“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.