Toys were us: A fond farewell from the industry to a fun friend

As Toys R Us bows out of UK retail, MD and CEO of Click Distribution, Mark Hiller, bids the firm a fond farewell.
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The news that Toys R Us’ UK business went into administration recently came to no surprise to any of us. It was however, a sad day for the whole of the toy industry.

I first started a trading relationship with Toys R Us in the early 1980s when as a fresh-faced book salesman, I turned up to meet a junior buyer named Paul Mitchell who had recently joined Toys R Us’ new business from Sainsbury’s, it was the start of a relationship that has lasted over 30 years.

As my career developed, so did the business with Toys R Us, Panini stickers were introduced then later the Merlin collections including the first Premier League stickers collections.

A move to a distributor in 2002 meant I could offer TRU a much wider range of products and we soon became responsible for managing the collectables category for them, sales increased massively and Toys R Us became the go-to store for all collectable products.

It was innovative, moved quickly and spotted trends long before the competition, these were the halcyon days. Toys R Us was the number one toy retailer, led so expertly by David Rurka, Phil Shayer, Fiona Murray Young and the most professional and strong buying and merchandising team in the industry.

 So how did it all go so horribly wrong?

Several things I believe contributed to the downfall of the UK’s number one toy retailer.

The departure of Phil Shayer and David Rurka left the business without strong leadership for over a year.

The subsequent re-structuring following a US con- sultancy report led to several high-profile departures at head office level, including Fiona Murray Young, Paul Mitchell and several experienced buyers. Years of experience and highly regarded and respected people were lost.

Changes in the way consumers want to shop and TRU’s failure to adapt had a massive impact. Consumers are no longer embracing the big shed way of shopping and are preferring to shop online or in a retail environment where service matched with competitive pricing in attractive retail outlets is desired.

The increase in competition has clearly eroded TRU’s market share, the growth of Smyths Toys and The Entertainer and the speed of these retailers growth has affected TRU’s position in the market. Similarly, the aggressive pricing strategies of some retailers and it would seem, TRU’s inability to react, has also impacted on its profitability and consumer footfall.

The question is ‘will the brand survive and reappear after administration?’ I for one would welcome their continued presence, it would be good for our industry. In the meantime, I reflect on the good times.

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