The inevitable has happened: retail giant Toys R Us is out. It is sad to see such a giant in retail go away forever, but change is inevitable. Now, Big Boxers might be wondering: What was it like working with Toys R Us? How did the company manage to stay ahead of the game in the 90’s? Goodbye Toys R Us is a bit of a look back at Timothy’s career with this retailer and what they were able to teach him: from outsmarting your competitors, to learning how to adapt to changing nuances in the current marketplace. He shares some of the fond, crazy, chaotic memories of working at this beloved retailer that once ruled the playground.
I know you’ve seen the title of the podcast, Goodbye Toys “R” Us. What some of you may not know is that in my past, I worked for Toys “R” Us. I worked my way up through the ranks there and I actually had a really good time at that retailer. It’s very sad to me to see that it’s going away, that they’re closing the doors, that they’re not going to be around anymore. They weren’t able to navigate the changes in retail that could keep them afloat. It’s difficult understanding all the different things that they taught me. Toys “R” Us was really ahead of the game in a lot of different ways back in the early ‘90s and it’s difficult for me to understand how they were just not able to make the shifts that were necessary. That’s not really uncommon. We’re losing retailers left and right, and the main reason that’s happening is because these retailers are not able to make the shift. They can’t look out a new window. They can’t see a different paradigm where they’re successful. They don’t understand the nuances of how people purchase product now. They don’t understand what people are looking for. They don’t understand how to give them what they want and that makes me sad because a lot of what I know and a lot of what I’m really good at, Toys “R” Us taught me. Some mentors that I had at Toys “R” Us really made me understand the nuances of why people buy things and how to merchandise things so that they can really fly off the shelves.
I’m going to get into a little bit about that. This is going to be a little bit more storytelling than you’re used to. It’s not going to be a how-to on how to get your products in somewhere. It’s just really a look back on my career with Toys “R” Us and some of the funny things that happened and some of the crazy things that happened, what they were really able to teach me and how I’m able to do the things that I do right now, and how I’m able to be successful at what I’m doing. Toys “R” Us, I joined back in 1991. I came from a specialty retailer background. This was my real first foray into big box retail, massive amounts of employees and chaos and just crazy things. Back then Toys “R” Us had this unbelievable twelve-week manager training program. It didn’t matter how much experience you had. It didn’t matter what you had done before. There was some fast-tracking going on, but everybody, no matter who you were, went through this twelve-week training program. It was administered by an HR person and there were books involved and meetings involved. Really what it was, it was designed to give you a look at every aspect of the store. You spent some time working in the frontend. Learning how to deal with customers at the front end, returns and cash register and cashflow and counting cash and reconciling drawers, and you would spend a good amount of time up there. You had a rotation on the sales floor where you learned how to merchandise, how to make sections look good, how to follow planograms, and how to be creative.
Back then, Toys “R” Us had some planograms but sometimes sections wouldn’t get empty. You have to get creative. What are you going to put in there? What made sense? What are you going to put on the end cap? If there’s nobody there to tell it to you, what are you going to do? How are you going to do it? Is it going to sell? They really taught you how to think on your feet, make certain decisions, run a whole section, or run the entire sales floor. You have to understand that back in 1991, Toys “R” Us was still at giant. They still held 25% of the entire US toy market. We were crushing it and sales were great. Running a sales floor in a high-volume store where I was being trained, which was in Torrance, California, was fast-paced. Stuff would just fly off the shelves and you would have to make quick decisions and you’d have to know where your products were.
Back then, there was no scanning. You didn’t skip to scan stuff into a section in the back. You didn’t get to punch that up on the computer and know immediately how much product you had and where it was located and how to go find it. No. We had trucks that were just coming in constantly and you were just shelving. Back then, we had sections, like this is the action figure aisle in the back room or whatever, but you just put boxes on the shelf back then. There was so much product that was in the back room that wasn’t even out on the floor. Sometimes it was like a treasure hunt to go back there and find stuff that just wasn’t on the floor. The only way you could do that is you could look it up, but you had to take the SKU to a terminal and you look it up and you would see that there were zero sales. If there were zero sales, then it probably wasn’t out on the floor.
