Toys ‘R’ Us, looking back and moving forward for LEGO fans [Feature]

It’s been a few weeks since the news of Toys R Us making its exit from the industry in the most unfortunate way—total bankruptcy—after 70 years of operations, and even more heartbreaking to know that founder Charles Lazarus passed a mere week later, knowing that his legacy ended. We’re not here to debate or speculate what went wrong or what could have been done better, as there’s enough of that news out there to feed on. Instead, we wanted to hear from our fans on what it means to us as LEGO hobbyists, and how this may impact us moving forward. Toys R Us (TRU) is remaining open for business in several countries around the world, including Australia and Canada, so we’ve asked a diverse group of readers to join us in providing commentary that’s part retrospective, and part insight into how TRU affects the LEGO hobby, whether closing or continuing operations.

Toys R Us Geoffrey Afraid

Ric Downell AFOLRic Downell, Australia
Profile: Set collector, with occasional MOCs. In the LEGO scene since 2015

On TRU in General
For me personally, TRU will be missed for the Bricktober specials. I’m a minifigure fan and enjoy their varied exclusive specials. Then again the other stores will eventually offer the exclusives, hence it’s not a big deal. Compared to other Toy Stores, they do have the largest range and the overall look and feel is definitely the best. It’s clean, nice, bright and staff that are presentable and friendly.

On Service
With regards to their service, I can’t pre-order my Collectible Minifigure Box whereas the independent stores are more than happy to take my preorders. It has recently changed accepting pre-orders for the latest CMF series, so, looks like I may need to revisit my options.

On the Shopping Experience
I do my shopping and for my nieces and nephews so I do visit TRU for their Hotwheels and Barbie range. I guess kids will miss the most is the “Make and Take” events they sometimes hold.

On Price
Discounts go as low as the other department stores, of up to 20%, or the usual buy 1, get the 2nd piece at half off. I use TRU as my ‘back up store’ as they typically hold larger stocks than regular departmental which many only have section dedicate to toys.

On why TRU is visited less often

These days I visit the LCS (LEGO Certified Stores) more often as they lure me with their “Gift With Purchase” exclusives. I buy my City, Superheroes, Friends and Creators themes from Kmart, as their everyday price is already 20-30% off retail, so I don’t actually have to wait for a sale. Their loyalty programs are also linked to my Shell Petrol (Gas) and Supermarket shopping outlets. The other reason for the LCS visit is they have their seasonal and exclusive sets (i.e Ideas) that you can’t get anywhere else and over and above, the PAB wall that’ll come in handy. So in general it’s almost like a one-stop place to be.

I guess if I had to put a figure to my shopping spread, it’d look like this. 50% – Large discount stores (Kmart, Bing W, Target), 20% Lego Online, 20% LCS (Lego Official Store), 10% Others – consisting of ebay, TRU, and independent stores. I still visit the independent stores for the EOL goods and Bricklink older sets.

On final thoughts
In my opinion, TRU isn’t failing due to LEGO fans — in fact, during a 20% sale, the sections are particularly busy. It’s the other departments such as bicycles or large infant accessories which are putting a heavier burden on them. I rarely see folks shopping in those sections. Then again, I don’t have kids, so I may be wrong.

Toys R Us Geoffrey Kids Facing Front

Matthew Hocker
Matthew Hocker, Pennsylvania, USA
Profile: LEGO Ephemera collector, builder

On the fallout
It’s just sad to see the disappearance of a large toy store that’s been around since I was a kid.
It does not impact me that much that LEGO sets were marked above retail. With the nearest store 30 minutes drive away, there was never a planned visit unless I happened to be in the area. And the TRU that had been closest to me was performing quite poorly and closed down perhaps 3 to 4 years ago. The writing was on the wall. The only reason folks still shopped there was the rewards program, which some of my LUG members were pretty upset about with the current news.

On the shopping experience
There are many other cheaper and better alternatives. Walmart does not have an extensive selection but the prices are retail and reasonable when there are good clearance deals. There are many other online shopping alternatives as well. LEGO Shop@Hope is probably my first resource as it’s retail price and there are good deals and free shipping for anything above $35. I guess to some extent the distance to the nearest TRU was also a deterrence for me to avoid TRU.

