Posts

THE BACKGROUND

It’s safe to say that Toys ‘R’ Us is one of the most popular places on earth for kids everywhere. With an endless variety of toys stacked in high racks, it is a heaven created for kids or kids-at-heart alike.

The toy retailer was born after founder Charles Lazarus came back from serving in the World War II and decided to build a baby furniture business during the baby-boom in 1948.

Lazarus started featuring assortments of toys in the store then named “Children’s Bargain Town” after receiving a high demand from parents and soon learned that unlike furniture, toys would keep customers coming back, either for an upgrade or a replacement.

Less than a decade later, he restructured his business to solely focus on toys and opened the first Toys ‘R’ Us store in 1957 — with the iconic backward R giving a childlike impression. To date, the company has 1,600 stores across 38 countries.

“What we are is a supermarket for toys. We don’t have a competitor in variety, there is none,” told Lazarus to the Washington Post.

Toys R Us bankruptcy ecommerce

Toys ‘R’ Us founder Charles Lazarus retired as CEO and president in 1994 while remain chairman. Source: Getty Images.

For decades, the US company was so unbeatable that it had become a classic example of a category killer — a business that successfully specializes in one sector that it pushes out competition from both smaller specialty stores and larger general retailers.

So what happened to the once-booming business that the company filed for bankruptcy earlier this week?

THE CHALLENGE

When news of the Chapter 11 filing (“reorganization” bankruptcy”) by the toy retailer broke, media was quick to blame Amazon and the rise of online retail as the reason of yet another traditional retailer struggling to stay in business, known commonly as the Amazon Effect.

But the real reason for the bankruptcy is more complicated than this and what set off “a dangerous game of dominoes” was actually accumulated debt.

Toys ‘R’ Us had managed to sustain a crushing debt for more than a decade after getting bought by KKR and Bain Capital in 2005. The private equities bought the retailer, which at that time was valued around $7.5 billion, for $6.6 billion that consists only of $1.4 billion in equity.

They then used the company’s assets to raise $5.3 billion in additional debt, creating a total debt of $6.2 billion — based on the assumption that they would be able to cut the retailer’s operating costs and sell under-utilized assets to raise cash and repay the debt.

But they failed to predict the retail shift to ecommerce, which created a completely different competitor from the ones Toys ‘R’ Us had been facing in the past such as Walmart or Target.

The assumption that retail real estate would increase in value also failed them as the US became saturated with retail space once businesses began shutting down.

The company barely had enough money to repay its $5 billion debt and fight traditional retailers, let alone build a major online presence to go up against Amazon.

Given its fragile situation and end year sales around the corner, the company was forced to file for bankruptcy protection in order to provide the vendors with cash in advance as nearly all of them refused to ship products to fill the retailer’s inventory for the holiday season.

THE STRATEGY

With the new protection, Toys ‘R’ Us received a commitment for over $3 billion to help address the financial constraints in a lasting and effective way, as stated by Toys ‘R’ Us CEO Dave Brandon in the courts filling.

“Together with our investors, our objective is to work with our debtholders and other creditors to restructure the $5 billion of long term debt on our balance sheet.”

The company doesn’t plan to close stores and its operation in location around the world will continue normal operations. Toys ‘R’ Us also plans to spend $64.8 million before 2022 to make it more enjoyable to shop in its stores.

“Toys ‘R’ Us stores will be interactive spaces with rooms to use for parties, live product demonstrations put on by trained employees, and the freedom for employees to remove products from boxes to let kids play with the latest toys,” explained Brandon.

The plan also includes the creation of augmented-reality video games that customers can play on their smartphones while shopping at the store.

Toys R Us bankruptcy ecommerce

The iconic Indoor Ferris Wheel in Toys ‘R’ Us’s Time Square store that was closed in 2015 because of its high rental cost.

The suppliers’ support for the reorganization plan for Toys ‘R’ Us is also key to dragging them out of bankruptcy.

“Vendors are why they are in, they will be a big part of why they get out,” said Bloomberg Intelligence analyst, Noel Hebert.

Some of the key vendors such as Hasbro and Matte have rallied support and stated they were standing by the company.

