The reborn Toys R Us is sending its best ambassador on the road in a campaign to remind the world that the toy retailer is a thriving global brand.
Its mascot, Geoffrey, will be making appearances over the coming month at Toys R Us stores in Europe, the Middle East, South Africa, China, Japan, and elsewhere, with events designed to reinforce the message that the brand has global appeal.
The 2017 bankruptcy filing of the U.S.-based parent company of Toys R Us, and the 2018 liquidation of all of the U.S. stores and stores in the United Kingdom created the impression the toy chain had disappeared completely, when in fact hundreds of stores in Asia, Europe, and other parts of the world never closed.
Those stores had operated under licensing agreements with Toys R Us pre-bankruptcy. Post-bankruptcy, what was left of Toys R Us continued to hold the rights to the Toys R Us name and intellectual properties, and continued to benefit from those licensing agreements.
“I think it comes as a surprise to people how big and how global Toys R Us is right now, with 900 stores globally today,” said Yehuda Shmidman, chairman and CEO of WHP Global, which owns a controlling stake in the parent company behind the Toys R Us brand.
“But even more surprising to people, and more exciting,” Shmidman said, “is we’re growing our retail footprint by over 50% this year.”
Toys R Us stores at Macy’s
A big part of that growth will be in the form of some 400 stores that will open inside Macy’s department stores in the United States this year. But Toys R Us’ international partners are also opening stores, Shmidman said, including a flagship in Dubai that opened recently, and planned store openings in China.
Toys R Us has one flagship licensed store in the United States, at the American Dream mall in New Jersey, along with 900 international stores. Those stores generate over $2 billion in retail sales annually, according to WHP Global.
WHP Global, a New York-based brand acquisition, investment, and management firm which acquired its controlling stake in early 2021, is now making the first moves to reestablish the kind of connections between global licensing partners that existed pre-bankruptcy.
Global summit of Toys R Us partners
WHP this week gathered executives from its licensed partners around the world for a global summit that coincided with the Licensing Expo in Las Vegas. It used the occasion to announce Geoffrey’s world tour as the kickoff to a series of global brand initiatives.
“We gathered here as one group to really strategize about our big growth for the future. This is our moment,” Shmidman said in a phone call from the summit.
Toys R Us store operators in other countries told the brand that increasing awareness of the global presence of Toys R Us was a priority.
Kim Miller, global chief marketing officer for Toys R Us, went on a “listening tour”, meeting with the brand’s global partners when she took on the marketing role. Those partners told her they wanted the brand to “bring back the global awareness to assure that the world knows from a business perspective and a consumer perspective and a kid perspective that we are a global authority in toys and play,” Miller said.
The Geoffrey world tour will create opportunities for social media content, and in-store events to draw consumers back into the stores.
Geoffrey to star in YouTube series
As part of Geoffrey’s visits to stores around the world, he will meet with a local Toys R Us child ambassador for each city he visits. The child ambassadors will serve as Geoffrey’s guide to the city, and be featured in a YouTube series about Geoffrey’s travels. Families who are part of Toys R Us loyalty programs in the various cities will be invited to apply for a chance to have their children selected as ambassadors. The stores will also be holding contests and offering prizes like a Toys R Us shopping spree.
Geoffrey. the yellow and orange giraffe that has been the Toys R Us mascot since the 1960s, has an appeal that translates around the world, Toys R Us executives said.
“The children have a huge emotional connection with Geoffrey. They get so excited when they see him,” said Jo Hall, chief commercial officer, Toys R Us Asia.
Hall said the Geoffrey world tour campaign fits well with Toys R Us Asia’s focus on fueling the imagination and curiosity of children. The campaign will use child ambassadors “to explain something about their countries – the language that they speak, the currency they use, cultural differences,” she said. “This is part of a really rich narrative around taking a child’s development and expanding their knowledge of the world, using a guiding mascot friend, a buddy who they love to see so much,” Hall said.
“Really,” Hall said, “only Toys R Us can do this because we still have stores across the globe. And what better want to explain the dynamics of the globe than to have Geoffrey travel, and engage with children in different countries.”