On the future
I do hope that another toy store would step up to fill in the TRU experience. We’ve already lost KB Toys and Kiddie City years ago.

Empty shelves in the LEGO department at Toys R Us

Alyssa Rain, Australia
Profile: Builder and Photographer. In the LEGO scene since 2009

On how it all started
So I started buying LEGO for myself in 2009. I was in a department store looking for a toy for a gift for a disadvantaged/poor kid for Christmas. I saw a small LEGO City car, like Emmet’s car in the LEGO movie. I ended up buying gifts for a charity and then also a LEGO car for myself. From then on I’ve been buying LEGO almost every week. In 2010, I discovered LEGO website and Pick A Brick [LEGO’s online à la carte parts service]. It was limited at first. Then we had the Bricks and Pieces [a different online à la carte parts service from LEGO]. So now I probably order parts for MOCs from LEGO every few weeks. I don’t count bricks anymore. But it would be well over 1 million

On TRU in general
I think if I was a kid, it would be more fun going to TRU, but as an adult, they don’t really have much more range than the big department stores. I only went there because I wanted the Old Fishing Store and the other shops had sold out. TRU in Australia is viewed as being expensive by most AFOLs. They usually sell at RRP. If I’m honest, I don’t think it would affect me much at all if they closed. The only thing I’d miss is the Bricktober sets. Even with the sales, their prices aren’t usually that competitive.

On alternate sources
I am very loyal to shops that give good customer service. I usually buy my LEGO at Kmart. The Kmart I go to, there is a girl who is really helpful. She will always go out the back and look for stock for me. Kmart is almost always first for new sets. Big W is a little bit more expensive, but still below the RRP. The problem with Myer (I think) is that it’s expensive. The customer service isn’t that great. They often are out of stock for LEGO and other items. In general, most customers would say that Myer is not what it used to be like. I actually think Myer is more likely to close down or go into liquidation before Toys R Us in Australia does. TRU in Australia are in areas where there are lots of families. They also cater to AFOLs. They put a set on hold for me. When I went into the store, the staff were happy. I had 3 different staff ask if I needed help. In comparison, Myer doesn’t seem to listen to its customers.

On final thoughts
So I think, if TRU did close down, I probably wouldn’t notice it much. I’d be more worried for the staff who lost their jobs.

Toys R Us Stores Around the Regions

Jean TanJean Tan, Singapore
Profile: Set collector, with the occasional MOCs. In the LEGO scene since 2015

What will be missed the most
The TRU brand is going to be missed more for nostalgic reasons if it closes in this part of the world. It’s more about walking through all the toy sections and enjoying the large selection they have.

On shopping at TRU
I only shop at TRU when there’s a sale or need to claim my TRU points. I typically only shop enough to get about a USD 15 voucher a year. And typically they don’t really have the best prices, so its just really one less place to enjoy the shopping experience. I only worry a little for their exclusive sets, of which I’m sure will all end up in LCS (LEGO Official Stores) anyway.

On Price
The discounts go at best 30% with Credit Card promotions tie in. And only the 3 for the price of 2 promotions makes it worth. There point system is quite mediocre, its just more for loyalty, where once you start buying I tend to want to go back not to lose those points.

On non-LEGO
Yes, I do go to TRU for the non-LEGO items like board games and Paw Patrol, especially Nerf guns and bullets. Those products are at retail price everywhere, so I’d rather earn points at TRU instead.

Toys R Us, In StoreToys R’ Us Store with empty shelves, Photo Source: Steven Kelley

On moving on
I personally don’t think their service here is outstanding or gotten any better for me to miss it a lot.

Jennifer LeeJennifer Lee, Malaysia
Profile: Active LUG Builder, in the LEGO Scene since 2015

On what it means if TRU closes
It’s going to save me money! Woohoo!! Jokes aside, it does not affect me at all. What will affect me if Bricklink closes down, that’s going to be game over to my MOCing days.

On reasons to head to TRU
Before I got very focussed into LEGO building, I’d get my other general toys from TRU, such as Play-Doh, etc. But I feel that these days there are many more educational toys available online, and they’re more focused on learning as opposed to entertainment and distraction to my kids. And even Play-Doh is now available at less prominent stores so there’s very little reason for me to visit TRU.

