My Two Cents: “Toys are Not Auto Parts, Toys R Us.”

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It's no secret, as we hear it again and again from credible sources. Toys R Us is on the ropes, losing money, its fate hangs in the balance. Toy companies large and small are rooting for the toy retailer's ultimate survival and success, no matter how unlikely that may seem.

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An industry without TRU might be a very different landscape altogether, with all the more power and influence being wielded, not to anyone’s benefit, by remaining retailers like Walmart and Amazon. How has this retail giant found itself in this situation? Is it self-inflicted or a byproduct of an ever-changing environment and of our evolving culture? Likely both.

Toys R Us stores generally do not provide an inviting or fun environment, they just have a lot of toys in one place. They are nothing special – not like FAO Schwarz tries to be.

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Toys are different, toys are fun, toys are special. Toys R Us and all the other major toy retailers sell toys as if they were auto parts rather than the engines of children's imaginations.

Retail as entertainment just doesn’t enter the equation for TRU and opportunity is lost as a result. Nobody is eager to go to a dull, dingy, unimaginative destination for any reason, toy purchases included.

What will it take for Toys R Us to survive? Is there something that the major toy companies can do to help the giant retailer in their hour of need? I would love to help, but I am not sure that my two cents are of any interest to them, and yet they have a lot of supporters who would love to advise, consult, or assist in the interest of their success. The toy industry is a resource that they should consider making better use of. 

4 thoughts

  1. Speaking of toy stores focusing on the inherent advantages they have over internet markets, does anyone know of any stores where, rather than having racks of toys on the shelves and in storage, they have them out and open on the floor for kids to play with? And then, rather than selling toys there, they just give you a place to order toys (e.g. over the internet) and make their money off selling shelf space to the makers? I would like to visit a place like that, especially to try new toys out that I am not sure about getting, and it would be nice not to have to worry about driving out to a store with a particular toy in mind, only to find that the store doesn’t carry it…

  2. I live in Arizona and I go to Toys R US and Babies R Us alot. I think one of the big problems they have is not opening registers for check out. For some reason, they only have the customer service register open for checkout. They have a whole row of registers available for use, but no one there to help. Since they refuse to open registers, they should just tear them out and replace them with self checkout stations. The long wait time during checkout is very frustrating. It seems they would rather make customers wait a long time to check out instead of hiring employees to help. Which makes no sense, because all they are doing is driving customers to another retailer that provides a better shopping experience.

  3. Hi Bruce,
    I loved your insightful article. Our toy design students and faculty visit TRU regularly, and have said the same thing. They are toy designers and do not enjoy the “experience”. It would be sad to see TRU go away when they could reinvent themselves.
    Deborah Ryan, Chair, Otis Toy Design

  4. Great article, Bruce, and I completely agree. I never go to the local TRU in our town because it is full of clutter, has very little help, and the bathrooms are absolutely filthy! There is a great store chain in Charleston called Wonderworks, that knows how to make the event entertaining. The clerks are happy, energetic, and typically will shove a toy in your hand as soon as you walk in. They hold outdoor festivals and allow vendors, like us at Wild Creations, to participate and sell products. It is truly an “experience” more than a shopping trip. The convenience of ordering on Amazon.com and Walmart.com for our toys, not to mention no need to visit filthy bathrooms with our children, is going to be tough, if not impossible to overcome for retailers. Creating this experience is about the only way I see it happening.
    I wrote about it in more detail here: http://www.inc.com/peter-gasca/5-ways-small-retailers-can-compete-win.html
    Great article! Thanks for sharing!

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