Back to your rotation on the sales floor. You would do a rotation there and then you would do a rotation in the back room. You would learn how to keep a stock room. Like I said, back then there was not a lot of technology available. You just unload the trucks and move stuff to the floor and move it to the stock room and hope that you would understand and read the printouts and get the stuff out onto the floor that needed to go out there. It was really fun and fast-paced. You had to know what you were doing and you couldn’t second guess yourself back then. Otherwise, your employees would not follow you. They wouldn’t do what you wanted them to do if you could never make a decision.
People are constantly coming up to you, “Where should I put this? What should I do with this? Where should this go? This is an angry customer. This person over here is doing this. What do we do?” It was crazy. These twelve weeks went by like a flash in the pan and then you were assigned a store. Luckily for me, I was assigned to stay in the same store that I had been training in, which was Torrance like I said. It was in A volume store and it was amazing. I can’t remember where I started my rotation, probably out on the sales floor. There was another trainee that straight out of training we both went to the sales floor at the same time. His name was Jeff and we were competitive. On the sales floor, there were multiple managers on the sales floor. There would be somebody to handle this section.
There were multiple sessions, so you might be handling baby and somebody else might be handling action figures. It’s not one person, except for the Assistant Director, they used to call it the head guy. If it was a girl, she was called the store director and an assistant director and then managers. There was not one person who handled the entire sales floor. The assistant director oversaw it, but there were multiple managers. You were assigned basically a section. We were constantly competing against whose section looked better and whose sales were better and margin was better. That made it fun. They put so much emphasis on training that by the time you came out of training, you were so prepared to do what you were going to do and so prepared to make the decisions that you were going to have to make depending on what type of store you had and how big the volume was.
The interesting thing was back then, I was working with the store director that had twenty years of experience at Toys “R” Us. He had gone through twenty seasons. That’s how they used to say it back then. “Have you gone through a season?” A season basically was the day after Thanksgiving all the way through the return cycle after holiday, after Christmas. If you had not gone through a season at Toys “R” Us, you were treated like you were nobody, you had not been seasoned yet. You were just the FNG. You’re just the new guy. Your opinion really didn’t count, the thoughts that you had, until you go through season, then come back and talk to me. I’m not kidding. That’s really how they treated you. You go to manager meetings and you’d raise your hand and if you hadn’t been through a season yet, they really just didn’t count it. It just wasn’t really counted as knowledge because back then, 25% of the toy market, a season back then was this crushing rite of passage that you had to make it through to really understand the 80% of the entire volume you’re going to do. An entire year is going to come in the fourth quarter. If you hadn’t gone through one of those yet, like I said, your opinion really just didn’t matter. You’re just prepared and at Toys “R” Us. All year was just one long preparation to go through season.
I’m going to tell you a couple of things that I remember from going through season, but I do want to talk a little bit about my first manager. His name was Michael and he was the epitome of everything that you never wanted to do when you got to be a store director and at the same time, he was the epitome of everything you need to know when you become a store director. It was this super dichotomy of these two people that he was, because twenty years ago, talk about cowboy. This guy had been through it all and some of what he had done in his past and how he had managed before was old school and it just wasn’t acceptable anymore. Some of the things that he would do and say and how we would act was just a highlight of the things that you just don’t want to do when you become a store director. How he knew how to merchandise and how he knew how to draw a margin out of products and bring money to the bottom line and how he knew about how to fill in space and how to find product in the stock room and how to handle trucks when it’s season. You’re getting four trucks a day. Where do you put that product? Nothing rattled him, zero. It was just like an avalanche of product. You literally had to dig your way out just like you were digging out an avalanche. The pallets had gone down each side of the aisle and then they’d actually fallen into each other and created just this wall of boxes.
I remember one time it was on my frontend rotation and I was merchandising this end cap for a register lane. I got it all done and I was pretty darn proud of it. He walks by and he says, “That’s horrible.” I can’t remember exactly what he said. The inference was it was horrible. He’s like, “That thing will be empty in two seconds.” I had really merchandised it for prettiness. It was pretty. There was no doubt about it, but he was saying to me that you needed to get more product on that end cap, otherwise tomorrow that thing’s going to be empty and you’re going to have to redo it. Also, nobody wants to buy from an end cap that looks half empty. Nobody wants to buy anything when there are so many holes, you need to pack that in, fill it in, make it look like we’re in business on this product. That was my first shot in the arm on what it means to be in business.