On where you get your LEGO
If there’s a need, there are many online sites with free shipping. Why should I queue when it can be delivered to me?

Kevin HyattKevin Hyatt, Sheffield, UK
Profile: Chairman at Sheffield LUG. In the LEGO scene since 2013

On how it’ll affect purchases
I can’t remember the last time I or anyone I know bought LEGO from TRU. Prices are RRP or higher, sales and offers are poor. The only reasons to head there was for retailer exclusives

On non-LEGO needs
I’d bring my boys for Christmas or birthdays but other retailers like Smyths has better range and prices and The Entertainer has a decent range, good prices and excellent services

On TRU exiting the scene
It’s a shame to see a big store go and people lose their jobs, but it’s not going to be a problem for getting toys in this area anyway. I usually get my LEGO fix from Brand Retail stores in Meadowhall, and even clearance stuff in supermarkets or 3 for 3 offers at Argos

Toys R Us Geoffrey Kids Facing Back Black

Chris Malloy, Washington, USA
Profile: Managing Editor of The Brothers Brick, former TRU employee. In the LEGO scene since 1992

On TRU in General
Toys R Us was a retail giant, and the last major chain that specialized in toys. With TRU gone, there is no other large retail venue that caters solely to the kid in all of us. I worked for TRU for several years, and while the job had all the usual ups and downs of any retail establishment, I largely enjoyed it and I’m sad to see it go. However, I don’t think the loss will be felt too hard by LEGO fans. It’s more likely to impact kids whose parents and grandparents viewed TRU as the one-stop-shop for Christmas and birthday shopping. As a LEGO fan, however, even while working there I rarely considered TRU to be my go-to spot for purchasing LEGO.

On Service
Both as a former employee and as a customer, I never found the service to be exceptional. If that sounds cynical, hear me out. Where I worked, the employees were fantastic people who loved helping customers and providing them the best experience possible (though I understand that like most low-wage retail, that’s highly variable depending on location). But importantly, there’s simply no way that an average employee in a retail chain as large as TRU can have any sort of in-depth knowledge about most of the products they sold. I happened to know LEGO inside-and-out, but couldn’t tell you the first thing about Power Wheels or My Little Pony unless it was written on the box. Official LEGO stores, which have become increasingly common, will naturally be able to provide a much better customer experience in this regard, as their employees can focus on a much smaller pool of products.

On the Shopping Experience
The one area where TRU excelled was in selection. TRU carried a huge swath of LEGO’s current lineup, far exceeding any other retailer except for LEGO itself. And of course, TRU negotiated exclusive sets for itself every year that not even LEGO carried, the infamous Bricktober sets being a prime example. I have mixed feelings about these, as the prices for them has crept up over the past decade to where you often had to spend ridiculous amounts of money to qualify for all the sets. But to the original point, TRU was a great venue to find the Hard-to-Find LEGO sets such as Ultimate Collectors Series Star Wars sets or large Technic kits.

On Price
OK, we all know that TRU had high prices. Their saving grace for the savvy buyer was that they frequently had sales which brought prices down to at or below MSRP. Still, because of the high prices, I rarely began my LEGO shopping there, and turned to TRU only as lesser option.

On final thoughts
More competition is nearly always a good thing, and having more retailers vying for customers’ attention and money for LEGO products can only benefit us as consumers. However, I don’t think the loss of TRUwill impact LEGO buyers all that much. I didn’t know many people who bought large volumes of sets at TRU like they’re prone to do with other, cheaper retailers. The biggest loss will be their exclusive promotional items, which were usually quite cool despite my dislike of exclusives. Somewhere out there on a designer’s desk in Billund are the plans for Bricktober 2018 sets. I can only hope that they’ll be discovered somewhere down the road and trotted out for another retailer—or better yet, revealed online for free.

Toys R Us Geoffrey Discarded

In Conclusion
There seems to be a common theme with feedback from different parts of the world – while most have nostalgic ties to Toys R Us and worry for the well being of staff eventually, it won’t be dearly missed as a go-to outlet for LEGO. Bricktober did come up in a few instances and looks like these specials are something that AFOLs really look forward to. One thing we do know, LEGO fans will not be short of any alternative sources which offer better costs and even service satisfaction.

