It’s not so long ago that Toys R Us was a place that demanded the attention, that captivated children with the apparently limitless array of goodies and games.
Now, it’s the latest byword for the collapse of high street retail. Even big out-of-town shops aren’t immune from the apparently unstoppable shift to shopping online.
A year ago this week, Toys R Us revealed that the spectre of administration knocking at its door as Christmas approached.
And while it drew back from the brink of collapse after creditors approved a restructuring plan, its stay of execution was short.
Administration finally arrived in February, and as winter turned to spring, 106 UK stores began to board up their windows and strip bare their shelves. More than 3,000 staff lost their jobs, scores of towns lost their biggest toy shop.
Meole Brace Retail Park in Shrewsbury, St Andrews in Birmingham, Birchley Island in Oldbury, the Merry Hill Centre and at Stafford’s Queens Retail Park – all were left with gaping holes where Toys R Us once stood
As the crisis grew a year ago, some suggested however that the loss of Toys R Us could deliver a fillip to independent toy shops hoping to pick up their lost trade.
Hannah Edgington, owner of toy specialist The Wooden Play Den, in Newport, Shropshire. said: “We are five years old now and have had our busiest year.
“There seems to have been a resurgence of independent shops and businesses, and people wanting to support them as well.
“Toys R Us going might have had an impact. People have obviously had to look elsewhere to get their toys.
“I am predominately online but do go to local events. I have been really busy online but it is important customers see the products and their quality.”
However, Dave Carter, co-owner of the Arcade Toy Shop in Dudley town centre, said footfall has fallen this year and doesn’t think he has particularly benefitted from the toy giant’s closure.
“There has certainly been a downturn in retail, and footfall has generally been down in Dudley.
“We are selling more online now on eBay, Amazon and own website.
“We sell a good range of Playmobil and traditional stuff like wooden toys. We have branched out into designer baby wear.
“We have had to diversify to compete with the likes of Argos, The Entertainer and Smyths.
“I think part of the problem with Toys R Us is they over-stretched themselves. I never thought they were particular cheap as well.
“I think some children are overwhelmed by the warehouse stores which are piled right to the ceiling.”
Several of the former Toys R Us shops have already been sold off in the UK – with plans to take over locations in Shrewsbury, Oldbury, Derby, Exeter, Lincoln, Cambridge, Plymouth, Cardiff, Liverpool, York and more.
The Oldbury store is being demolished under plans to make way for a new retail development, while the Shrewsbury store is set to become an outlet for Home Bargains, creating 50 new jobs.
But the move online still continues.
“Most of my customers I have met at these events and they then feel comfortable to buy online because they trust the products,” said Ms Edgington.
“I still think there is always a place for high street shops where customers get to come in and see products It is important to understand what a customer wants. There are a lot more people who work now so they have less time to go out and shop so it is important to try and make things easier for them.
“I have launched a gift box range where the customer sets the value and age range, and I pick the toys.”
With Christmas approaching, Ms Edgington said traditional toys appear to be making a comeback.
“The traditional old style toys have become very popular again such as wooden animals.
“The wooden ferris wheel is one of my best selling. I also do a wooden style etch a sketch,” she added.
Toys R Us was one of the most high-profile retail casualties in the first quarter of the year.
Electronics retailer Maplin went into administration on the same day, putting a further 2,500 retail jobs in doubt.
Meanwhile, New Look and Carpetright have both announced plans to shut stores as part of restructuring plans.
High street retailers such as Toys R Us have been battling against a combination of rising costs and a fall in consumer confidence.
Many retailers have also struggled to keep up with the rise of online retailing and a change in shopping habits.