Don’t blame Amazon for the death of Toys “R” Us.
It’s true, online shopping didn’t help matters, but the struggles of Toys “R” Us predate the boom in online shopping. Many of its wounds were self-inflicted.
The company’s biggest problem: It was saddled with billions of dollars in debt. That debt stopped it from making the necessary investment in stores. And that meant an unpleasant shopping experience that doomed the chain. The company told employees Wednesday that it would close or sell its US stores after 70 years in business.
“If you’re going to have that breadth of inventory, you need someone in the store to help you find it, help you experience it,” said Greg Portell, lead partner at retail consultant A.T. Kearney. “It’s hard to sell toys in a cold, warehouse environment.”
Even Toys “R” Us CEO David Brandon conceded in an SEC filing last fall that the company had fallen behind competitors “on various fronts, including with regard to general upkeep and the condition of our stores.”
Toys “R” Us’ debt problems date back to well before Amazon (AMZN) was a major threat. Its debt was downgraded to junk bond status in January of 2005, at a time when Amazon’s sales were just 4% of their current level.
A year later the company was taken private by KKR, Bain Capital and real estate firm Vornado. The $6.6 billion purchase left it with $5.3 billion in debt secured by its assets and it never really recovered.
The toy store faced several other big challenges at about the same time. There was…