As they say, all good things must come to an end. Will you miss Toys R Us? Let us know what you think in the comments below.

Footnotes:

  • While Toys R Us has announced broad store closures, this has only been confirmed for their US and European operations. The other remaining corporate regions — Africa, Asia, and Oceania (Australia & New Zealand) — maintain that they are separate legal entities or privately owned and are in a good financial position to carry on business as usual.
  • Store numbers are cited from CNN Money and other news websites.

19 comments on “Toys ‘R’ Us, looking back and moving forward for LEGO fans [Feature]

  1. Graeme Straughn

    As far as nostalgia, I have zero ties with TRU. Coming from slightly lower middle class family, TRU was always a little too pricey. The few times I got sets there, I usually regretted it, once seeing a markdown somewhere else. I’m cool to wait a couple days to get an Amazon Prime set for 20% off, rather than paying the extra 5% to get it at TRU. As a former Target employee and pretty devoted shopper, I’ve found they have a wide and generally reasonable priced LEGO selection that rivaled my local TRU. Between my great local Target and family’s Amazon Prime membership, I’m honestly not too sad to see TRU go.

  2. Håkan

    Not to mock the dead, but has there been any official statements about Charles Lazarus “knowing that his legacy ended”? He was 94, and it remains uncertain about how much he actually understood about what happened to his business currently.

    Also, I’m from Sweden, and TRU has never been a major player here. There are occasional franchising stores, but the biggest chain here is BR Toys. (Although when looking things up, it seems both BR Toys and franchised TRU stores are owned by the Danish holding company Top-Toy.)

  3. Håkan

    Also, it doesn’t seem TRU here in Scandinavia is doing too bad, but considering the holding (or mother) company is the same, if it’d be impossible to franchise the brand when the American company goes bankrupt, it’d probably not be too difficult to rebrand the old stores into BR Toys, and pretty much continue to sell the same stock to the same prices…

  4. Suzanne

    TRU is how I got back into Lego. I discovered the minifigure blind bags and other polybag sets there. At the time it was all I could afford, so for that reason I am sad to see TRU go. However, I don’t buy regular sets there. It’s always too expensive.

  5. Rick

    I went by the local TRU on Saturday, thinking I could check out the discounts for their bankruptcy closeout sales. Signs at the door proclaim, “Up to 30% off!” In the Lego section, most shelves were still full. Much smaller signs say “5% off Lego products”. I have to agree with the sentiment captured across the different posts shared here about prices often being at RRP or above, so sales help when they come around. At least locally, their “closeout” sale hasn’t reached a point where I could justify purchasing any Lego products.

  6. Michael Wolf

    Toys R Us did me no favors as a Lego Fan other than having prices so high that I could often find older sets there long after they had sold out in MSRP stores. My most amazing TRU memory will always be walking into Toys R Us the morning of their big closeout sale with shelves loaded with 30% off Merchandise, turning the corner and finding 200 Lego Star Wars action figures and empty shelves for as far as the eye could see. Toys R US had cleaned out their LEGO inventory to a reseller rather than sell to the public at 30% off. They did the same with a handful of other popular toy lines but the gutted LEGO section highlighted Toys R Us’s commitment to the customer in a single image.

  7. matt rowntRee

    Allow me a moment as a former employee at TRU explain the impact on all us Lego fans by their demise. TRU forced Lego to lower their costs to them through their buying power. As a result, TRU had a profit margin of approximately 80% on all the Lego sold in their stores. That is not a typo, for every dollar spent on Lego 80 cents of that went to Toys R Us. This is the practice that TRU enforced on every manufacturer and is one of the driving reasons as to why Lego franchised stores of their own. This is why Lego would not allow TRU to discount sets into oblivion by going lower than 5%, TLG wants their product back because they know that they will make more profit sold elsewhere.

