Tuesday, March 20 2018 09:06

An Update on the Return of KB Toys and the Collapse of Toys "R" Us...

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My inbox has been exploding since Sunday, and yes - things are getting weird. Last weekend, THE ROCK FATHER™ Magazine was the first to report on the plans of Strategic Marks, LLC's plan to revive the KB Toys brand in the wake of the Toys "R" Us collapse. The news spread quickly, leading to excitement, speculation, and mostly the question of "how?" Over the past few days, I've exchanged messages with Ellia Kassoff, head of Strategic Marks, who promised more news soon on the launch and how they plan to "revive and rebuild" the once iconic retailer. Now we have a little more insight, and it came from an unexpected source - the New York Post. Turns out, some familiar players in the pop-up game just might be getting in on the action.

Kassoff told The Post that he's been in talks with Go! Retail Group, Spencer Spirit Holdings and Party City "to provide the real estate" that would allow KB Toys to return to malls as seasonal pop-up stores just before the holiday rush. “My original idea for the KB brand was to relaunch it online, but everything changed when Toys R Us said it would liquidate its 730 stores," Kassoff told The Post. The accelerated relaunch of KB Toys became public via a series of posts on Kassoff's LinkedIn profile

As for how the KB Toys name came to rest with Strategic Marks, LLC, they did indeed file for a trademark on the name "KB Toys" back in 2016, following their pattern of acquiring dormant marks ripe for revival. 

As I noted in my earlier report, what brings this entire story full-circle is that the original KB Toys fell victim to the same vultures at Bain Capital, who loaded that company with debt and killed it in the same way that they've destroyed Toys "R" Us. Then, in 2009, Toys "R" Us acquired the KB portfolio of trademarks from Streambank, LLC for just over $2M, taking over the domain names and later using the KB Toys name on a series of budget-priced toys and games labeled as K•B Classics. Along the way, KB had many variations of their name, including K•B Toys, K•B Toys Outlet, K•B Toy Works and Kay-Bee Toys. I'm curious to see if Toys "R" Us still considers any of those to be assets in their liquidation, as I was able to find that KBToys.com, KBToyWorks.com and KBKids.com are all still owned by Toys "R" Us and pointed to the TRU.com server (although unresponsive).

Vintage Kay-Bee Toys Ad

It will be interesting to see how the KB comeback shapes up, as another chapter in the fascinating saga of the toy industry in 2018 unfolds. The aforementioned potential partners for bringing KB Toys back to malls are well-versed in that space, so it's a good move to team-up with those who have experience. Party City was already planning to expand their toy offerings this year, while Spencer's Spirit Halloween had been flipping over to toy stores called ToyZam! during the holiday season in recent years. Go! Retail has been rapidly expanding their calendar pop-ups to be toy & game stores during the holidays, but my concern there has always been price and selection. Having visited a few of their locations last year, they're still fresh in my mind as having slightly dated product and above-average pricing, and that's not a good pairing in relaunching a brand. KB Toys was always known for great deals and unexpected finds. Their famed price tags with the red strike-through are still discussed fondly today, and while much of their business was walk-by traffic from families, they were able to attract collectors with a unique assortment of exclusive product that you couldn't find elsewhere.

In the meantime, things are getting ugly in the Toys "R" Us case (docs available here), as more and more vendors file objection to the wind-down motion. While the full liquidation has not yet been approved by the court as of this writing (there is another hearing scheduled for 2pm ET today - 3/20/2018), sources I've spoken to under the condition of anonymity have confirmed that the wheels are in motion to get the warehouses purged and the stores shut down. On Sunday, stores were instructed to post cancellation notices for all upcoming events, and on Monday they began hiring temporary help for a "60-90 day wind-down," including freight handlers to accept store-bound shipments as the warehouses are cleared. It's a sad situation with thousands of jobs hanging in limbo, and now there's straight-up anger showing up as vendors want to either get paid or get their merchandise back through "reclamation."

As Geoffrey the Giraffe weeps, the KB Toy Solider readies to march back into battle. I'd like to think that somewhere, Peter Panda is lacing up his roller skates and getting ready to say "Hey guys! Remember me?"

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James Zahn

James Zahn is best-known as The Rock Father™, a media personality, commentator, adventurer and raconteur. He is the Owner, Publisher, and Editor-in-Chief of THE ROCK FATHER™ Magazine. In January, 2019, after nearly a decade of publishing The Rock Father™ Magazine, he joined Adventure Media and Events as Senior Editor of The Toy Book—the leading trade publication for the toy industry since 1984, as well as The Pop Insider — a destination for all things pop culture, and The Toy Insider — the leading consumer guide for toys and games. He is also editor of The Toy Report, a weekly newsletter published by The Toy Book each Thursday. Zahn has over 27 years of experience in the entertainment, retail and publishing industries.

He regularly serves as a Brand Ambassador and spokesperson for several Globally-recognized pop culture and lifestyle brands in addition to consulting for a number of toy manufacturers. 

Creatively, James has directed/edited music videos, lyric videos, and album trailers for bands such as FEAR FACTORY, has appeared as an actor in feature films and commercials, written comic books, and performed in bands. He currently serves as an artist manager and video director for PRODUCT OF HATE, whose debut album was released by Napalm Records in 2016, distributed by ADA/Warner Music in the U.S. with Universal Music handling global. A new album has been completed and is set for release this year.

Zahn and/or his work have been featured in/on CNN, NBC, ABC, WGN, CBS, GCTN, G4, The Chicago Tribune, Forbes, MarketWatch, Reuters, BusinessWire, Fangoria, Starlog and more. He's appeared as a music expert on CNN's AC360 alongside Anderson Cooper, and has been interviewed by Larry King. In the past he served as a writer for the Netflix Stream Team,  Fandango Family and PBS KIDS, penned articles for Sprout and PopSugar, and was a contributor to Chicago Parent.

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