The Toys R Us liquidation has been very upsetting to me and a little hard to process. I think that I may be in denial about the entire thing and I find myself heading there more often now that I know that it is closing. Literally, my Toys R Us nostalgia is so high and I find myself buying more toys and spending way too much money in there. I think that the Toys R Us liquidation is hard because I was a Toys R Us kid and about 70% of the stuff (excluding clothing) for my twins have come from either Babies R Us or Toys R Us. The other 30% is comprised of the following: about 15% used; 10% small, locally owned businesses; 5% Amazon).
One of my favorite experiences with Toys R Us was going in there and looking at the fun my twins had picking out their new toys and being able to take the toys home that day. If I needed a quick baby item then I could just quickly head to the store. Target and Walmart (both great companies) just didn’t have the selection and experience that came with Toys R Us. Also, when other moms were in the same aisle it became a bonding experience as we would commiserate about how our kids didn’t want to get out of the Power Wheels cars/trucks. We decided to make the Power Wheels stop as part of the experience and would laugh and guess when they would be ready to leave. We’d swap stories about cool yet educational toys the other should try. It was an experience I believe is missing from switching to an online-based shopping model. Yes, I love online but I also love the connection with going to the store to shop.
I don’t want this to appear like I’m Amazon bashing, because I know that Toys R Us was poorly managed and that led to its bankruptcy. However, I also can’t help but think about the impact Amazon had on its demise. Similar to many people’s concerns about the detrimental impact of Walmart on small, locally owned businesses I’m very concerned about the impact that Amazon has on locally owned stores and also on stores that may not be locally owned, but still have a major local presence. Many of these stores have a hard time competing with Amazon which is harmful to the local economy. I’m not bashing Amazon because I love the selection, pricing, and convenience that it offers. I also understand that Amazon has been hiring people to staff their new distribution centers which improve the convenience of their experience. However, I’ve been also making a conscious decision to shop businesses that have a local presence (I define this as businesses that are locally owned or are national stores that have a physical store in the community) so that I support the local economy.
Here are the 5 lessons that I learned in the Toys R Us bankruptcy.
Lesson 1: Search for items at small, locally owned businesses or larger brick and mortar businesses in my local community first.
Over the past couple of years, my philosophy on how I shopped started to change. I started to think about how my money could impact small, locally owned businesses and my local economy. I started to think about the jobs and the tax base that was created because of the businesses located in my community. That even extends to how I created my baby registry. I created a registry at Babies R Us and then one at a small, locally owned baby store. I did both because I loved how the Babies R Us registry was structured, but yet I still wanted to do something to help a small business. Therefore, I had 2 registries.
My desire to shop locally has even impacted my food decisions. I look for food items that were made locally, prioritize restaurants that source their ingredients locally, and I even buy some items direct from the farm. I believe that it is healthier and it also helps the local economy. However, since Toys R Us announced it’s bankruptcy I have looked for ways to expand what I was doing. For example, before I buy anything online, I look for the item in a business located in my community first. This can either be a small, locally owned business or a larger brick and mortar business. I do this because I want to be able to have a place to go to if I need to pick up an item. I value the service that I get from businesses that I can visit, and thus I want to be able to do my part to help to keep them afloat.
There are so many jobs that locally owned or locally present companies provide to the community. With the Toys R Us bankruptcy, it is sad enough that the 33,000 Toys R Us employees are losing a job, but according to Isaac Larian, CEO of MGA Entertainment and creator of Little Tikes, that number can be over 130,000 people once the jobs of those who support the toy industry (vendors, distributors, truck drivers, order fulfillment centers, and warehouses) will also lose their jobs. When I saw that number, I was so shocked to learn just how many people support the toy industry. I remember during the financial crisis of 2008 and the car industry was struggling that there were thousands of people who lost their jobs who were not only employed with the car industry, but with suppliers, and other related industries. Again, I understand that Toys R Us had some major mismanagement issues, and this is not an indictment against a well-run company like Amazon. My point is that when we spend our dollars, we must also examine the impact that our spending has on our local economy.
Given that some of these places may be a little more expensive than Amazon, I challenged myself to get creative. For example:
- Some stores price match. Before I buy, I check the store’s policy to see if they price match to competitors or to online companies. Buy Buy Baby price matches to their competitors and accepts competitor coupons so check out online prices before you buy.
- Barnes & Noble has an email list and if you are a subscriber you can get coupons. When shopping with a coupon, it brings the in-store purchase price in line with Amazon. Also, for used books, I search for the item at Half Price Books. Friends of mine swear by the thrift store as a place to get used books. If I don’t find a particular item at Half Price Books, I’ve had great success at locating used books online at Thriftbooks.com or Betterworldbooks.com. Betterworldbooks.com is cool because the company also helps to fund literacy initiatives worldwide.
Lesson 2: If I use customer service in a store, then I buy from the store.
