Melanie Teed-Murch didn’t deliberately look for a job with Toys R Us 22 years ago — but she’s now crossing the country telling Canadians all the jobs at the chain are safe and the company is thriving.
Fairfax Financial Holdings, a Toronto-based company, bought the chain for $300 million, a deal that kept 82 stores in Canada open and saved more than 4,000 jobs, including those at the Kamloops store in Columbia Square in Sahali.
The American side of the chain, however, closed its 735 stores in June, putting more than 31,000 people out of work. In March, the United Kingdom side of the chain also closed all 100 stores, with about 3,000 people losing their jobs.
Neither was able to find a buyer nor restructure debt of billions.
When its American counterpart announced plans in March to file for bankruptcy, Teed-Murch said the Canadian side had “a Defcon” meeting and then decided to focus on telling people it’s not affected by the U.S. shutdown.
Instead, she said, Toys “R” Us Canada found an investor in Fairfax and decided to take the company’s message and its prototype new store model across the country.
The message is succinct, she said.
Toys “R” Us is Canadian-owned. It has control of all intellectual property associated with the brand, as well as its own private brands — and its future is bright, despite its inability to recover about $100 million in unsecured loans to the U.S. side in recent years as it tried to help those stores continue to operate.
Teed-Murch anticipates opening new stores, perhaps bigger ones or pop-ups around holiday seasons in locations that can’t support year-round outlets.
There could be outreach to mothers’ groups and lactation counsellors and other family-focused services in stores to interact with the community on a regular basis. Birthday-party rooms are another possibility.
The company will also continue to support charities.
The stores themselves will be changing based on prototypes in Langley and Barrie, Ont.
The new format includes an increased focus on customer experience in the stores, with improved sightlines and shelving units that are not ceiling-high.
Stocking shelves will not be done necessarily by brands, but more along play patterns. The company will also add play and interactive areas with brain teasers, board games and hopscotch — ways for kids of most ages to sit down and play rather than simply looking at packages on shelves.
On the purchasing side, customers will have mobile pay options and an online method to order something one might be looking for in their community store but not find, pay for it and have it delivered to their home.
Teed-Murch acknowledged a click isn’t the same as spending time in a Toys “R” Us store, but said the company needs to provide all options to its consumer base — in-store experiences and online access.
She said the Kamloops store has some of the aspects of the prototypes — the Babies “R” Us section has been moved to the front and the focus is on the customer experience.
Teed-Murch praised the Kamloops store for its staff enthusiasm, knowledge and pride.
Her visit on Monday coincided with the Starlight Dash shopping spree for Savanna Morris and her family, who had three minutes to grab as many toys as they could.
The joy she witnessed during that early-morning spree speaks to the underlying belief that fuels the company, Teed-Murch said.
“We believe in the power of play. We believe play is a right for kids. Stop giving them that iPad and play with them. Get on the floor and play with Lego. Play some board games.
“Play is important.”