Toys ‘R’ Us seeks bankruptcy in the US

The Toys ‘R’ Us logo is seen outside its flagship store in Times Square in New York, USA, 30 Dec 2015. (EPA file photo)

WILMINGTON, Delaware, US: The flagship American division of Toys “R” Us Inc filed for bankruptcy as the retailer, loaded with debt in a buyout more than a decade ago, failed to keep consumers from abandoning its stores for the lower prices and convenience of online shopping.

The filing will not affect the company’s operations in Asia, including in Thailand.

The company listed debt and assets of more than $1 billion each in Chapter 11 documents Monday in US Bankruptcy Court in Richmond, Virginia. Prior to filing, the chain secured more than $3 billion in financing from lenders including a JPMorgan Chase & Co-led bank syndicate and certain existing lenders to fund operations while it restructures, according to a company statement. The funding is subject to court approval.

The company didn’t announce plans to close stores, and said its locations across the globe would continue normal operations. 

“Like any retailer, decisions about any future store closings — and openings — will continue to be made based on what makes the best sense for the business,” Michael Freitag, a spokesman for Toys “R” Us, said in an email.

Toys “R” Us (Asia) Ltd, a financially independent joint venture owned approximately 85% by Toys “R” Us Inc and 15% by Fung Retailing Ltd, said it is not part of the US company’s financial restructuring.

In a statement, its president, Andre Javes, said, “Toys “R” Us (Asia) is open for business and continuing to serve our customers as we always do. We are a financially robust and self-funding retail operation, which continues to significantly grow and invest in this region. Every year we are opening new stores in all our markets and particularly in China where we now operate over 135 stores and will be opening another 22 in the coming weeks.”

The bankruptcy filing in the US is the latest blow to a brick-and-mortar retail industry reeling from store closures, sluggish mall traffic and the threat of Amazon Inc. More than a dozen major retailers have filed for creditor protection this year, including Payless Inc, Gymboree Corp and Perfumania Holdings Inc, all of which are using the Chapter 11 process to close underperforming stores and expand online operations. 

Much of the toy merchant’s debt is the legacy of a $7.5 billion leveraged buyout in 2005 in which Bain Capital, KKR & Co and Vornado Realty Trust loaded the company with debt to take it private. Since then, the Wayne, New Jersey-based chain has struggled to dig itself out.

Hot Toys

Chief Executive Officer David Brandon took over Toys “R” Us in 2015 and sought to make shopping there a more enjoyable experience. Last year, he set out a vision of kids “dragging their parents to our stores because they want to see what’s going on”. 

While Mr Brandon made some progress reducing liabilities, he ultimately was unable to resuscitate the closely held chain’s fortunes. The company reported a net loss of $164 million in the quarter ended April 29, compared to $126 million for the same period in the prior year. It hasn’t shown an annual profit since 2013.

“Together with our investors, our objective is to work with our debtholders and other creditors to restructure the $5 billion of long-term debt on our balance sheet,” Mr Brandon said in the company statement.

Bargain Town

The company sells toy and baby merchandise in about 1,600 Toys “R” Us and Babies “R” Us locations worldwide and through websites including Toysrus and Babiesrus.

Charles Lazarus opened Children’s Bargain Town, a baby-furniture store, in Washington in 1948, according to the Toys “R” Us website. He added toys two years later and opened the first Toys “R” Us, modelled after self-service supermarkets, in 1957. Mr Lazarus stepped down as chairman and CEO in 1994. Two years later, the first babies “R” Us opened. 

The company’s Canadian unit intends to seek protection in parallel proceedings in the Ontario Superior Court of Justice, according to the statement. The company’s operations outside of the US and Canada, including its about 255 licensed stores and joint venture partnership in Asia, which are separate entities, are not part of the Chapter 11 filing.

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