Vendors Tightened Terms as Toys R Us Weighed Restructuring, CEO Says

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Toys R Us in Manhattan

Toys R Us filed for bankruptcy protection late Monday as it sought to restructure debt left over from its $6.6 billion sale 12 years ago.

The top unsecured creditor is Bank of New York ($206.3 million), followed by Mattel ($135.6 million), Hasbro ($59 million), Spin Master Corp. ($59 million), Graco ($32.7 million), Lego ($31.5 million), Just Play ($28.9 million), MGA Entertainment ($21.3 million), Vtech Electronics ($17.7 million) and Jakks Pacific ($14 million). Sales of Mattel  products account for 11% of Toys R Us’ annual revenue, while Hasbro is 9%, says Jeffries analyst Stephanie Wissink.

The company’s decision to seek bankruptcy protection came quickly, Toys R Us CEO David Brandon said in court documents. The retailer hired Kirkland & Ellis and Alvarez & Marsal North America in late July as it weighed restructuring. But as news of a potential bankruptcy filing surfaced in early September, 40% of its more than 3,600 vendors within a week refused to ship product without cash on delivery (COD) versus the more standard 60-day terms. Within 10 days of the news, all vendors had adopted a COD policy. The new terms would have required Toys R Us to get $1 billion in additional liquidity, Brandon said.

The bankruptcy was partly tied to the  chain’s 2005 sale to Kohlberg Kravis Roberts, Bain Capital and Vornado Realty Trust left the retailer with part of the $4.9 billion in debt listed in the bankruptcy filing, $400 million of which has interest payments due in 2018 and another $1.7 billion in 2019.

The filing, in U.S. Bankruptcy Court, Alexandria, VA, “marks the dawn of a new era” for the chain and “we expect that the financial constraints that have held us back will be addressed in a long lasting and effective way,” Brandon said in a statement.

The company will continue to operate its U.S. (568 stores), international (780 stores) and Babies R Us (223 stores). Toys R Us operations outside the U.S. aren’t part of proceedings, the company said.

Toys R Us received a commitment from some lenders, including a JP Morgan-led syndicate for more than $3.1  billion in debtor-in-possession funding that will “immediately improve” the chain’s “financial health,” pending court approval.  The DIP financing potentially gives the retailer new funding to bring an interactive flair to its stores as it seeks to ward off competition from online retailers, Brandon said in bankruptcy court documents.

While the DIP financing is needed to secure inventory for the upcoming holiday selling season, some of it will be used to give a new sheen to the company’s website and stores. The chain forecasts spending $90.4 million million between 2018 and 2021 upgrading its webstore to integrate customer loyalty programs and bringing “stores to life with ‘gamification’” – the use of augmented reality (AR) technology along with in-store digital content, Brandon said. The retailer has hired app developers to create AR games that customers can play in the stores using their mobile devices, Brandon said.

Toys R Us also plans to install “interactive spaces” within its stores for parties, live product demonstrations by trained employees and giving children a chance to play with products, Brandon said.

Rather than competing with online and mass retailers on price, Toys R Us is investing in marketing and in-store experiences, two areas where the company “believes it can offer consumers a far superior experience and effectively compete in this new retail environment,” Brandon said.

As part of that initiative, the company also plans to invest $276.6 million over a three-year period starting in 2018 to convert more stores to a side-by-side format with Babies R Us. It also will remodel, relocate or close some locations and develop a small-store format for urban markets, Brandon said. Toys R Us also plans to spend $117 million during the same period on capital projects, including increasing its ability to ship products from stores to fill online orders. It also has allocated $64 million for, among other things, positioning “highly-skilled and trained” employees in sections of the stores to demonstrate higher priced items.