I’ll give you a quick tangent, the difference between Bed Bath & Beyond and Linens ‘n Things. I was a store manager for Bed Bath & Beyond as well, and at Bed Bath & Beyond, store managers could order their own product. Most of the product you see in a Bed Bath & Beyond is specifically ordered by the managers that are there. Bed Bath & Beyond told us in our training, “We don’t care how much product you order. We don’t care if you order a thousand of this one thing. If it doesn’t work out, we’ll spread it among the district or the region. It’ll be fine,” but we packed it in. We were in business, our walls were full, our towels were full, our end caps were packed full and we have product in reserve. When one product is sold, we would put one more in there.
Take that in sharp contrast to Linens ‘n Things where everything was ordered by corporate. You would find snow shovels in a store in California. You would find stuff that just didn’t go there. They ordered based on trend, not based on filling the shelf. Sometimes shelfs would just be empty. Think about it yourself, when you’re shopping, nobody wants to buy one of the last three items on a shelf. You’re thinking to yourself, why do people want these? What’s wrong with these? There’s a dent in one or there’s got to be something wrong, but if the shelf is packed full, then you feel comfortable buying it because you feel like it’s all brand new. It all just got restocked. It’s all straight out of the box. It just arrived. That’s just the psychology of selling. I had my first lesson in that at Toys “R” Us and I will tell you that I probably redid that end cap six times that day before I got the, “Okay.” It wasn’t this big jubilee, “Okay.” Nobody threw me a party. I just was going onto the next end cap and then the next one and then the next one, but finally getting it right. Finally getting the sign off that I had done it right felt so good. It felt amazing. I was just pumped to go onto the next one and the next one. Everything I learned under this manager on how to run a Toys “R” Us Store and how not to run a Toys “R” Us Store were crucial in my success there.
I went on to accept a position in the regional office. It wasn’t a bump in pay, it was a training position and all my colleagues told me not to take it. Really, Jeff and I were battling for who’s going to get promoted to assistant director first. He just thought it was a chump for taking it and going into the corporate office and I will tell you that I did that position for maybe five months and then one day, five months later, I was called. In the meantime, Jeff had gotten promoted to assistant director and had moved out of the Torrance store to his new assignment. He felt that he had been victorious. He would call me on the phone and taunt me that he was doing that and I always doing this menial training job. I got called into the regional director, the guy that handled the entire region one day along with a district manager and I was promoted over assistant director straight to store director and I was given my own store in Fountain Valley, California.
As you can imagine, my first call was not to my wife. My first call was not to my friends. My first call was to Jeff because I had just become the youngest store director on the West Coast and so I had to lay that down in front of Jeff and beat back all the calls that he had made telling me that I had done the wrong thing. I was super excited about that and I won’t go too much into the stuff that happened in Fountain Valley, but I will tell you the director that took over for moved to a new store and then the assistant director had gotten promoted to another store, I didn’t have an assistant director. I got a call from my district manager and said, “Your assistant director will be starting there on Monday.” I was super excited. Who got promoted, what awesome person where they going to send me? What they did was they actually demoted a 22-year veteran of Toys “R” Us and sent them to me as my first assistant director.
This guy was twice my age, had just been demoted after being a store director for some twelve years. Isn’t that just a ball of fun? Here I am running my very first Toys “R” Us Store and I’m dealing with a grumpy older, but we made it work. He was still interested in working Toys “R” Us and we were able to make it work. I ended up being grateful because he had a lot of knowledge even though he was struggling in his position because he was not able to make some changes that were going on. He was an old dog at Toys “R” Us, but he still knew a lot. He still had a lot of knowledge and here I am just this newbie. I was up on all the latest things that were going on and he was this guy that had been through it all since the beginning and so together, we made up the perfect storm. Once he got over the ego hit of being demoted, we really made a good team and I enjoyed working with him.
Enough about my overall career, I’m going to go back to Torrance because that was where I went through my first season. Before I had gone to the corporate office, before I got promoted to store director, I was just a manager at Torrance. I was going through our first season and this was a high-volume store and we would do near half a million dollars a day and I know that there are stores out there now, you can find a Costco that do a million dollars a day, but back then half a million dollars a day, $400,000 a day was a big deal. I’ll tell you why, because there’s a lot of cash back then. Back in 1991, ‘92 people weren’t using debit cards like they do now. There was a lot of cash and checks. You had a lot of money on the line.