Earlier this year, the company also expressed its commitment to take action towards the lack of its online experience with a $100 million investment to revamp its website.

“Some organizations recognize faster than others there are shifts in the ways customers want to be communicated with and the way customers want to purchase products,” said Toys ‘R’ Us CEO David Brandon. “It probably took us awhile.”

Toys R Us bankruptcy ecommerce

The company’s current ecommerce website: www.toysrus.com

CEO Dave Brandon has said that the company will not engage in a “race to the bottom” of a discount war that is usually employed by online retailers in order to gain new customers.

Despite accusations of being slow to adapt to the online shift, Toys ‘R’ Us was, in fact, one of the first companies to sign a deal with Amazon in 2000 to sell toys exclusively through the online retailer.

The exclusive agreement marked the first “click-and-mortar” collaboration between traditional and online retailers but Amazon broke the deal and began allowing other toy sellers in its platform because Toys ‘R’ Us stock couldn’t keep up with the high demand.

Toys ‘R’ Us sued in 2004, and Amazon ended up having to pay $51 million out of the $93 million that the toy retailer asked for to settle the lawsuit five years later.

THE FUTURE

Despite the woes of the company in the US, its Asian operations remained unaffected.

In April this year, the company unified its Japanese business with the operations in Greater China and Southeast Asia — bringing together 223 subsidiaries stores across Asia and 34 licensed retail locations in Macau and the Philippines.

“Toys ‘R’ Us (Asia) is open for business and continuing to serve our customers as we always do. We are financially robust and self-funding retail operation, which continues to significantly grow and invest in this region,” said Toys ‘R’ Us Asia president, Andre Javes.

The company even plans to open another 22 store in China the coming weeks.

The journey that Toys ‘R’ Us facing will not be easy but the CEO remains optimistic.

“As the holiday season ramps up, our physical and web store are ones for business, and our team members around the world look forward to continuing to put huge smiles on children’s faces,” said Brandon.

Toys R Us bankruptcy ecommerce

Here’s what you need to know today.

1. Private equity investor KKR tops up third Asia fund, nearing $7b target

KKR is a private equity investor with stakes in various sectors, including tech. It became widely known in Southeast Asia’s tech scene when it participated in Go-Jek’s $550 million round last year.

A US private pension provider, the New York State Common Retirement Fund (CRF), says it’s putting at least $275 million into a new fund by global investment firm KKR, called KKR Asia Fund III.

Parts of the US$7 billion pot could flow into the further funding of Go-Jek, which is said to be in the process of raising another $1 billion to fend off competitors Grab and Uber. The fresh investments into KKR’s fund could mean very positive things for tech companies in Southeast Asia.

Read the rest of the story here.

 

2. TransferWise sets up Singapore office to serve as Asia-Pacific HQ

Online money transfer startup TransferWise announced today it is setting up its Asia-Pacific hub in Singapore.

This gives Transferwise a central location in Asia-Pacific, allowing it to reach more customers in the region.

TransferWise allows its customers to send and receive money across borders for a fraction of the charges imposed on bank transfers. To do that, it uses a peer-to-peer system that matches users according to the currencies they want to send and receive.

The service has been available in Singapore for some time but due to regulations, users had to verify their identity by contacting TransferWise and doing it manually. Now, the Monetary Authority of Singapore (MAS) has approved online verification for the startup.

Read the rest of the story here.

 

3. Recommended Reading: China’s internet giants go global

Western companies usually prefer to focus on a few core areas, whereas Chinese internet firms typically try to do everything from cloud computing to digital payments.

When this works, as with Tencent’s wildly successful app, WeChat, the results can be impressive.

A huge home market has not stopped the trio from fighting bloody turf wars among each other. The outcome to this battle is rapidly becoming clear. Tencent and Alibaba are surging ahead; a series of own goals has left Baidu far behind.

 Read the rest of the story here.

Here’s what you should know today.

1.Amazon is tightening its grip to India’s mobile shoppers

US-based ecommerce giant Amazon is almost neck-to-neck with Flipkart in winning India’s mobile ecommerce users, according to the latest data by 7Park.

Amazon captured 30.3% of the country’s mobile shoppers, just slightly lower from Flipkart’s 30.7%. Meanwhile, Snapdeal lagged behind at 10.8%.

