Monday, March 26, 2018

Concerning TRU

I've made no secret of the fact that I used to work at Toys R Us, so it's with the kind of fascination of watching a train wreck that I have been paying attention to them "suddenly" going out of business. Sure, I get that it's surprising to some, but this is by no means sudden, whatever they would have you believe. And maybe I wouldn't have said anything about this at all, but...

There's always a "but."

But TRU (Toys R Us, but I'm going to refer to them as TRU) has, evidently, blamed their woes on millennials, the seeming punching bag these days of corporate America and of Boomers in general. ["Boomers" means "Baby Boomers." More on them in some future post.] "If only millennials were having more babies, we would be making enough money to stay open. It's all your fault for not giving us your money." As if just the fact of millennials having babies would drive them into the open arms (or doors, as the case may be) of a local TRU or Babies R Us store.

The truth of the matter is that TRU has been on the verge of going out of business for at least the last 20 years, it being 20 years ago that I last worked for them, and they were teetering on the brink even then. The further truth of the matter is that TRU is a shitty company and has been for at least the last 30 years, 30 years ago being when I first worked for them when I still lived in Louisiana. They're a shitty company, and they actually deserve to go out of business.

Why would I say they deserve it? Well, because they've had 30 fucking years to do something to improve their business model and, yet, they have refused to do so. They've just gone ahead with the what seems to be the driving philosophy of the Boomer generation: Did you fail the first time? Well try again using the same method but do it faster and harder. In fact, keeping doing that same thing over and over again; eventually, you have to succeed.


Evidently not.

So, yes, Toys R Us definitively deserves to go out of business.

Oh, hey, breaking news right in the middle of me working on this piece: It seems that the founder of TRU has died. At the age of 94. One of the things TRU is saying about him is how much he loved the customer. Well, I didn't know the guy, so that may well be true, but I do know that TRU definitely did not love their customers. Their customers were only second their employees as enemies.

When I first worked for TRU back around 1990, it was official company policy to not help customers. The extent that we were allowed to help someone was to walk them to the aisle where something should be located. If something was not on the shelf, we were instructed to tell customers that it was out of stock. Even if we knew it was not out of stock and was, indeed, sitting in the store room. Retrieving something from the storeroom was a big NO. You see, it just wasn't cost effective for employees to spend time helping customers.

Note: I was once reprimanded (at the store I worked at in Louisiana) for getting something down off the overstock shelf for a customer. Now, this was a thing we were supposed to do because, if we didn't, customers would do things like try to climb the shelving units to get stuff down. But, you know, we employees had access to ladders, and the customer could see the item he wanted. As it turns out, a manager was watching me and timing me. Because I had to go get a ladder from the stockroom (and put it back when I was through), it took me more than five minutes to help the customer, so I got in trouble.

By the time I worked for them in the late 90s after I moved out to California, they had somewhat revised their customer assistance policy. We were at least supposed to look like we were trying to help them out. If someone asked for something not on the shelf, we were to go and "check" the stockroom for it. If it was something we knew we had back there, we could even go fetch it... as long as it didn't take up too much time. Otherwise, we were to go to the stockroom, wait a moment, then go back out and tell the customer that, no, we didn't have the item.

Note: This could really backfire on people. I always did the job of actually checking for an item if a customer asked but, then, I knew how to use the tools provided for us to do so and was good at it. It was always bad when a customer asked one employee about something and was told we were out of stock but, then, asked a different employee (say, me) for the item who then went and got it for them. Yeah, that happened more than once.

As bad as they were to customers, it was nothing compared to the way they treated employees. Employees were the true enemy, all of them thieves waiting to happen. Not to mention the fact that they wanted to be paid! All that and they didn't even offer an employee discount program (though they did finally institute that some years after I quit working for them; it was an effort to cut down on all of the employee turnover, but I'm pretty sure it didn't really work).

I'm not really going to get into how bad TRU was to employees back when I worked there. This post is already long, and getting into that can of worms might turn into a novel, and not a novel I would want to write. Or enjoy writing.

Back to the point, though: Even back in the 90s, TRU was struggling to avoid bankruptcy. They routinely identified parts of their business model which was siphoning off their profits, but, really, they could never convince themselves to look beyond theft prevention, both by customers and by employees, and it was this antagonistic stance they took with everyone which ultimately prevented them from climbing out of the hole they kept digging for themselves. As a company, they were very much like the current Republican run government and their fakepresident. I'm so looking forward to the day when they, too, go out of business.


  1. I remember you talking about working for them in the past. Crappy you weren't allowed to help customers. It takes time? Yeah, well that is part of why the employee is there. We were actually in one of their stores last month and yes, customer service was pretty much nil.
    They should've changed. Why go to a specialty store when you can get everything cheaper at Walmart or Target and especially online at Amazon.

    1. Alex: Exactly. If you're going to charge more than everyone else, you have to be able to offer something that other stores don't, and TRU could never bring themselves to do that.

  2. Well, that explains why all of the employees looked like they wanted to kill themselves, despite working in a giant toy store.

    Toys R Us just always struck me as the kind of company that was full of itself and didn't want to change, simply because it thought it didn't have to. I used to love going there when I was a little kid. It was such a special trip, because they had a mountain of toys. Toys I never would have found at my local K-mart or Walmart or Target.

    But when I grew up... well, like Alex said, there's Amazon now. Or even Walmart and Target have giant toy aisles now. I remember a couple years back a friend's kid was having a birthday party, and the wife and I, not knowing anything about kids, went to Toys R Us to see if we could find something good for him. Holy hell, was everything expensive. We walked out, just went to Walmart, and ended up finding the exact same toy for $8 cheaper. Come on, $8 markup for a single toy? Are you kidding me?

    If the 'smart shopper' quality of being a millennial is what killed this business, then Toys R Us just had a shitty business and deserved to die. So sayeth this millennial.

    1. ABftS: They certainly believed that they didn't need to change. Well, their attempt at change was to offer a few exclusive TRU items here and there, especially among the collectible toys, but, seriously, that's not going to drive in your average shopper, and the collectors don't make up enough of the active market to support a huge toy store like that. They just felt like they deserved to have people go there and spend more money there than they would anywhere else.

  3. Yup. Agreed. I worked for them for a number of years. You didn't even mention how horrible their managers were. Yikes. I have some stories...

    (I think we were working for them at about the same time. I started in 1989 and was there for the '90s. We should really compare notes.)

    1. Liz: I can't cast all of the managers into the same suck pot. Well, all of the managers at the store in Louisiana I could. They were HORRIBLE (and did illegal things and required their employees to do illegal things), but the store out here I worked at had some good managers.
      Which is not to say that they didn't have their share of bad ones, too.

  4. I couldn't believe their gall of blaming millennials for their failing business. Everyone's always bitching at us for being the "participation trophy generation" and yet it's the boomer run companies who want lots of money for providing a shitty service.

    1. Jeanne: Considering the fact that they were already struggling before millennials were even a thing... Oh, wait, I'm sure that was somehow still the fault of millennials.