NEW YORK — Toys 'R' Us, the toy retailer struggling with $5 billion in debt and intense online competition, has filed for bankruptcy protection ahead of the key holiday shopping season — and says its stores will remain open for business as usual.
The company said the proceedings are a way for Toys 'R' Us to work with its creditors on restructuring the debt beleaguering it. And it emphasized that its stores worldwide will serve customers while it works with suppliers and sells merchandise.
Filing for bankruptcy protection "will provide us with greater financial flexibility to invest in our business ... and strengthen our competitive position in an increasingly challenging and rapidly changing retail marketplace worldwide," Chairman and CEO Dave Brandon said.
The move comes as retailers head into the busiest shopping time of year. The company said it was "well-stocked as we prepare for the holiday season and are excited about all of our upcoming in-store events."
Retailers of all kinds are struggling. The Toys 'R' Us bankruptcy filing joins a list of at least 18 others since the beginning of the year — including shoe chain Payless Shoe Source, children's clothing chain Gymboree Corp. and the True Religion jean brand — as people shop less in stores and more online.
"Toys 'R' Us had little choice but to restructure and try to put itself on a firmer footing, said Neil Saunders, managing director of GlobalData Retail. However, he added, "even if the debt issues are solved, Toys 'R' Us still faces massive structural challenges against which it must battle."
Toys 'R' Us, a major force in toy retailing in the 1980s and early 1990s, started losing shoppers to discounters like Walmart and Target and then to Amazon. GlobalData Retail estimates that in 2016 about 13.7 percent of toy sales were made online, up from 6.5 percent five years ago.
And children are increasingly moving more toward mobile devices as playthings. "For many children, electronics have become a replacement or a substitute for traditional toys," Saunders said.
Toys 'R' Us has struggled with debt since private-equity firms Bain Capital, KKR & Co. and Vornado Realty Trust took it private in a $6.6 billion leveraged buyout in 2005. The plan had been to take the company public, but that never happened because of its weak financial performance.
With such debt levels, Toys 'R' Us has not had the financial flexibility to invest in its business. Marc Rosenberg, a toy marketing executive, said Toys 'R' Us hasn't been aggressive about building its online business, and let those sales migrate to rivals. And he says the company should have also thought of new ways to attract more customers in its stores, such as hosting birthday parties.
Read Wednesday's Arkansas Democrat-Gazette for full details.