    The impact of the TRU closings on Lego fans is none whatsoever because most of us have been buying directly from Lego because of VIP points, Bricklink, or at Walmart as a point-of-purchase sale. TRU did this to themselves and have now been forced to reap the benefits of unethical business practices, maltreating employees, and misguided management through baffling business decisions. Mourning the business is not worth a second of anyone’s time when the nostalgia felt is directed at a product we all relate to hidden behind a veil of a place where we “don’t want to grow up.”

    Do not let your love of Lego cloud you understanding of a corporate conglomerate’s malfeasance. Praising Hitler for Volkswagen is missing some important aspects of the bigger picture. It was a business. It was a poorly run business. It was a business that made poor decisions even in reorganization. And it is a business that is no longer here. Hopefully it will be replaced with one that is at least more ethical and appreciative of its employees to the point where they take pride in the workplace to feel like it is not required to receive a tetanus shot before entering the premises. It wasn’t the store that brought anyone back from their dark ages, it was Lego.

    Let Geoffrey pass away without a second thought, offer condolences to the Lazarus family. Charles had a vision worthy of our attention. What it devolved to was just sad. Go buy Lego from the Lego stores or Lego.com. At least you know that all of that profit goes to MORE Lego.

  8. Edwinder Post author

    @matt rowntRee

    Thank you for sharing your insights, thoughts, and knowledge! It is much appreciated! I found it interesting to learn about that 80% number, and I think I finally realise why LEGO in TRU is ABOVE retail in the US. They mandated the 80%, but when they could not squeeze the lemon out of LEGO bricks, they simply had to sell above retail. This finally makes sense to me as I found it awkward all along.

    Interestingly though, this is not the common practice in other parts of the world (i.e Singapore). Prices are on par with LEGO stores but they run their own promos and such, but they seldom get foot traffic unless there are those events and giveaways (i.e Bricktober, Polybag specials). LEGO being smart and only releasing Ideas on their own floor space has also driven audiences and fans away.

  9. Jason Briscoe

    Lets not forget that as TRU expanded in the UK it put many small independent stores out of business. I’m glad its gone. Customer service was terrible and prices sky high.

  10. Reed Yaeger

    As a polybag set collector I liked going to TRU for the polybag sets (Target’s cash register polybag sets the last 2 years have been AWFUL!). I did like shopping at TRU only to see what older sets they might still have on the shelf that I missed or was an exclusive to their store. I avoided the sales at TRU during closing and concentrated on sales at other stores instead.

    As for The LEGO store as an alternative shopping experience, the PAB wall has seen a decline in great piece choices in the last 3-4 years. Only good thing about not having my favorite piece(1×2 Clear Plate) on the wall is I have had to alter the way I build HOPE castle to let it get bigger and better each year. The LEGO store does have a nice variety of sets and the VIP program to keep people coming back.

  11. Legoinsel

    I didn’t know they are closing in Europe. Any sources? Last thing I heard was that they are keeping it running.

  12. Håkan

    @Legoinsel

    Apparently the UK stores would close, but I haven’t heard anything about the stores on the mainland.

  13. legodad42

    When the large TRU closed in Times Square I was surprised at first but then realized after going many times with my kid that most people (if you observed on line at check out) had lower cost items, small items, even at Xmas and in the aisles most people just came in to take pictures, play with the toys there and not buy anything. Also they had a ton of ‘dead’ areas where no customers were. Especially the exit area of NYC trinkets and candy on the first floor. Just wasted space. Most spending seemed to be at the baby section (brisk business all the time) and the Ferris Wheel. Their video game section was in a bad spot too for such popular and higher priced items.
    I’m hoping with the closing someone will swoop in, fill this niche and make a great new toy store, new modern design and layout. Think Apple Store, Lego Store layouts and design. Don’t waste space with candy and giant stuffed animals like the Times Square TRU or FAO Swartz.

  14. Håkan

    @matt rowntRee

    Yeah, I remember when TRU entered the Swedish market in the 90’s (IIRC). Here in Social Democratic Sweden, the big buzzword is “collective labor agreements”, and it was a pretty big deal that TRU lacked them.

