The biggest event in pop culture happens this week, and for the first time ever, I will be making the trip to Comic-Con International in San Diego. After "covering from home" for the better part of a decade across several sites, I'll be appearing as a program participant for a special panel on Saturday, July 21, 2018. I'm a late addition to the lineup for Living in a Post-Toys 'R' Us World: Navigating the Future of Toy Retail. Having written at length about the collapse of Toys 'R' Us, this will be an exciting chance to take part in a discussion about what the future might hold! Details below...
The retail life of Hasbro's Star Wars Forces of Destiny collection has been a strange one. Launched about a year and a half ago, Forces of Destiny hit the scene as a multi-faceted movement consisting of animated shorts on Disney Channel, a full range of "adventure figures" along with books, clothing and more. I've been told from some "folks who asked not to be named" that everything did very well... except for the toys. Very disappointing, since The Rock Daughters love the collection, but on the retail front it may have been too much too soon, with the wrong mix of characters, multiple styles right off the bat (Rey, Leia) and some that kids might not have been familiar enough with (sorry, Jyn Erso). Still, these dolls adventure figures are fantastic, and there is an audience that's been craving more, and that goes for kids and collectors alike. One figure we never found was Chewbacca, but he's back for Comic-Con this year, packed alongside some adorable Porgs for an SDCC exclusive inspired by Star Wars: The Last Jedi. Take a look!
The year was 1980. Charles Lazarus had been crowned "The Toy King," with his retail empire having grown from its modest beginnings as the Children's Bargain Town into a household name as Toys "R" Us. What started in 1948 as a place to buy baby furniture had evolved into a place that kids across the country would dream of - a rainbow-striped paradise of toys and games stacked floor-to-ceiling. His mascot had become an icon, and Geoffrey the Giraffe would soon start a family of his own, with wife Gigi, son Geoffrey Jr. and daughter Baby Gee entering the fold. Of course, a growing family will often prompt a search for a bigger ride, and for Geoffrey that search led a meeting between The Toy King of the East Coast and The King of the Kustomizers on the West Coast - legendary car builder, George Barris. It was time to build "The Geoffreymobile."
The demise of Toys "R" Us has an unexpected upside - other retailers are starting to get more creative and enthusiastic about the business of play. Following rumors of adding an expanded selection of toy offerings in their Party City stores, Party City Holdco Inc. has announced the company’s strategic decision to expand its temporary store offerings through the piloting of approximately 50 new ‘Toy City’ pop-up stores. Party City will launch the new, temporary Toy City locations alongside its Halloween City pop-up stores in select markets across the U.S.
It was almost a month ago exactly when I reported news that Toys "R" Us Australia was entering voluntary administration. Now comes news that the toy store down under will be facing the same fate as its U.S. counterpart, announcing this morning that they will close all 44 Toys "R" Us and Babies "R" Us stores in Australia, resulting in around 700 jobs lost. The first Australian Toys "R" Us opened back in 1993, with the chain gradually expanding nationwide and adding 11 Babies "R" Us locations to the mix. The most recent news in North America finds Canada moving forward at a brisk pace, while more than 115 parties have shown interest in picking up select IP assets from the U.S. operation.
In the interest of full disclosure, GameStop has been a great promotional partner and ally of The Rock Father™ Magazine over the past few years, as has their sister company, ThinkGeek. I feature their content often (I was even wearing ThinkGeek-supplied Marvel High-Tops to the World Premiere of Avengers: Infinity War) and do so not just because of our relationship, but because I'm a fan first and I like their stores. I hope I can continue working with them for a long time to come, but then there's some occasional rumblings... word that things on the business end aren't as sunny as they could be. They're facing some challenges, but I don't think it's beyond fixing - in fact, quite the opposite. They could be on the cusp of an evolution that could set them up for years of success, or they can bow to investor pressure and wind up in a leveraged buyout situation with private equity involved. If GameStop is playing with private equity (which they confirmed this morning), they might add a few extra credits to gain a few more lives temporarily, but the debt they may incur could have them facing a "boss" they can't beat, ultimately leading to a premature "game over."