I just remember this scene. During the regular season, we would run with maybe six register lanes but we had six, maybe ten, then we would expand that out to 21 register lanes during holiday. If you can just picture, back then Toys “R” Us was this very regimented store. You’d walk in and they had A Aisle, B Aisle and C Aisle and then the back wall. When we were really rolling on a weekend after Thanksgiving, all 21 registers would be pumping and there would be lines back into the first aisle. It was this giant machine of just commerce and just people coming up. You would go back in the back of what we call the computer room and you could just watch the ticker going. Hour one, $10,000. It would just go $10,000 and then it would only jump up by 10,000 units. It would be $10,000, then the next hour, $20,000 then $40,000 then $60,000. It was just rolling up. That money was just pouring and we had somebody that was just dedicated sitting up in the tower with the money counting machines just counting the money, getting the checks ready for deposit.
During season, generally we would have an off-duty LAPD officer at the front and we’d have one at the back. Toys “R” Us for the high-volume stores hire that. When I was closing, this LA off duty officer would just follow me everywhere. They’ll shadow me because it could get dangerous. You have so much money going through when the armored car would roll in, and I’m not even exaggerating. This is not an exaggeration. During this time of year, our accounting office was in what we call the tower. In the front end it was just upstairs in this enclosed room and these guys from the armored car would come in. There would be three guys and they’d be in staggered positions to get up the stairs. When the guy was in the office getting the cash ready, there would be a guy upstairs outside the office with a shotgun and he would caulk it like so that everybody could hear it, see it, and understand. Then there would be another guy at the door and they would leave in this staggered position too because these guys will be rolling out of there with literally $100,000 in cash or more. Sometimes these guys would come twice a day depending on what day it was. It was crazy.
For a store like that, we’d have to hire maybe 100, 120 people for holiday and there’s sometimes people just come on board just to rip you off. We would call it scan-throughs, and it became easier to catch later on when we had Pan Tilt cameras and we could really zoom down and look at micro lines on checks and this and that. I would just stand up in the front and just watch these 21 registers just killing it. Then you would see something that just didn’t make sense. A cashier just scanning stuff too fast. You know that they’re not actually hitting the UPC code so they’re just running it on the wrong side of the box through the thing. I would hone in on that and then I would get closer and closer. The person who would be buying the product would have two carts full of product and then I would wait and I would see what the final bill was and it was like $30 or something. I would walk up and say, “Sir, let me take a look at your receipt. I think you might’ve been overcharged.” They would say, “No. I think I’m fine now. This just seems good to me.” Then I would look at it and it would be $30 something and I’m like, “Sir, this is a lot of merchandise for $30,” and the next thing you know the off-duty LAPD officer would have this guy and the cashier in the back room. We’d be talking through them and they would eventually get hooked up and take them downtown or taken down to the police station.
In one season, we probably would weed out ten people and this stuff is still going on now. Just at holidays past year, my wife and I were at Target and we had bought a bunch of stuff. I had estimated the bill might be $300, $350 and it came through like $520 something and my wife paid it, but I just had this uneasy feeling. As we’re leaving I’m like, “Let me see that receipt.” We looked and at the very bottom of the receipt was a rung up for a $200 gift card. Of course, we had not bought a $200 gift card. I took this to the frontend manager and we went over to the cashier and of course the cashier was like, “They didn’t buy a gift card,” but I already know what she did. I already know that she has a gift card sitting underneath her counter and she’s just adding them onto somebody’s sale. Not very good at it because $200, of course I’m going to see an extra $200. What they normally will do is $50, $25, but they’ll do it again and again. They’ll rack up in just one shift, maybe they’ll have ten, fifteen gift cards that they’ll didn’t hand out to their family members and go spend hundreds of dollars of free money on.
I’m sure what happened after we left is they went upstairs to look to look at the cameras. If they saw her grab the card from beneath and scan it, she got arrested or at least fired, but it’s still going on now. That stuff still happens, so you’ve got to be vigilant. Always check your receipt, not necessarily in front of the cashier. Don’t be one of those people that just pour over the receipt right there, but you get out to the parking lot, you get in your car, take a look at it, see if there’s anything on there that you were double charged for that really shouldn’t be there. Definitely at holiday, because people go to these big retailers to get hired just to scam them.
