwarz by Bob Mackie, is $150.
Sammaripa estimated that the store has about 20,000 different items. It is the largest store in the Forum Shops.
As far as what to buy for the holiday season, Sammaripa said to "grab anything up with a computer chip.".
FAO Schwarz currently has 44 stores; a Palm Springs store opening later this year will make 45.