February 15, 2019

Comebacks, Inc.

Comebacks, Inc.

Everyone loves a good comeback. This week a group of executives bought the assets of Toys “R” Us out of bankruptcy and are now trying to revive the brand. Like many of you, I grew up with Toys “R” Us. And with five children ranging in age from six to 26, it seems I’ve been a lifelong customer. I was sad to see it close its doors for good, or so I thought.

No doubt Richard Barry, the former Toys “R” Us executive who is leading the revival, has his work cut out for him. Although the brand’s 900 international stores brought in $3 billion last year, the U.S. is a tough market for brick-and-mortar toy stores, thanks to Amazon and other online retailers. That challenge hasn’t gone away since the chain’s bankruptcy filing. Ask the folks at Hasbro and Mattel, which both saw sales decline during the holiday season.

Then again, plenty of U.S. brands have gotten a second wind after close calls. Their leaders have figured out how to remain true to who they are while staying current, fresh…and profitable.

Apple is the most famous example. It was sinking fast until Steve Jobs came back, after getting fired in a power struggle. Fortunately for today’s iPhone lovers, he reconnected the team with his vision for the company and ultimately saved the brand. Starbucks went into a slump in the last big recession, until Howard Schultz returned and turned things around. Then there’s Delta, which went into bankruptcy before it acquired Northwest Airlines in 2008, and now is doing well.

We see these types of comebacks in Hollywood, too. Look at the turnaround that’s going on at Paramount, thanks to some of its big franchises. Mission: Impossible-Fallout did so well there are already two new Mission: Impossible installments planned for the summers of 2021 and 2022.

Not every brand or icon can pull off a turnaround, though. Payless ShoeSource is reportedly getting ready to file for bankruptcy protection again, two years after emerging from an earlier filing. Their execs haven’t quite figured out how to keep customers coming back to its stores, and, given online competition, they still may not be able to BOGO their way out of their current troubles. And we’ll see what becomes of Sears as Eddie Lampert, who drove it into bankruptcy, now gets another shot, buying it out of bankruptcy.

To bring back a popular brand, the timing has to be right. With many Baby Boomers still nostalgic for Woodstock, the promoters of the 50th anniversary concert this summer are almost guaranteed to do well.

Like many of you who are parents, Tracy and I set limits on our children’s screen time. Call me old fashioned but I’d love to see a revival of some of the classic toys like the pogo stick and the hula hoop, which were a lot better for kids than sitting in front of a video game.

With the right approach, Toys “R” Us might be able to find a way to capitalize on the nostalgia many parents feel for traditional toys and play. The new owners are considering some fresh options, like pop-up stores, so this experiment will be worth watching.

When I grew up, we celebrated George Washington’s and Abraham Lincoln’s birthdays, February 18 and 12 respectively. In 1971, the Uniform Monday Holiday Act (really?) was an attempt to create more three-day weekends for our nation’s workers by observing certain holidays on Mondays. Presidents Day is now popularly viewed as a day to celebrate all U.S. presidents, past and present. Monday is Presidents Day and we salute all who have occupied the Oval Office. For those of you with an extended weekend, enjoy!