  15. matt rowntRee

    @ Edwinder Thank you for letting me peel back the curtain a bit. I know I sent the discussion in an unintended direction. That 80% was prior to the franchise years, after that TRU had to come down a little once TLG recovered after 2003/4. However, TLG began to gain strength to dictate a better percent which essentially helped bump them over Mattel. TRU had a tiger by the tail. And rather than work WITH them to get costs down at the chain, TLG moved into internet sales, Amazon, Walmart (which by then had surpassed TRU as a bigger toy seller), Target, and the Lego stores in a slow and steady growth pattern that proved unbeatable, stable, and less asphyxiating. I’m not sure what percent of total sales were Lego products for TRU, but with other companies like Mattel and Little Tykes getting equally pinched, the complete picture was total desperation which led to the sale of TRU. The firm that bought them were disastrously inept and couldn’t figure out the difference between an asset and a liability. Their reorganization a few years back was pathetic as they refused to close any stores fast enough to stop any self inflicted bleeding. At that point TLG gained more power in their margins. So, it can actually be said that TLG is the power it is today as a direct result of TRU. The irony there is that they got there by TRU being unhelpful and ruthless to them.

    Geoffrey ain’t so cute and cuddly anymore, is he? ;)

  16. Edwinder Post author

    @ matt rowntRee

    Thanks once again for your insights! Once again it makes a lot of sense and explains a lot. I recall reading the Book Brick by Brick by David Robertson and felt that LEGO was a little over reliant on TRU as a whole, but the progress and dependency (or lack thereof eventually) when they moved into Internet sales (Walmart, Amazon, etc) is something I did not connect the dots on.

    May I ask from where did you obtain the Walmart being a larger reseller of toys in general? I’m not questioning you, but wondering if it’s from general observation and also some stats showcased that I missed. (You can tell that I don’t live in the US by now – hence pretty interested in the dynamics of the other physical stores). And I’m also trying to associate that the last promotion from LEGO was the 60th Anniversarry sets which they partnered with Walmart further proves your point that LEGO sees Walmart as partner they can depend more on besides TRU.

  17. matt rowntRee

    Feel free to question, I’m not offended. I’ve had this information shoved into the recesses of my brain for over twenty years and am more than happy to share. However, I don’t have any specifics other than observational experience. I do know that it was back in 1998 that Walmart surpassed TRU in toys sales and I think both Amazon and Walmart have both exceeded TRU online sales over the past couple years. As for the percentages of their margin, that is information that was ONLY known by working within the RTV (return to vendor) department and the TRU policies regarding damaged merchandise. Those are stats that must be kept secret to remain competitive in a retail market. An example: If a product’s packaging was damaged, it was marked down to half MSRP and placed in the clearance section. Policy was for it to stay there for at least a full day before any employees were allowed to purchase it if they wanted to. But if the product did not sell to the customer or an employee, it could be marked down to a percent or two above cost (their math was generally fuzzy but in line with X amount of dollars and 98/97 cents for tracking) and placed out in clearance once again. I purchased 6982 Explorien Starship in 1996 as a clearanced item as described. It retailed for $89.99 US, I paid $19.97 (about 22%) and Toys R Us still made money on the sale (except for other costs such as flooring, operating capital, wages to the employee that knew the system and took the box in back to destroy it and go through all the motions to get his grubby little hands on the set he wanted. ;) )

    As for Walmart’s buying power over Lego and their own margin, I can only assume that TLG went into that deal with a bit more apprehensive control. But, considering the timing of their marriage, I cannot believe that it is much better. Walmart has had its fair share of equally ruthless behavior towards manufacturers and employees, I do not doubt that they treat Lego any less so. And on that note, I feel it necessary to point out that I personally do not harbor any ill will towards TRU in spite of this information and my resulting tone. It’s business, and nothing more; they just managed to fail at it even though they were around for nearly 70 years. Business practices of an almost isolationist big fish in a small pond rule are going to fail when introduced to the world wide market of today. It wasn’t Walmart that killed TRU, it was TRU. We shouldn’t mourn the loss, we should learn from it. Adapting to the rapidly changing economy is the only way to evolve and survive. They didn’t and they went the way of the dinosaur. It happens. And I expect it’ll happen to other big can’t-possibly-fail companies like Sears, Exxon, and Volkswagen for example. And eventually Walmart.

Leave a Reply