9 years ago, shortly after Christmas, our dog Maxi ate my daughter’s American Girl doll.
(Maxi was the best dog EVER and good looking too. RIP)
At that point I knew that TRU was going down…. Now you may be thinking, what does one thing have to do with another?…My Answer - A LOT!!! And I’ll get to that but let me take you down memory lane first.
If you grew up in the 80’s you likely saw this commercial on the TV quite often around the holidays.
Let’s face it, for many years TRU was the store to go to as a kid. Whenever I had the opportunity to go (which wasn’t often- btw) it was a treat! As a kid I remember running right over to the girl's section where all the dolls were. I was in cabbage patch and barbie doll heaven. Played with some of them yet never took them home, but it was an opportunity for my grandmother to discreetly see what I liked so that she could buy it for me for Christmas.
As an adult with my own children TRU was one of the places I frequented for birthdays & holiday shopping. I was a bargain shopper and when my kids were younger, I’d toggle between TRU & KBtoys (remember them).
In the early 2000s, when time became scarce and ascending the corporate ladder was a priority, online ordering gave me back time that I would’ve spent had I physically gone to the store. When TRU partnered with Amazon, I distinctly remember ordering from TRU and being redirected to Amazon's website (I thought nothing of it back then). As my children got older my options became a bit broader so I added Walmart and Target to the mix. When you factor in the competitive prices available, my need to venture into TRU dwindled.
So what does my dog Maxi have to do with TRU’s demise? Here’s how:
The telltale sign for me was 9 years ago when I was doing some Xmas shopping for my youngest who was 4 years old at the time. I was looking to get her an American Girl doll and quite honestly was grimacing at the price...100+ dollars for a damn doll!!!! I couldn’t believe it...I scoured the internet for a bargain price and couldn’t find many discounts. I was just about to pull the trigger but decided to hold off a little while longer. I needed a break so I logged onto Facebook, started scrolling through my timeline and BOOM an ad for American Girl with a discount, albeit small was staring back at me… (there’s those FB ads at work). So I pulled the trigger and got her the doll.
When it came in the mail, I wrapped it up and put it in my hiding place till xmas eve. Fast forward it’s weeks later, on black friday (yup I used to be down for all the BF nonsense back then, today you wouldn't catch me in any store- but I digress), I scour the papers for any last minute deals that might be worth it… and at the time Target had a doorbuster special for iPods- I don’t remember the exact price but I do remember it being a substantial discount from the original cost, plus they offered a $50 target card. Now mind you, my shopping was done for all of the kids, this is me just being excessive, I’ll admit it. Did the kids need it? No, but was it a good deal? Yes. So I got 2.
Fast forward weeks later to Xmas day- all of the kids open up the gifts. I held the iPods for last. Finally handed them over and my 4 and 6 year old started to play with them. A few hours pass--they are still at it, discovering one new feature after another. A few more hours-- still at it. This went on for the most part the entire time that they were home during the holiday break. What happened to the American girl doll? Well my daughter played with it once or twice- left it on her bed and our dog Maxi took a liking to it and not in a good way. Let’s just say that that was the most expensive dog toy that I ever bought. Needless to say- $100+ down the drain in less than 10 mins.
And what did I learned from this? I could’ve saved all my damn money and made it an Apple Xmas for the kids!!!!! Technology ruled that year!! And the year after, and the year after and it’s still reigns supreme! I learned my lesson quick so I didn’t have the same issue the following years when it came to holiday shopping. So if I saw this coming, how come TRU couldn’t pivot and make the shift in their approach to what they offer and how they market themselves?
Some would argue that they tried but they were captivated by debt. Others argued that it was a bunch of bad acquisitions and poor deals. So was it debt, lack of innovation or a combination of both? One can say that they incurred debt because they lacked innovation. Twenty years ago when they started selling through Amazon that could’ve been their oppty to offload the traditional toys and create more experiences for children. When you think about it at its core- was TRU’s mission really about selling toys or creating an experience for kids?
Kids today are not the same as the kids from 10, 20 or even 30 years ago. I’m sure every generation says this and they are absolutely right. Each generation is different with different wants and needs. Sure even 30 years ago there was some element of technology infused in gaming systems-- with Commodore 64 and Atari -but we still played outside more.
The attention span for kids these days is about 5 seconds. Gone are the days of freeze tag & red light green light 123. Welcome online games that are played with their phones, computers and tablets. I bet you can’t even find chicks jumping double dutch or fellas playing a game of football in the street. It simply doesn’t happen as much anymore.
Armed with this info, TRU could’ve revamped their stores to include more technology. They could’ve established virtual reality areas, laser tag sessions or even video gaming and legoland centers where kids could have competitions, that’s just the tip of the iceberg there’s a whole host of other things that they could’ve done, but failed to do. Instead they held fast to selling toys, neglected to evolve with the times and adapt to the change that had been going on within their target demographic.
So what’s the lesson?
Whether you’re employed by a company or an entrepreneur, you’re ability to foresee the wants and needs of your target market is very important. When you can offer a product / service that’s innovative and addresses their needs coupled with a solid marketing plan well that makes for a solid stream of revenue. Yet, when you lack innovation and refuse to evolve you’re dead in the water.
RIP Toys R Us, make sure you let Maxi in so she can eat all the dolls she wants. She was an amazing dog.