A billionaire toy executive asked the world to help #SaveToysRUs, launching a long-shot crowdfunding campaign with a $1 billion target. To get momentum going, he and other investors put up $200 million to buy parts of the bankrupt retailer.
Twenty-two days and 1,955 donors later, the rescue mission raised about $59,000 — leaving the GoFundMe campaign nearly $800 million short.
But Isaac Larian, CEO and founder of the toy giant MGA Entertainment, is still undeterred. On Friday, Larian said he plans to submit a formal bid in U.S. Bankruptcy Court of $675 million to buy 274 Toys R Us stores and use the brand name. Much of that money will come from Larian himself, as well as from other investors and bank financing. He also plans to submit a bid of $215 million for 82 Canadian stores, with help of other investors.
“If we are successful, I think that in three or four years we’re going to bring [Toys R Us] back to its glory, and even more,” Larian told The Washington Post.
Larian’s privately held company is the maker of Bratz, L.O.L. Surprise dolls and Little Tikes. In March, Larian told The Post that he would look to buy as many as 400 U.S. stores, which he would continue to operate under the Toys R Us name.
Larian said he never truly thought the crowdfunding campaign would hit 10 figures. But he was satisfied with the showing of support from Toys R Us loyalists worldwide. According to the campaign’s GoFundMe page, all donations would be returned if the campaign came up short.
At least some of Larian’s soft spot for Toys R Us comes from the retailer’s early interest in his first toy, a walkie-talkie, which he sold in 1979. Decades later, MGA Entertainment, one of the world’s largest toy manufacturers, sells about 20 percent of its products in Toys R Us stores.
One month ago, Toys R Us announced it would close all 800 of its U.S. stores, putting as many as 33,000 jobs in jeopardy. According to court documents, the retailer expects to liquidate all of its stores by the end of June, though some stores may shutter even sooner.
“Toys R Us is like a sick patient in the ICU,” Larian said. “If you don’t do a quick heart surgery, the patient is going to die. It’s deteriorating on a daily basis.”
The bulk of donations to Larian’s GoFundMe campaign were in amounts under $25. Donors were promised prizes ranging from a #SaveToysRUs bumper sticker ($5-$49 pledges) to a block party and other perks for the cool price of $50,000-$74,999. Folks with $10 million or more to spend would get to be “Kid CEO for the Day” and receive toys for life.
Tim Hall, CEO of the analytics start-up Simporter and a former Hasbro executive, said MGA Entertainment has done especially well following the rollout of its L.O.L. Surprise doll. According to The NPD Group, the doll was the fastest-selling toy in the U.S. heading into the 2017 holiday season.
Still, Hall noted that Larian’s bid isn’t purely motivated by nostalgia.
“Isaac is a master of publicity and social media, and he has done a wonderful job getting people to try to take this seriously,” Hall said. “But he’s a smart business guy, and this is a business decision for him. It’s a very credible opportunity.”
Larian said he ultimately fears the loss of innovation in the toy industry if Toys R Us is put to rest. And he knows that even if his bid is successful, he won’t be able to save hundreds of locations in the U.S. and Canada, let alone stores all over the world.
“I truly, honestly, want to try to save as many jobs as possible,” Larian said. “But if I’m not successful, at least I can say that I did my best.”
Abha Bhattarai contributed to this report.