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Opinion: I Wanna Be A Toys-R-Us Adult

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I don’t wanna grow up, I’m a Toys ‘R’ Us kid!”  Those words sang out to me from the television so often in the 1980s.  As a child watching cartoons like Transformers, G.I. Joe, He-Man, Droids, Ewoks, and Smurfs this commercial told me definitively where I could go to buy the toys based on the shows.  

“I don’t wanna grow up, cuz if I did…I couldn’t be a Toys ‘R’ Us kid!”  These lines helped define my generation.  Despite eschewing the nostalgia of our elders, Generation X has become a generation defined by its childhood.  As I travel to toy shows across the country it’s not children buying toys, it’s adults my age and older who covet the latest toys and figures.  In our youth we bought toys to recreate scenes from TV shows and movies, and as adults we still buy them to show our fandom and relive our childhoods.

But per a report this morning Toys “R” Us may be in trouble.  Judging by the company’s bond ratings, if Toys “R” Us doesn’t have an impressive holiday season there may be no future generations of Toys “R” Us kids.  Competition from online stores plus bottom-dollar brick-and-mortars like Wal-Mart have eaten into Toys “R” Us’ business.  That, plus a declining action figure market have put the company in jeopardy.

My first reaction to this news was “good riddance.”  As an adult toy collector, collecting Star Wars and Marvel toys, I have frequented Toys “R” Us for the past 18 years.  In that time I’ve seen Toys “R” Us go into decline.  In an effort to stay profitable the toy section of the store shrank while the video games section grew.  More, they relied more on high profit diaper sales and baby formula to bolster their bottom line, making the differences between Toys “R” Us and their sister chain Babies “R” Us negligible.

Worse, Toys “R” Us prices have risen.  While toy prices have increased almost 100% between 2005 and 2013, Toys “R” Us has taken them even higher.  For the past 2 years action figures cost $1 to $2 more at Toys “R” Us than at retailers Target or Wal-Mart.

Toys “R” Us does provide an outlet for toy manufacturers to make and release toys that collectors and kids wouldn’t get otherwise.  In the past few years they have had exclusive Star Wars vehicles like Jango Fett’s Slave I, an AT-AT from Return of the Jedi, and the Star Wars Millennium Falcon starship in exclusive, retro packaging.  But exclusives at Toys “R” Us have come with a hefty price tag.  The Millennium Falcon was originally released in 2008 for a MSRP of $159.99; the Toys “R” Us exclusive version, the same in every way save the box, was $249.99 in 2012.  The Star Wars AT-AT was  $99.99 at general retail in 2010, in 2013 the Toys “R” Us exclusive was $149.99.  These top-dollar prices have turned off many collectors, leaving these items to languish on store shelves.  Last week the Toys “R” Us exclusive Falcon was clearanced out for $99, 40% of the original price.


But as I reflected further on the loss of Toys “R” Us I realized that despite their high prices, poor store layout, and shrinking toy area, the loss of this store would be horrible for toy collectors, and the toy industry as a whole.

While Toys “R” Us has been overpriced in their exclusives, if the store were to close Star Wars fans would never have had the option to own the vehicles listed above.  From action figures to high-end vehicles, Toys “R” Us offered the exclusives giving fans the choice to buy or not buy.  If Toys “R” Us closes, that is an avenue for exclusives that is forever cut off and many niche toys targeted to the collector market will never even be offered.

More, Toys “R” Us carries toy lines not found at the big box retailers.  Manufacturers like Diamond Select Toys and NECA manufacture more collector-oriented action figures.  From Diamond’s Walking Dead Minimates to NECA’s video game based figures, these are toys you won’t find at major department stores.  Yes, these are also sold online, but I have no doubt these smaller toy companies will suffer from the loss of visibility garnered from the Toys “R” Us shelves.  There are many toys I would not have bought had I not seen them in person at Toys “R” Us, including many, many packages of Diamond Select Marvel Minimates.  More, Diamond has even had 17 waves of Toys “R” Us exclusive Minimates, more figures and toys that simply will not be made.  This retail avenue for smaller toy companies is vital to maintain competition in the toy industry and keep niche toys, such as NECA’s Nightmare on Elm Street figure line, viable.

Further, even big toy lines have had trouble getting shelf space anywhere but Toys “R” Us.  As reported in Marvelicious Toys Podcast 102 Hasbro’s Thor: The Dark World toy line has only been available online, or at Toys “R” Us.  The line is not a Toys “R” Us exclusive, but the dedicated toy store is the only retail outlet that has made room for the action figures tying into the blockbuster film.

Finally, Toys “R” Us is the last of the national toy stores.  I remembered when Toys “R” Us opened in my hometown of Springfield, Illinois in the mid 1980s.  It was at that time yet another toy store where I could shop, adding it to my rotation along with other national toy chains KB Toys and Circus World, not to mention local stores like Toys Plus, and national department stores Montgomery Wards, Sears, J.C. Penny, K-Mart, and Venture, all of whom carried large selections of toys.  But now many department stores have eliminated their toy sections, unable to compete with Wal-Mart in price.  And all of the national toy stores have, one by one, closed their doors.

If Toys “R” Us also closes, there is no place left for children to go and find an entire store aimed at their interests.  Further, adult collectors will have no local presence devoted to their hobbies; they will be forced to go to regional toy shows and comic cons for dedicated shopping.  

