Online retailers toppling brick-and-mortar giants
Toys “R” Us Inc., the largest US “brick and mortar” toys retailer, filed for bankruptcy late on Monday night, as a result of a crushing post-LBO debt load and relentless competition from warehouse and online retailers – the “latest blow to a retail industry reeling from store closures, sluggish mall traffic and the gravitational pull of Amazon.com,” according to Bloomberg.
The Chapter 11 filing is among the largest ever by a specialty retailer and casts doubt over the future of its about 1,600 stores and 64,000 employees. It comes just as Toys ‘R’ Us is gearing up for the holiday shopping season, which accounts for the bulk of its sales, and as vendors halt shipments to the now insolvent retailer.
With assets of $6.9 billion, it’s the second-largest retail bankruptcy, trailing the filing in 2002 by Kmart, which had $14.6 billion in assets.
The company was saddled with debt from a $6.6 billion buyout in 2005 led by KKR, Bain Capital and Vornado Realty Trust. Toys ‘R’ Us has bonds coming due over the next few years that lost most of their value this month.
“While today’s decision does not necessarily mean it is game over for Toys ‘R’ Us, it brings to a close a turbulent chapter in the iconic company’s history,” said Neil Saunders, managing director of GlobalData Retail.
“What they have going for them is they are the last major player in their market,” said David Berliner, a partner and restructuring specialist with BDO Consulting. “The vendors don’t want to see them fail, so I think they have a good opportunity to survive.”
The company listed debt and assets of more than $1 billion in its Chapter 11 filing submitted Monday at the U.S. Bankruptcy Court in Richmond, Virginia (an odd place for such a major bankruptcy filing). Prior to filing, the company said that it had secured more than $3 billion in financing from lenders including a JPMorgan Chase & Co.-led bank syndicate and certain existing lenders to fund operations while it restructures. The money will be critical to provide comfort to Toys “R” Us vendors that they will be paid on time. Yesterday the stocks of some key suppliers such as Hasbro and Mattel were hit in advance of the filing.
When reports surfaced recently that Toys “R” Us was weighing a bankruptcy filing, Chinese toy scooter maker Pinghu Mijia Child Product Co. put all of the retailer’s orders on hold, fearing it wouldn’t get paid, according to sales manager Justin Yu, Bloomberg reported. The toy retailer represents about 10 to 20 percent of the Chinese supplier’s sales. “We were shocked to hear the news last week because their orders to us have been rising every year, so we did not know they were in trouble,” Yu said. “They’re a major buyer and I would say that the majority of toy makers in China would have some contracts with them.”
The bankruptcy filing by the company also may have global implications, especially for Chinese toy manufacturers. Some 38 percent of the company’s revenue came from overseas markets in the latest fiscal year. “It’s a loss for the long-term benefit of the entire industry,” said Lun Leung, chairman of Hong Kong-based Lung Cheong Group, a toy supplier for Hasbro Inc. He said Toys “R” Us accounted for less than 5 percent of the group’s sales.
“We expect that the financial constraints that have held us back will be addressed in a lasting and effective way,” Chief Executive Dave Brandon said. “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’s Canadian unit intends to seek protection in parallel proceedings under the Companies’ Creditors Arrangement Act (CCAA) in the Ontario Superior Court of Justice, Toys ‘R’ Us said in a statement. Operations outside of the United States and Canada, including about 255 licensed stores and joint venture partnerships in Asia, which are separate entities, are not part of the bankruptcy proceedings, Toys ‘R’ Us said.
As an indication of the challenges faced by the struggling retailer, the company opened a temporary store in New York City’s Times Square this year to capture more holiday shoppers, almost two years after it closed its flagship store barely a block away, driven out by high rents.
More than a dozen significant retail chains have filed for bankruptcy this year. Among them were Perfumania Inc, apparel chains rue21 Inc and Gymboree Corp, discount shoe chain Payless Holdings LLC and designer clothing chain BCBG Max Azria Global Holdings LLC.
The shakeout is also reverberating across American malls and shopping districts. More than 10 percent of U.S. retail space, or nearly 1 billion square feet, may need to be closed, converted to other uses or renegotiated for lower rent in coming years, according to data provided to Bloomberg by CoStar Group.
Major retailers including Macy’s and Sears Holding have closed hundreds of locations as they struggle to compete with discounters such as Wal-Mart and Amazon.com. Amazon’s recent acquisition of high-end grocer Whole Foods Markets Inc stirred speculation that the online giant will use its pricing power and huge reach among U.S. consumers to go after market share of traditional brick-and-mortar grocers.