Brookstone, beloved ’90s purveyor of mall gadgets, is betting big on China

Gadget-heavy Brookstone is betting China will fuel its comeback.
Gadget-heavy Brookstone is betting China will fuel its comeback.
Image: AP Photo/Gregory Bull
We may earn a commission from links on this page.

The quirky retailer that lets customers play with gadgets before buying them is plunging into the Chinese marketplace as it tries to come back from bankruptcy. On Jan. 1, Brookstone opened its first mainland location in Nanjing and is now planning to build out further.

“In China we’re thinking of aggressively expanding based on proof-of-concept,” Brookstone CEO Tom Via told Quartz. “This year’s plan is dependent on the availability of real estate. … It could be up to 30 stores.”

The foray into the Middle Kingdom is part of a larger attempt at a comeback by the chain, which fell into bankruptcy in 2014 before being scooped up for $174 million by Chinese conglomerate Sailing Innovation US. The company product lines remain much the same, ranging from recreational drones and massage chairs to animal tusk-shaped drinking cups and stand-up robots for carrying around an iPad.

But as it begins its push into the international space, the retailer thinks it has a new weapon: a fresh pipeline to inventors.

In order to more closely keep an eye on emerging gadgetry, Brookstone hired a chief innovation officer who has helped form a partnership with crowdfunding website Indiegogo. A company team is now responsible for scouring crowdfunding sites to find new products and inventors to develop and bring to market. It’s already had some wins from the model, as Via pointed to the success of cat ear headphones, a product developed by two inventors discovered through Indiegogo.

The company does not expect to expand as aggressively in the US market, where it maintains about 250 stores.