During season, we would work six days a week. My shift as a store director was basically Monday through Saturday, 11:00 AM to 2:00 AM. I work that from the day after Thanksgiving all the way through until returns had slowed down after holiday. It was a long time, but that’s what you worked all year for. That’s what you’ve been planning on all year for. You were stocked up and ready to go and it was just this amazing thing. I can remember passing and making it through my first season and feeling like I finally had gotten indoctrinated into the company and had that successful first go round. I worked for Toys “R” Us I think in total for five years. I had had five seasons under my belt and of course Toys “R” Us started to decline just prior to 1995. When Target had figured out that they weren’t going to carry a bunch of toys, in fact they were only going to hone in on hot toys and that’s all they would carry and the second those hot toys is sold out, they would put in the next section of hot toys. Of course, Toys “R” Us’ philosophy was always the people would come to them for the hot toys and then buy some diapers and some formula and some other things or Johnny would want this or want that and their cart would end up getting fuller than what they just came in for. Once Target took away the opportunity for people just to come in for the hot toys, then they were just coming in for the ancillary things, the Graco stroller or the high chair. When they came in for those things, that’s just only what they left with.
Target had figured out this method of basically stealing a huge percentage of Toys “R” Us’ sales because it was so easy going to Target and find the hot things because that’s all they had. That’s it. Speaking of hot things, I’ll tell you a story about Power Rangers. I wasn’t around at Toys “R” Us for the Cabbage Patch Doll craze, but I do understand that the Power Rangers were similar. When Power Rangers were at their peak, we could not get them. We could barely get them. They would come in these random shipments in Bandai, who is the company that was producing those. It was way over their head. Toys “R” Us actually rented a manufacturing plant to help Bandai produce more product. The cool thing was I was running the Huntington Beach store at the height of this craze and we would know when we were getting a shipment and people would start lining up at our store at three in the morning. By the time the store was ready to open, we would have a good line of 200 people. If you understand the group mentality of people, even if you don’t know what’s going on, you see a group of 200 people lined up outside a store, you’re probably going to stop and try to find out what’s going on. We would have people that would get in line that had no idea what Power Rangers were, but they just wanted to get one. Obviously, it’s the hottest thing ever and they need to get it on this craze.
What I did and how we handled it, because of course these lines got pretty crazy and fights could or would break out in stores across the country. What we did at our store was I handed out numbers starting with the very first person in line all the way back to the last guy and then I would yell out and say, “Anybody that comes in out of their number order is going to get nothing and also the person in front of you and the person behind you is going to get nothing.” These lines straightened out like nobody’s business. Nobody was going to be waiting since three in the morning and end up getting nothing. It made people in partnership with each other. “What’s your number? We’re in good sync. We’re fine.” They were working together to get what they wanted and unfortunately not everybody handled it the same way and we did have across the country a bunch of fights. Eventually, Toys “R” Us changed their policy on how they would do it and it made it worse because we will have huge days on those days because again, people would come in to get a Power Ranger and then they would get something else for Johnny’s birthday or whatever. It was that mentality of, “I’m here. I might as well get some formula. I might as well get this. I might as well get that. I might as well shop for so and so’s birthday while I’m here.” You take away that craze, you take away that line, there’s not this big excitement anymore. If you can just walk in and fill out a slip and somebody will call you later when the product comes in, that’s not as exciting as driving by and seeing 200 people lined up outside a store and not knowing what it’s for.
I know that we’re jumping around, but let’s get into a couple stories. There was a couple of stories that really stood out in my mind and it’s amazing to me what people will ask or what people will ask of people in a service industry. If you’ve never worked in a service industry, if you’ve never served people, whether it’s a waitress or a server at a restaurant or working in retail, sometimes you just have no idea what these people go through or what they’re asked to do, and believe me in my long retail career, I could write a book on the crazy crap that people would do or say or want or tell me. I could go on and on and on and someday I may do that. Now, we’re going to go through a couple of stories. Some of these are going to make you cringe.
