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This past June, when the last Toys "R" Us stores closed, retail analysts—along with many, many "regular" people across the country—lamented what was the end of an era. There was a general consensus that this was not just another corporate bankruptcy. It was the death of American retail icon, one that had changed the toy industry and had been the "go-to" place for toys (until it wasn't)—more than any other major retail chain that had closed in recent years.
Yes, we've recently seen a lot of big brand name big box retailers like Circuit City, Radio Shack, The Limited, Wet Seal, Bon-Ton, and more close down all their stores, and the future prospects for huge, household name chains such as Sears, J.C. Penney, Pier 1, and several others, appear to be on life support—at best. But this closing felt different. Indeed, the demise of Toys "R" Us seemed to be much more than just another corporate failure. It was an "event." It was a milestone—not just in retailing, but in people's lives.
The end of Toys "R" Us seemed to really tug at people's emotions, evoking more sadness than excitement at the ever-growing discounts and ever-shrinking merchandise remaining on the store shelves.
When the lights went out for the last time at the last of the chain's stores, there seemed to be genuine sense that this was truly a change from the way things had been to an uncertain future—with Amazon and Walmart controlling the high ground. With Toys "R" Us gone, the toy store would be consigned to the veritable—and growing—"ash heap of history," taking its place alongside many seemingly staples of modern life that no longer existed.
The indelible image that went viral on social media at the end was that of the chain's mascot, Geoffrey the Giraffe, standing in a closed, empty Toys "R" Us store, with his bag packed and ready to head into retirement. The image went viral precisely because of the real emotional connection people far and wide felt with the Toys "R" Us brand. The toy shopping experience, with all its good—and bad—memories for recent generations of parents, grandparents and kids, would be changed forever—or so it seemed.
"I'll always remember Toys 'R' Us as the store where my children had a complete and total meltdown each and every time we went there."—Jimmy Kimmel
Jimmy Kimmel: Geoffrey the Giraffe Despondent over Toys "R" Us Closing
As described in the video below, there were a multitude of reasons behind the ultimate failure of Toys "R" Us. Case studies will be written on how this once dominant retailer failed to adequately adapt to changes in consumer tastes, technology, shopping patters, and yes, the online environment. And it seemed that the Toys "R" Us story had entered its final chapter, with the only thing being left being for the lawyers to settle the affairs of the dead corporation.
CNBC on "The Rise and Fall of Toys R Us"
Indeed, with its stores closed, its inventory and physical assets gone, an auction was scheduled to be hold in October 2018 of the last remaining remnants of the once huge retailer, namely its intellectual property assets—its names (both Toys "R" Us and Babies "R" Us), its website domains, its logo, and even Geoffrey the Giraffe. And yet, there's now been a twist in the story—one that may mean new life for this iconic American brand.
However, the auction was cancelled just the day before it was scheduled to take place, as the company's debtholders agreed to accept a plan for reorganizing the company. This plan that may in fact revive both the Toys "R" Us and Babies "R" Us names—perhaps even leading to new, physical stores.
To say that no one saw this coming would be an understatement! However, when you think about the very strong connection that people have not just with the Toys "R" Us brand, but with the idea of a toy store as a shopping destination, this makes perfect strategic sense. Had the company supervising the firm's bankruptcy not sought to somehow revive the iconic brand, it is very likely that somewhere down the road, the buyers of the firm's remaining intellectual property assets at auction would have pursued some sort of brand revival in the not so distant future. However, the fact that it is the company itself—and the holders of its debt (who do hold all the cards in a bankruptcy) are doing so means that they believe that there is more to be gained through doing this themselves, rather than simply selling off the logo, the domains, and yes, Geoffrey, that would enable others to do so.
And so, we may have indeed not seen the last of one of America's most iconic brands and its most recognizable corporate mascots. Whether this move pays off will remain to be seen. However, the very fact that what remains of the Toys "R" Us might just be positioned for a comeback is testament to the power that consumers find by being able to connect with companies not just on a transactional level, but a personal, felt one as well. Will Geoffrey the Giraffe fade into the sunset? That is not certain anymore by any stretch of a kid's—or an adult's—imagination.
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