As of this morning, the world is waking up to discover the magnitude of Marvel Studios' Avengers: Infinity War. With the biggest opening weekend box office of all time ($258.2M domestic, $640.9M globally), the 19th film in the Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU) officially becomes the biggest superhero opening of all time - simultaneously grabbing the trophy for the biggest individual Saturday and Sunday box office off all time in North America. Capping off the first 10 years of Marvel Studios, the films will have pulled in more than $15B globally by the time Infinity War completes its run and the next five films are already on the way. The success of the studio is a team effort, and one of the people responsible has been there since the beginning - Victoria Alonso, EVP of Physical Production, and Executive Producer of Avengers: Infinity War. Together with Kevin Feige (President) and Louis D'Esposito (Co-President), she's helped shape the MCU into something that fans love and other studios often seek to emulate - overseeing every aspect of production from start to finish. Last week, mere hours after a late night celebrating the World Premiere of Infinity War, I was in the room at Marvel Studios in Burbank for one of the most unusual and enlightening meetings that I've ever been a part of. It was a conversation that for some mirrored the emotional rollercoaster (laughs! tears!) of the film itself - the rules tossed aside not for a rehash of what's been said elsewhere, but for a discussion about parenting, motherhood, and making the world a better place for our kids.
Imagine this... you're the embattled CEO of an iconic American company that is nearing the end of its 70-year history just under three years after you took the top job. You were placed into that position after a much-discussed and controversial run as the Athletic Director of a Big Ten University, during which time you were labeled "villainous", jacked ticket prices for students and families and allegedly retaliated against criticism from fans on a regular basis by attacking them via email - something that led Keith Olbermann to once deem you the "Worst Person in the World." Despite public rallies calling for you to be fired, your resignation and a subsequent book that detailed your epic failure at the college, you left with a $3M severance and were able to find work in 2015 thanks to the generosity of someone you worked for once before... Bain Capital. You see, they were running this toy store that they really wanted to be rid of, so you'd go on to tell the Wall St. Journal just that, and by 2018 you'd be giving your private equity buddies exactly what they wished for all while the public was starting to ask how someone with your experience and reputation could wind up running a toy store.
If you thought it was sad when Toys "R" Us filed a motion to liquidate its remaining U.S. stores, that was just the beginning. The memes circulated quickly with images of a tearful Geoffrey the Giraffe, often accompanied by a viral video of the iconic Toys "R" Us jingle performed "in a minor key" (I'd share it here, but frankly, I just didn't think it was very good). Nearly a week has passed since that motion was filed, with the fate of over 33,000 jobs hanging in the balance. Retail workers on the front lines had to deal with an onslaught of rude customers this past weekend, many fussing over a "lack of sales" at the 735 stores that hadn't already been slated to close. The customer abuse from deal hunters was reported from coast to coast, with some stores placing makeshift signs at their doors and on their store-run Instagram accounts to remind the public that those responsible are not at store level, and to please tread lightly in dealing with workers who will soon be out of a job. On Sunday came word to cancel all upcoming store events... and on Monday the call went out to hire temporary workers to fill 60-90 day positions to assist in purging warehouses and closing stores. The moves were happening without approval from the Bankruptcy Court... but now that approval has been granted. After an 8+ hour hearing on March 20, Judge Keith L. Phillips ruled that Toys "R" Us could proceed with the liquidation plan that they'd filed on March 15. What will take place in the days and weeks ahead is already being called "the largest retail liquidation in U.S. history."
3/20/2018 For an update on this story - click here!
With the recent news that Toys "R" Us has filed for liquidation in the U.S., there's been much discussion on what the future will hold for toymakers, the ever-changing retail landscape, and most importantly - the 33,000+ jobs currently at stake. While some are trying to craft a save that could keep the Toys "R" Us brand afloat in some manner (such as an investment group led by MGA Entertainment's Isaac Larian - just one player in the mix), others are looking to the future by taking pages out of the past. Now things have gotten a little weirder as Ellia Kassoff of Strategic Brands, LLC has entered the fold with a bold claim: "We're going to save the toy industry!" His plan? To resurrect KB Toys.
It was in September of 2017 when the rumblings of a major restructuring really took hold for Toys "R" Us. I offered-up some commentary on one of their owners, Bain Captial, and how I feared that they were positioning Toys "R" Us for a repeat of the fleecing and destruction that they subjected KB Toys to in the early 2000s. A week later, the rumbles became reality as Toys "R" Us filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection. While it was "business-as-usual" for the most part at the actual stores, now that the holiday season is behind us, the dark reality that everyone knew was coming has arrived: store closures. In a statement issued late on Tuesday, Dave Brandon, Chairman & CEO of Toys "R" Us announced that they're pairing down the store list, but he reaffirmed the commitment to making Toys "R" Us a destination for generations to come. One thing not included in the message was the actual store closing list, but that was buried in a court filing from yesterday afternoon. Around 180 stores will be shuttered between February-April, and sadly the Toys "R" Us that I shopped at as a kid is one of the ones about to go, and as an adult I've shopped at four of the eight Illinois locations about to go dark. Of note is that many of the store closings are actually stand-alone Babies "R" Us locations, and it's expected that nearby Toys "R" Us stores will be remodeled to be TRU/BRU combo stores. Here's the local list...
Behind-the-Curtain: Some words about the business...
In the summer of 2016, I made a rare appearance at a conference in New York City - Blogger Bash. The event was a presentation of the team behind The Toy Insider, and at the time I'd just become a member of their Parent Advisory Board and a regular contributor to their publication (read my January 2018 column here!). Paired with Sweet Suite (a must-attend gathering for the toy industry) the event brought together a wide array of media from traditional press to social media influencers and everyone in between. Following breakfast, I was having a conversation with a group who was at first surprised that I was actually able to exist in the physical realm rather than as a voice that lives only within their digital devices (I'd become known as a conference-avoider). Where I'd raised a few eyebrows and turned a few neighboring heads was when I stood there, drink in-hand, and casually made the comment that "you should never use the term 'influencer' in a front-facing manner." When asked why, I said it was "because it can be construed as being condescending to your audience." Two years later, I stand behind that statement, because "influencer" is a behind-the-scenes title that should never be pointed at an audience, and right now that's more important than ever.