Poop in the car rings a bell to me because I remember sitting up in the frontend and this lady comes up to me and she says, “Hello sir. You’re going to want to check that car over there.” I look over and I see one of those pink Barbie power wheels, if you remember what power wheels are. It was those sitting cars that had the battery and the kids could drive it like a real car. I said, ” I’m going to want to check it for what?” She said, “My daughter had an accident in there.” “By accident, you mean she pooped in there?” She pooped in the car. I know that I’m just looking at her like, “As a mother, wouldn’t you pick that up and take that to the restroom and throw it in the toilet? Maybe you want to tell me that I might want to disinfect it. Maybe you might want to say that I want to pull that off the floor right now and give it a good cleaning because you’ve already taken care of this.” “No. Poop is still in there,” and she thought that I might need to grab that because her daughter pooped in there.
Somebody had to go in there and grab that poop and cleaned that car and it wasn’t going to be the mom. She just wanted to inform me that that had happened. I don’t know why that one always sticks in my mind. I just remember looking at her in disbelief like, “You’re really going to make me pick up your kid’s poop. Understood.” When I first got promoted to Fountain Valley, as I had mentioned before, my office was on the first floor. It wasn’t on a tower anymore. We didn’t do the tower thing any longer. This was a newer store and I remember hearing this low screaming and it was like a wailing and it kept getting louder and louder and louder. Then it went by my office window. There was some lady rolling a cart by my window and then she was gone outside. Then I started hearing this wailing and it was coming back.
I went outside my office and I stopped her and there’s like blood everywhere. She had blood on her and the baby that she had in her arms had blood on him and she was screaming at the top of her lungs. I couldn’t understand a word that she was saying. She didn’t speak any English and she was just yelling at me. We finally got her calmed down and we got an ambulance called at her request. We were finally able to ascertain based on her showing us and by the way, this kid’s index finger is just dangling. It’s like not even really attached. It was just dangling by the skin. What I could gather that happened was that he got pinched in the cart and she couldn’t get it out. She eventually just yanked it. I know that you guys are cringing right now. I’m cringing thinking about it. She just yanked it and basically almost cut his finger completely off. In the end, what she was more freaked out about is her husband finding out what had happened rather than that her baby basically had his finger cut off. She yanked it right out of the cart. The ambulance called off. She went to the hospital. I never saw her again.
What else is on my list? Along that lines, as long as we’re going to be cringing, I’m going to tell you this one. If you understand shelving at Toys “R” Us, it was Lozier shelves. You guys might be familiar with it, but it’s the standard metal shelving that you see in most retailers at the end of all those shelves are these holes. I don’t know exactly what the holes were eventually for, whether they just made the overall shelf lighter, but all the shelves had rows of holes right at the very front edge of them. At one point a lady wanted to get something off of the top rack, which she shouldn’t have been doing. She had positioned yourself standing on the base shelf trying to reach it and in the process her wedding ring had swung around and so the diamond was hanging down, basically palm down. As she reached up to grab this, the diamond of the ring got caught in one of those holes and she lost her purchase and fell back. Her ring basically took off the entire skin of her whole finger. All she had was a bone and up on top of the shelf was her ring and this like glove of a skin of a finger that you could just basically slide back on the bone. That was a little gnarly. Just a quick note of caution, don’t stand on a rickety base shelf and try to grab something off the top shelf. Find somebody to get it down for you with the ladder.
One day, I actually opened from scratch. We built a store in Signal Hill, California and one night or really it was the day before, I got a call from the Signal Hill police and they had informed me that I had a murder suspect on my night crew. Isn’t that great? You have somebody that’s suspected of murder working for you. Not only have they gone through the checkpoint and check process, but now they’re in the store with all kinds of people and the Signal Hill Police decided that they wanted you to do a takedown. That’s the way they told it to me. A takedown, like I’m on a cop show, as my night crew is leaving at 6 AM in the morning, they want to do a take down and take this guy down. I was concerned that at that time that guy would be leaving with probably fifteen or twenty other people on the night crew and I was concerned for their safety, but they assured me that all would be well. Here I am with my assistant director perched as high up in a covert area so that we could watch this all go down and sure enough the doors open up and the night crew comes out and as they start to disperse and that’s I guess how they were going to separate them as they start to disperse into the parking lot to their cars, that’s when the police moved in and just took this guy down hard. I never saw or heard from that gentleman again. I don’t really know what happened. Whether he was convicted. I don’t know anything, I didn’t ask. Bye-bye. Thanks for your service.