At a closer look, Amazon’s growth has been at the expense of Flipkart. From Q1 2016 to Q1 2017, the company saw a spike of 46%. Flipkart’s app engagement in the meantime has declined 11.5% during the same period.

Mobile plays an important in India’s ecommerce market, especially since 80% of traffic to both Flipkart and Snapdeal came from their respective apps or mobile sites.

Amazon also had 10 times more browsers turning into buyers than Flipkart did. Amazon’s unique purchasers reportedly grew 113.1%, far above Flipkart at 10.8%.

Read the rest of the story here.

2. Gojek is raising $1 billion of funding for Southeast Asia expansion

Gojek is looking to raise a $1 billion worth of funding, cited anonymous sources close to process as first reported by Wall Street Journal.

The ride-hailing app is looking to raise capital at a $2 billion pre-money valuation.

The fund is said to be used for their regional expansion plan to Southeast Asia countries such as the Philippines, Thailand, Myanmar, and Vietnam.

In August 2016, Gojek has raised $550 million from various investors including KKR, Warburg Pincus, Farallon Capital, and Capital Group Private Markets.

The company has branching out to fintech by building and promoting their own e-wallet service with much success. Gojek’s direct competitor, Grab has recently following their footsteps by acquiring Indonesian O2O ecommerce platform, Kudo.

Read the rest of the story here.

3. Recommended Reading: Luxury brands are going more and more digital

According to the fifth edition of Contactlab and Exane BNP Paribas’ ‘Digital Competitive Map’, luxury brands’ digital performance was up +5% overall.

The research, which encompasses a range of evaluation parameters, has included social media reach for the first time this year.

Burberry claimed the throne out of the 32 international luxury brands for two consecutive years now. Among the top five are also Louis Vuitton, Tory Burch, Gucci, and Fendi.

“Catering to millennial consumers is especially crucial in order to improve digital sales (…) The beauty of social media platforms, such as Instagram, is that they allow customers and brands to communicate globally, catalyse organic engagement, form creative communities and drive sales.” commented Contactlab’s Senior Advisor, Marco Pozzi.

Read the rest of the story here.

Indonesia’s most popular ride-hailing app Go-Jek is in negotiations with two of the world’s largest investment firms, KKR and Warburg Pincus, to raise funds totaling $400 million. This financing round will see Go-Jek’s valuation increase to an estimated $1.2 billion, making it the biggest startup to date in Indonesia, as well as the largest fund-raising round in Southeast Asia. 

According to Wall Street Journal, Private equity major Kohlberg Kravis Roberts (KKR) is set to be part of this round, and may invest $100 million in the region for a minority stake in the Indonesian startup. Industry executive said the bulk of the remaining amount for this financing round is slated to come from Warburg Pincus.

The market buzzed about the company’s latest funding for the last two weeks, but Go-Jek remained silent on the issue. KKR’s investment in Go-Jek is likely to come from its $6 billion pan-Asian fund, which it closed in 2013. This would be the first time for both KKR and Warburg to invest in the ridesharing market, which until now was dominated by venture capital firms. 

Since the app is launched in 2015, Go-Jek is now estimated to have more than 200,000 drivers operating in 10 cities.

It offers more than just motorcycle taxis, and has been expanding services to on-demand groceries, cleaning, door-to-door masseuses, and couriers among others.

Go-Jek has been facing stiffer competition from Singapore-based transportation service app Grab, a regional transport service major which has also been intensively expanding its services and network, via partnerships with local companies. This week, Grab signed an agreement with Indonesia’s Lippo Group to develop an e-money payments platform. The partnership is an extension of a strategic deal signed between the two companies in March this year.

Go-Jek generates revenue from a commission charged for fares; a common model across most ride-hailing service providers. In addition, they often offer drivers cash incentives to maintain low fares and retain them on their platform. However, such subsidies have also driven up customer acquisition costs and expenditures, with many transport services seeking to reduce the subsidies paid out. Grab’s CEO, Anthony Tan, has already reported that its services in some cities are seeing profitability.

A version of this appeared in Deal Street Asia on July 27. Read the full article here.