On this week's episode of the Power Kid Podcast, the featured guest is a familiar one... me. Each week, toy industry veteran Phil Albritton interviews amazing people making amazing things for kids. Toys, games, books, media - he covers it all in the only podcast dedicated to the modern children's entertainment industry. Phil and I had connected over on LinkedIn, and one big question he had was how my career trajectory took me from covering horror movies and entertainment for FANGORIA to penning columns for Sprout Channel's late Sprout Parents site. On the show I explain how all that happened, and discuss a bit of my backstory, from working in retail 20 years ago to entering the world of film & tv to winding up here, covering toys and pop culture for the likes of The Toy Insider, Toy Book and The Pop Insider. We also discuss my deep-dive into the collapse of Toys "R" Us, and close things out with some words about raising kids and parenting in the "gig economy" - where success today is still staring-down an uncertain tomorrow. Check it out on Stitcher, iTunes or in the player below!
As the remains of Toys "R" Us continue to be sold off for scrap here in the U.S., our neighbors to the north have a much brighter picture... the sale of Toys "R" Us Canada to Fairfax Holdings Limited. The sale keeps the iconic Toys "R" Us brand alive in Canada, along with Geoffrey the Giraffe and Babies "R" Us. TRU Canada is now an entirely Canadian-owned and operated business employing more than 4,000 Canadians as the only exclusive coast-to-coast business with over 80 locations dedicated to kids and babies.
The Toys "R" Us saga gets bleaker by the day, and if it's not crystal clear at this point, "saving" the U.S. operations of the company was never in the cards. As I've been saying for awhile, the endgame is that Toys "R" Us as we've known it for the past 70 years is over. The name will eventually live on in a new form as a complete reboot much like we're seeing happen with FAO Schwarz and KB Toys. As for who will own it, that's still a mystery, though as I reported earlier this month, there are people interested - including a group that has the involvement of former TRU CEO Jerry Storch. One player that's out is MGA Entertainment's Issac Larian, who tweeted his disappointment after his repeated attempts at salvaging parts of the company were shot down.
Monday, May 14, 2018 marked the end for many employees working at the Toys "R" Us Global Resource Center in Wayne, New Jersey. While "several hundred" staffers are said to have stayed on as the wind-down of the U.S. businesses continues, there's the "highly unusual" early exit of many top executives, including Chairman and CEO David A. Brandon. "Unusual" seems to be the key word as this story just gets weirder... could former CEO Jerry Storch want back in on the Toys "R" Us action?
As the final wind-down of U.S. operations for Toys "R" Us continues, it should be crystal clear by now that saving the business and its 33,000+ workers was just not a real priority. If it was, the company and its lenders and ownership would've found some way to make it happen, but we knew as early as the beginning of February that Bain Capital was pushing for a full liquidation - and that's exactly what they got. The private equity industry is a scummy bunch, and when it comes to representation, that's even clear in their own lobbying organization, the American Investment Council, which softened its name over the years from the more ominous "Private Equity Growth Capital Council" and "Private Equity Council" to become the AIC. While these groups have powerful representation, it's the American worker that gets caught in the crossfire during leveraged buyouts and their eventual collapse, and in retail this is a group who is typically under-represented (I do not believe that Unions are the answer, but that's a lengthier story for another time). Retail workers - both hourly and salaried management included - are generally underpaid and lack any long-term benefits. In a situation like what's happened with Toys "R" Us, you have the people who've been doing the real work - the ones out there on the front lines - facing unemployment with no severance as they have to deal with the general public and the sad position of closing up shop. Meanwhile, you have Chairman, CEO and LinkedIn Enthusiast David A. Brandon still kicking around the increasingly ghostly halls of Toys "R" Us HQ in Wayne, NJ, having to ride things out until the very end as part of the terms of the $2.8M retention bonus he took in September of 2017, just days prior to the company filing bankruptcy. Today, a group of Toys "R" Us employees met with Senator Bernie Sanders in Washington D.C., later marching alongside representatives from The Center for Popular Democracy and Rise Up Retail as they took to the AIC in protest of private equity destruction at the hands of Bain Captial, Kohlberg Kravis Roberts and Vornado Realty Trust. Watch the video below...
At The Toy Association's PlayCon in San Francisco, Ellia Kassoff, head of Strategic Marks, LLC, addressed toymakers and others about the plans for resurrecting the KB Toys brand in malls around the country. First announced back in March (with an update here), KB Toys will return as a new retailer rooted in nostalgia - and the plan is to do it starting with pop-up shops this coming holiday season. Prior to being destroyed by Bain Capital Partners (who also killed Toys "R" Us), KB operated under many variations of their name, including K•B Toys, K•B Toys Outlet, K•B Toy Works and Kay-Bee Toys between 1922 and 2009. With Toys "R" Us currently in the final processes of winding-down operations in the United States, the biggest question is how, exactly, will Strategic Marks be able to pull this off - and how it's going to be done in time for this year's holiday season. Today, Kassoff offered up answers - some of which came directly from members of the audience.