Now, it's coming back to life.
Before we get into the details, if there are any Bible scholars out there -- or even just people who pride themselves on understanding literary references-- how's this for irony?
The original founder of Toys R Us was named: Charles Lazarus.
And he died just a short while before Toys R Us closed its doors, supposedly forever. You can't make this up, right? Scroll down for a bit more on that.
This might be the most Biblical story I've written since the whole "David vs. Goliath" thing.
Before we get to all that, let's recap and explain the corporate resurrection.
A long and tortured journey.
Tru Kids, which is the name of the consortium of investors that bought the Toys R Us name and other assets out of bankruptcy in late 2018, says it's bringing it back.
It will all start in time for the holidays, but there are three big asterisks:
- First, there are only two stores: one in The Galleria in Houston and one in the Westfield Garden State Plaza in Paramus, New Jersey. (Call it a test, I guess.)
- Second, these will be much smaller stores than the big box behemoths you remember. (Squeezing a Toys R Us into a former Footlocker or Banana Republic or whatever just means a smaller footprint.)
- Finally, and this is probably the biggest one -- although I'm not sure how many consumers will notice -- the business model is very different.
This time around, Toys R Us isn't actually going to be making money, at least directly, on the toys sold within its stores.
"Experiences not things."
Instead, it's using the brand to sell space to other toy makers -- manufacturers, distributors, retailers, whatever you'd like to call them -- so they can sell directly.
They're teaming up with a four-year-old company called b8ta to make this part happen, as the company said in a statement:
"Using b8ta's innovative experiential retail model, brands will showcase their products in an interactive, playground-like environment, creating an entirely new retail experience centered around product discovery and engagement."
I don't know. It sounds a bit weird, like a cross between a giant department store model and some kind of 21st-century, AI-enabled commerce platform.
But give them two points for using the whole "experiences not things" Millennial trope. (Also, I find myself thinking of that old horror story, "The Monkey's Paw.")
Anyway, let's set that aside and hope for the best. I live in New Jersey, so I'll make a point to stop by and check out the new TRU once it launches. More details then.
Before we leave, though, that whole Biblical thing:
I'm sorry: His name was Lazarus?
I've written before about Charles Lazarus. Honestly, he's one of my favorite entrepreneurs, largely because he was an entrepreneur before most people even knew what the word meant.
A World War II veteran, an extremely early technophile, and an entrepreneur in a very elite class, Lazarus was one of just a few CEOs who took their companies from "just a dream" all the way to initial public offering.
I won't rewrite his entire history. I already wrote it.
And yet, here we are. For people who don't get the biblical reference, Lazarus is also the name of a man whom Jesus resurrects from the dead, four days after he has passed away and been entombed.
I'll leave the religion lesson at that. Personally, I'm excited the brand will live on. It's one of the icons.
By the way, if you live in Washington D.C., the original site of Toys R Us is now Madam's Organ bar in the Adams Morgan neighborhood.
Next time you're there, raise a glass to Lazarus, to the toy empire he built, and to the hope that it might live on.