Richard Barry has spent practically his whole professional career at Toys R Us, so it is perhaps no surprise that he still sees life in the bankrupt toy seller.
The former Toys R Us merchandising executive started working at a company store in Wales in 1985 at the tender age of 18, pushing shopping carts and working checkout lines. More than three decades later, Barry is now leading an effort to revive Toys R Us in time for the holidays
"We love the brand, we love the company and I love the toy industry," said Barry, CEO of Tru Kids Brands, a company formed earlier this year that owns the trademarks, brand and other assets of Toys R Us and sister store Babies R Us.
Barry will need more than love to revive the company, of course — he'll need a solid business model. When Toys R Us collapsed last year, it was swamped by billions of dollars in debt and had lost the battle with retail industry powerhouses like Amazon and Walmart.
Although Barry won't elaborate on what his team sees as the next chapter for Toys R Us, one thing is clear — it will be much smaller. Instead of 40,000 square-foot stores, any new locations could be closer to 10,000 square feet. A premium will also be put on the customer experience. That means no more aisles piled high with products and instead center on pleasant spaces that encourage play. And naturally, e-commerce will play a large role.
But Barry is convinced the commercial opportunity is there. "The love of the brand, the consumer sentiment and the fact that there's an untapped need in the market that hasn't been fulfilled led to me wanting to bring this business back."
In 2018, Toys R Us generated $3 billion in global retail sales. Tru Kids estimates that up to half of that market share remains up for grabs, even with retailers like Walmart and Target expanding their toy aisles.
"In every case, we hear stories of consumers saying the holiday season without Toys R Us left a significant hole in the marketplace," he said.
Under new management
When Toys R Us filed for bankruptcy in 2017 and liquidated its U.S. businesses last year, it seemed to go the same way as Sears, yielding to years of competition from Amazon and several billions of dollars of debt.
In October last year, however, a holding company called Geoffrey LLC won an auction for Toys R Us' assets. Rather than sell it off for parts, Geoffrey acquired Toys R Us, Babies R Us, and 20 other toy and baby brands. Later that fall it set up Geoffrey's Toy Box pop-up stores in about 600 Kroger stores in nearly 30 states.
As vice chairman for global strategy and execution, Tru Kids tapped Yehuda Shmidman. He's the former CEO of Sequential Brands Group, which oversaw the lifestyle brands Martha Stewart Living and Jessica Simpson Collection. The company filled out its ranks with former Toys R Us execs.
Already meeting vendors
By contrast, the potential rebirth of Toys R Us doesn't mean new jobs for most of the 30,000 former workers who lost their jobs when the company went bust.
Tru Kids said in a news release that it plans to bring "a skilled team of returning Toys R Us employees," while Barry confirmed that former workers with the retailer are now employed at Tru Kids' Parsippany, New Jersey headquarters.
In the meantime, Barry is planning to meet with dozens of vendors this weekend at the New York City Toy Fair, the annual industry trade show.
"We have a clean piece of canvas here, and we're clear about bringing that to fruition in the years ahead," he said.
— The Associate Press contributed to this report