The sad closing of a beloved retailer can be pinned on a number of factors, but here is one theory that everyone has overlooked.
This past week saw the sad end to the slow, lingering demise of one of the most beloved retailers of our generation, Toys “R” Us.
The company announced that it will close all 735 US stores, leaving over 30,000 employees without jobs and effectively ending its 70-year run as America’s favorite toy store — and most expensive playground on earth.
For most, the closure came as no surprise. The company filed bankruptcy in September of last year in order to restructure debt and introduce changes to be more competitive. The advances, which included in-store augmented reality games and children’s playrooms, proved to be ineffective — not to mention a few years too late — in attracting more shoppers from the comforts of their couches this past holiday season.
Most believe it was Walmart and Target, the two leading toy retailers in the US, who slowly and steadily eroded market share from Toys “R” Us. Others believe it was the rise of Amazon and consumers’ move to online shopping that has and continues to be the bain of all traditional retailers.
Other more sophisticated analysts will point to massive debt the company carried as a result of being taken private in 2005, saddling it with over $5 billion and yearly interest payments of over $400 million.
The sad truth is, however, that the reason that Toys “R” Us failed is much less obvious. I believe it was because of the company’s mascot: Geoffrey the giraffe.
Think about it — what do we really know about giraffes? They have abnormally long necks, which figuratively puts their heads in the clouds and literally makes them too tall to have any meaningful relationships. They make almost no sound and are herbivores, typically preyed on by more aggressive hunters like lions, hyenas and Jeff Bezos.
Moreover, according to National Geographic, giraffes spend up to 20 hours a day eating and sleeping as little as five to 30 minutes. How can any marketing mascot be productive and creative with that routine?
Let us also look at TRU’s competitors. Target once boasted Bullseye, a lovable bull terrier with a conveniently placed red target “birthmark” over his left eye. But Bullseye last appeared in 2015 and is reported to be retired and enjoying a life on a ranch without the speculating eyes of investors, according to Globe and Mail.
On the other hand, the closest thing Walmart has to a mascot is a boring, yellow, never-flinching smiley face, which harkens more to the drugs and rock and roll era of the 1960’s than a wholesome family retailer. But here’s the thing — Walmart is Walmart, a force that long ago took the reigns of the nation’s top retailer and can pretty much do what it likes.
And lastly, Amazon. Amazon has no known mascot — unless you count its Dr. Evil-resembling and highly visible founder, Jeff Bezos. More appropriate perhaps is Amazon’s in-home personal assistant, Alexa, which had remarkably found itself in 22 million homes by the end of 2017, according to Forbes.
A personal assistant, I might add, that sits in your house and is constantly listening to every conversation you are having. That sounds more like a villainous piece of spy technology than a mascot.
So, while we all mourn the fall of a retail giant, one that provided countless wonderful memories for generations of Toys “R” Us kids, I hope we don’t overlook the valuable lesson that derived from this sad fall.
Far more critical than adapting to a quickly advancing and globalizing business world, staying ahead of rapidly progressing technology, and understanding the changing preferences and buying habits of new digital generations, you simply need to have a more lovable or maniacal mascot. Take your pick.
What do you think? What other reasons do you believe led to the demise of Toys “R” Us? Share your thoughts with others in the comments below.