Fri | Oct 20, 2017

Toys"R"Us files for bankruptcy, but keeps stores open

Published:Wednesday | September 20, 2017 | 12:00 AM

Toys"R"Us, the toy retailer struggling with US$5 billion in debt and intense online competition, has filed for bankruptcy protection ahead of the key holiday shopping season and says its stores will remain open for business as usual.

The company said the proceedings are a way for Toys"R"Us to work with its creditors on restructuring the debt beleaguering it. And it emphasised that its stores worldwide will serve customers while it works with suppliers and sells merchandise.

Filing for bankruptcy protection "will provide us with greater financial flexibility to invest in our business ... and strengthen our competitive position in an increasingly challenging and rapidly changing retail marketplace worldwide," Chairman and CEO Dave Brandon said.

The move comes as retailers head into the busiest shopping time of year. The company said it was "well-stocked as we prepare for the holiday season and are excited about all of our upcoming in-store events".

Retailers of all kinds are struggling. The Toys"R"Us bankruptcy filing joins a list of at least 18 others since the beginning of the year including shoe chain Payless Shoe Source, children's clothing chain Gymboree Corp and the True Religion jean brand as people shop less in stores and more online.

"Toys"R"Us had little choice but to restructure and try to put itself on a firmer footing," said Neil Saunders, managing director of GlobalData Retail. However, he added, "even if the debt issues are solved, Toys"R"Us still faces massive structural challenges against which it must battle."

Toys'R'Us, a major force in toy retailing in the 1980s and early 1990s, started losing shoppers to discounters like Walmart and Target and then to Amazon. GlobalData Retail estimates that in 2016 about 13.7 per cent of toy sales were made online, up from 6.5 per cent five years ago.

And children are increasingly moving more towards mobile devices as playthings. "For many children, electronics have become a replacement or a substitute for traditional toys," Saunders said.

Toys"R"Us has struggled with debt since private-equity firms Bain Capital, KKR & Company and Vornado Realty Trust took it private in a US$6.6 billion leveraged buyout in 2005. The plan had been to take the company public, but that never happened because of its weak financial performance.

Toys"R"Us, based in Wayne, New Jersey, announced the filing late Monday. It said it was voluntarily seeking relief through the US Bankruptcy Court for the Eastern District of Virginia in Richmond, and that its Canadian subsidiary would be seeking similar protection through a Canadian court in Ontario as it seeks to reorganise.

The company said separate operations outside the US and Canada are not part of the filings and its online sales sites worldwide remain open for business during the court-supervised process.

"The company's approximately 1,600 Toys"R"Us and Babies"R"Us stores around the world the vast majority of which are profitable are continuing to operate as usual," the company statement said. "Customers can also continue to shop for the toy and baby products they are looking for online."

Toys"R"Us said it expects to continue honouring return policies, warranties and gift cards, and customer loyalty programmes should stay the same.

The company has nearly 65,000 employees worldwide.

- AP