The last story I have to tell you, and as I’m telling you stories, I’m thinking of so many more. Back in the early ‘90s, I don’t know if those of you listening were in a position to see this stuff happen, but if you have a credit card and you hadn’t been paying your bill or you were over your limit, it was declined. Back then, it wasn’t just declined. It said, “Call.” You had to call the company to find out what was going on and back then, the company might give you the direction to please cut that card up. That’s right. Just cut it up and that sounds easy. When you’re at the credit card company, you’re like, “Just cut that card up right in front of that customer. They haven’t paid their bill and they’re delinquent so just cut that bad boy up.” When you’re in front of the customer and you’re cutting it up, a customer can get a little volatile. They can get a little angry and they might start yelling at you that they’re going to be waiting for you in the parking lot and they’re going to come across the counter and all kinds of things. I can’t tell you maybe ten times I had people that told me they were going to wait for me outside the parking lot. We’re going to sort things out. As it turned out, nobody ever waited for me in the parking lot. That’s just a big grand gesture of I’m super embarrassed and my ego just took a hit and you’re actually going to cut up my credit card right in front of me.
I can tell you, and as you have seen, that doesn’t happen anymore. That did lead to a lot of altercations and it wasn’t fair to ask some hourly employee that really has nothing to do with this person’s finances to cut somebody’s credit card up right in front of them. Eventually that policy became null and void. We didn’t do that anymore because it was just a recipe for disaster. If you guys are interested in you write me back, maybe we’ll do another show where we can get into some more retail stories from other places like Bed Bath, Office Depot, and Barnes & Noble. One night, I was closing at Barnes & Noble and a lady came to me and she’s an older lady. Were almost closed and we close late. Barnes & Noble close at 11:00 and she said, “My husband’s really sick and I was hoping that I could get a chair for him.” “Where’s your husband?” “He’s in the bathroom.” “Is he in the stall? I don’t know if I can get a chair in there.” She says to me, “No, honey. I would never have my husband throwing up in a public toilet stall. He’s throwing up in the sink and he’s just getting weak and I was hoping that he could sit down.” I’m just staring at this lady and sure enough, her husband was just throwing up all over the bathroom in the sink and everywhere and he needed some rest. He was getting weak from all the throwing up. That was a special night. There you go. That’s a bonus story. All these are real. I was there for all these. I got my hand up, cross my heart.
Anyway, Toys “R” Us holds a special place in the history of my retail experience. It’s where I learned everything about HR. It’s where I learned how to hire people, how to fire people professionally, and honestly. It’s where I learned the meaning of people needing to take breaks. It’s the first place that I was exposed to people with special needs and how to deal with that and the new laws that were coming out around hiring people with special needs and Toys “R” Us I think in the early ‘90s was on the forefront of wanting to be the very best at treating their people well and understanding what people needed and wanting to be a diverse company and wanting to follow the rules. When they found out that they weren’t following the rules, they would make quick changes. Charles Lazarus, who founded Toys “R” Us was this really great guy who is old and when I finally met him, still drove his Toyota pickup to the office every day worth millions.
When he stepped down, and in some reason I think that we see this sometimes, but when the person who had the vision, who started it from scratch, who started it from one location and built it up to this empire, when that person steps down, there’s a certain level of that commitment and that passion that steps down with that person. Behind that sometimes I think becomes a need for getting things stock options and money and somehow running the company and passing on the legacy somehow loses a little bit. I think that that’s what happened with Toys “R” Us. I feel confident that had Charles been younger, when these issues started to happen, he would have found a way to keep this company going. He would have found a way to figure out what people wanted and how to give it to them, but unfortunately the people that he left the company in their care, were not able to do this. Like I said, that saddened him so I’m sad to see them go.
It’s weird to think that your retail education and where you got that is going to be gone. We move on. I know that this isn’t teaching you anything. I know that you’re not going to leave here and go, “I’m going to take that one strategy so I can get my products into retail,” but it’s a little bit of an insight into me and where I started out. We’re losing what was once a great retailer where I had a lot of fun and I learned a lot. I wanted to just take a moment out of the podcast to call that out. If you’re enjoying the podcast, everybody please let us know. Reach out to us. You can reach out to us on Twitter @TLBConsult, on our Facebook page TLB Consulting. You can also join our closed Facebook group which is On The Shelf Now. If you want to write us, you can go to our website, TLBConsulting.com and shoot us an email. That’s it for now. Until next time, I look forward to seeing products On the Shelf.