Brick and mortar stores have to pay for the customer service support staff there which means that the cost of the employees has to be captured in the prices that they charge. It isn’t fair for customers to visit a store to ask questions, view the product, get help, and then head online to buy from Amazon. I recently had a conversation with an employee at a locally owned business that I love and she told me that the store had to scale back their offerings on cloth diapers because people would get help on how to use the cloth diapers and then head to Amazon to purchase the product. Their sales of cloth diapers have decreased so much that they couldn’t afford to continue to provide classes and products at a level that they had in the past because their revenue from that product line had declined. Of course, they still appreciated the people who visited the store and some even returned to buy different items, but the reason why I’m sharing this is that there are real-world impacts to our purchase decisions. It may cost a little more and I’m willing to pay that (within reason and balancing that with offsets in other areas of my budget like groceries – check out the free 30-day grocery reduction challenge) because I’m willing to make that investment in my community.
Lesson 3: I want to help current and aspiring entrepreneurs to thrive.
As a business owner, I’m really sensitive about creating an environment that allows small businesses to thrive. I care about this because I believe that in order for the hopes of current and aspiring entrepreneurs to come true, we as a community should support them by at least checking out the store to see what they may have to offer assuming that it is something that we need or want. For example, when I’m searching for a restaurant to visit for dinner, I search for something locally owned. A great way to do this is:
- Being aware when driving or in my daily activities. If I see that the restaurant gets good traffic then I will look up the menu and determine whether I want to try it out.
- Ask for referrals. A great way to find new places to try is to ask other people for recommendations.
- Search Groupon. Groupon has a great selection of restaurants that offer deals. That is a great way to evaluate the reviews and also try a new place for less.
Additionally, when possible, I visit locally-owned coffee shops instead of the bigger chains. In the grocery store, I look for products that are made locally and almost all of the time sample the products that the locally owned businesses are offering in case I like them or would know someone who would. To me, it’s about doing small things to help others out.
Lesson 4: Think of shopping for my twins as an experience.
With twin two-year-olds, it can be challenging to go to the store and online shopping is so much easier. However, it’s not just about convenience. Shopping for my kids is an experience. I shared my favorite Toys R Us shopping experience at the beginning of this post, and that revelation changed how I viewed in-store shopping. Matter of fact, I even wrote a post nearly a year ago about how I was able to save money by going to pick up items at Toys R Us when I could go without my twins. However, one day I was thinking about my experience as a child in Toys R Us. My sisters and I used to be so excited because we would go and ride the display bikes around the back part of the store. I thought about how much fun we had going to the store even if we were only allowed to take home 1 of the many items we played with. It was so much fun and it also taught us that we couldn’t get everything we wanted and we learned to evaluate and choose the things that we wanted the most within our allocated budget.
As I started to reflect on my experience as a child, I started to change my mindset. I realized that it was less about convenience but more about the experience that my twins had in the store. The funny thing is I was at dinner with a friend one day and I was talking about how Toys R Us is a money trap for me, but it is a place that my twins love. She then told me that she takes her daughter and her daughter’s friends to Toys R Us to do scavenger hunts. She comes up with the items to locate in advance and then the children search for the item. It was such a cool idea.
We aren’t the only ones who look at Toys R Us as an experience. I also had a conversation with a friend of mine about the Toys R Us closing. He was so sad because he remembered getting calls from Geoferry on his birthday. I spoke to a few Toys R Us employees and they told me that there were grownups coming into the store crying because of the memories that were going away with Toys R Us. There were so many people who looked at Toys R Us as an experience.
Toys R Us wasn’t the only place that I tried to turn into a fun experience for my children. Whenever we go somewhere – whether it is Costco, Barnes & Noble, the grocery store, or places that I have to go to run errands, I look for ways to turn even the mundane errands into something fun for the twins.
Lesson 5: I make fewer shopping mistakes.
I previously thought that it was just parents of teenagers and young adults that can’t guess what their children want. However, I’ve learned that even though my twins are 2, it is hard to choose their toys for them. There are things that I’m certain that they will love and they aren’t interested in at all. Then there are things that I wouldn’t even guess that they would like and they love it. I realize that I need to be able to have my kids test out the toys before they buy them. With a shift to an online system, it is hard to do that and it results in wasted spending.
I wish that Toys R Us was able to innovate and survive as a company because they have so much potential. Similarly to how the Lego Store became a destination store for play, Toys R Us was planning that too prior to bankruptcy. I still pray for a miracle that Toys R Us can be saved because I am a Toys R Us kid, but if it isn’t then I will definitely miss Toys R Us. However, this bankruptcy has taught me great lessons about shopping in my local community and I share these lessons with you to encourage you to rethink your shopping patterns and start to put a focus on shopping small, shopping locally owned businesses, and shopping larger businesses in your community because our local economies, communities, and businesses need it.
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Aisha Taylor is a single mom of twins, personal financial coach, work from home entrepreneur, and #1 Amazon Best Selling Author of the book “5+5 FNPhenomenal Ways to Save $100 This Week Without Killing Your Lifestyle.” Aisha has been featured in ESSENCE, Jet Magazine, and Black Enterprise. She is also the Founder of FNPhenomenal (Frugal –n- Phenomenal), a movement designed to help single moms create a vision for their lives, craft a financial strategy to support that vision, and show them that phenomenal living is possible. It’s time for you to be Financially Phenomenal!
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