The beginning of an end of an era for Toys `R' Us and baby boomers

August 12, 2004|By Susan Reimer | Susan Reimer,SUN STAFF

It looks as if Toys "R" Us "R" no more.

Or will be soon.

The company announced yesterday that it was considering splitting off the more successful baby products division - Babies "R" Us - and selling the moribund toy division.

Truly, this is the beginning of the end of an era.

Toys "R" Us was the first toy super-store. It opened in 1957 and rode the crest of the birthrate for years.

Who among us has not stood in long lines that formed at dawn to purchase this season's hot toy: Cabbage Patch Kids or Tickle Me Elmo?

Raise your hand if you have not dashed in for the last-minute birthday gift en route to the party?

(I remember buying paper, ribbon and tape, too, and wrapping the gift on the back seat of the station wagon.)

And there were the midnight Christmas shopping trips, conducted under the nodding head of the Toys "R" Us mascot, Geoffrey the Giraffe, that began after hubby came home and the kids were in bed.

The challenge was to do your children, and the other children on your list, in one night and deposit the load at the home of a friendly neighbor.

In our house, Toys "R" Us was the destination for report card rewards and gifts to ease the pain of a shot from the family doctor.

We have enough Legos to build a Trojan horse. Every household in America has at least 20 Barbies, all laying naked on the playroom floor.

I remember when Toys "R" Us started a kids' gift registry, complete with bar code scanners made for tiny hands. While everyone else was suitably appalled at the development, I remember wishing I'd thought of it.

Every mode of transportation ever employed by my children came from Toys "R" Us, from Snugglies to umbrella strollers to bikes ("some assembly required.")

Wouldn't a Toys "R" Us driver's education program have been a genius business move?

I've purchased footed sleepers and in-line skates there. Chewable books and educational computer games.

At least we will be given time to pay our last respects. Designated Santas everywhere will be relieved to know that the chain, which closed 146 of its Kids "R" Us stores in November, doesn't plan to close any toy stores before Christmas.

It is ironic that this original big-box toy store, which put so many small time toy stores out of business, is being pushed out by even bigger box stores.

Toys are cheap at Target, Wal-Mart, Costco and Sam's Club and you can get the other stuff on your list, too.

Bernard Sands analyst Richard Hastings said he was not surprised that the company was preparing for "a rougher ride."

"The mass market retail toy business remains very volatile and exposed to significant risks," he said.

That includes something called "age compression," which means kids are jumping from stuffed animals to PlayStation 2 so quickly they are skipping Hot Wheels altogether.

Do I share the blame? Is it because I am purchasing none of those things any longer that Toys "R" Us is faltering?

Is this yet another economic phenomenon triggered by the baby boomers?

Our personal baby boom is over, and those kids are leaving for college. Is it possible there are no little ones left to throw tantrums for toys?

Or perhaps Toys "R" Us is just another stand-alone store fallen victim to our time-crunched need for one-stop shopping.

Wal-Mart passed it in toy sales several years ago and Toys "R" Us reported declining revenues in 2001 for the first time in a decade, and I am probably the reason.

I need a birthday present for a child, but I also need 24 rolls of toilet paper and a 3-gallon jug of cranberry juice, so I'll take my chances with Sam's Club, even if it doesn't have today's hot toy.

Sorry, Geoffrey. I never meant to put you out of work. But the toy biz is a jungle.

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