And without the competition Toys “R” Us provides, big box retailers Target and Wal-Mart will simply have less motivation to keep prices low and their store stock varied.  More toy lines like the Thor: The Dark World line will be available only online, if toy manufacturers even consider them viable to make at all.

While Toys “R” Us prices have not been competitive, their costs are still lower than having to pay shipping from online retailers, and they have provided collectors and kids a way to get toys they would otherwise never have.  So when shopping this holiday season consider supporting your Toys “R” Us so that you and your children have a chance to continue being Toys “R” Us kids.

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  1. Agreed to a point, I LOVED Toys R Us as a kid, and in fact it was closer to my house than any other retail type store. So I was there weekly at least! I remember the wall of glass cases that held all the new video game equipment and having to get a ticket off the wall and go to the cage where someone would hunt down your video cartridge. and aisle of aisle of hot wheels, action figure, bikes, and trains…..

    But now it seems from Feb-Oct about half the shelf space is empty, and never restocked. pegs of 2-3 year old merch still hanging their beat up and dirty. I read the article and it seems most of its “value” was in locations and buildings. I bet in a smaller footprint and just better operation, in my area, they could survive. I would like them to survive, they do offer an experience that no big box store can match. I remember midnight madness for Star wars toys in 2008 just as well as when Toys R Us would bring in 10-12 characters on a Saturday morning and have the store roped off just to see/meet your favorite cartoon star. THAT you would never get at a WM or target. and that is something I hope my children get to remember.

  2. I remember when the TRU in my home town opened and closed. It opened with tons of fan fair and glee from the local children (and dread from parents) but as the years went by the store became cluttered and ended up closing with almost no notice from the community. It had been years since I ventured into a TRU, it wasn’t until I had a child that I started to make bi-weekly trips to TRU. They were more to buy diapers and baby things with my wife but now they are to buy toys for my son. As he and my wife look at the Thomas the Train toys I generally wander over to the Star Wars section and in my most recent trip (last weekend) it was extremely picked over and essentially destroyed. Granted the store was packed for the pre-Christmas sale but as I was shoved past and nearly trampled by hoards of parents looking for the newest V-Tech or LeapPad I finally realize that kids really don’t care about action figures or Hot Wheels because they can “become” their heros from games like Disney Infinities, Skylanders, or other video games. The world has changed and TRU has tried to adapt but has seemed to have gotten lost in trying to hold on to the Gen-X’s like myself and others while trying to get the new generation and their need for the latest and greatest electronic device. Granted I am a gamer but I do miss the days of Saturday morning cartoons and going to the store and seeing the action figures on the pegs. I know I will never hear my son say at a brick and mortar store “lets go look at the action figures,” rather it will be “lets get on Amazon and look at the video games.” That kind of saddens me because it shows how quickly times have changed and the “old” brick and moarter stores have failed to adapt. Lastly TRU has priced themselves out of the market thanks to Wal-Mart and Amazon. I amazed that they lasted this long but not surprised that they are on the verge of closing.

  3. Toys R Us can be a little more pricy on some items but I would gladdly paya little more then have to order it online and have to wait a week to get it and hope its not damaged. I collect Star War toys and I find it funny people will complain about paying $10.99 for a Star Wars action figure but then advertise to their listeners to shop at online stores like Big Bad Toy Store or Brian’s Toys where you almost always pay more and then you have to pay for shipping. Price or convenience. We never seem to get both.

  4. tru is utterly irrelevant and is so at the doing of their own incompetence and unwillingness to participate in the industry.
    i have several tru’s in my area. i stopped going to all of them because in 9 out of 10 visits, they have nothing of interest to me. the vast majority of what they have is years old and at a higher price than when the item originally debuted.
    add to that their obvious price gouging(ANY masterpiece transformer is incredibly over-priced) and i have found little to no reason to stop in.
    tru needs to figure out what is popular, carry CURRENT lines of what is popular and move out old product. anything that doesn’t move after 6 months is costing them rent(effectively). it’s asinine.

  5. High prices, rude employees (i.e. teenagers), poor selection. Hasta.

    Sentiment is worth *something*, but not worth enough to keep a business going that clearly has no idea what it is doing. Honestly, I am sadder about the last month of Blockbuster than I am about this. Do I have some good memories? Sure, but the last of those good memories is during the ROTS summer. Over 8 years ago.

    The toy business has really shifted gears and (for better or worse) is no longer the main focus of kids. I wish that were not the case, but you can’t really wish your childhood on to the next generation, can you?

    What did Anakin’s mom say in that dreadful prequel ~ “You can’t stop change any more than you can stop the suns from setting.”

  6. My issue with TRU has been that they HATE to clearance anything – old stuff stays around for what seems like forever. My TRU was still trying to sell the Star Trek toys from the first reboot movie until this fall.

    And for some reason, if I do get a coupon in the mail, it seems to expire exactly before I see something I want to buy.

    I agree that we need it though, sometimes the jacked-up prices allow me to find stuff that’s gone at Walmart and Target, and I make up for the higher cost in time and gas money.

  7. One thing I know that will kill some business for tru is the fact that the next generation of consoles have the ability to sale their games through download. that kills their video game revenue which they have been counting on for the last few years.

    I love the fact that they carried toys others didn’t. I got my Thor figures there this year and my nfl figures that my Walmart and target stopped carrying. But if they don’t make an better effort to stay more relevant, have A better online presence and better pricing, then it doesn’t look good for them.

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