By Neil Saunders
There is sad synchronicity in the timing of the death of Charles Lazarus, which comes just when Toys”R”Us, the retailer he founded, is preparing to shut up shop.
The current woes of the toy giant do nothing to detract from the passion, skill, and enthusiasm that Mr. Lazarus brought to the business.
The Toys”R”Us he created was an innovative and pioneering retailer that, in an era before online selling, used scale and volume to create a mecca to which generations of children were drawn.
Unfortunately, many of the attributes that once made Toys”R”Us successful eventually became burdens that prevented the firm from competing in a digital era.
Mr. Lazarus was not the author of those failures. Indeed, when he exited the firm in 1994, he left a sound business that had pride and purpose. Sadly, many—though not all—of his successors lacked his commercial intellect. Where he made sound decisions, they stumbled and made choices that would ultimately lead to the firm’s demise.
The cold treatment of Toys”R”Us by private equity players during its latter days was in sharp contrast to the warmth and joy Mr. Lazarus had for, and brought to, the business at its start. Ultimately, his vision and approach were right. Retail in general and toy retail, in particular, is a business that needs emotion and enthusiasm. Once those things disappear, it is not long until decline sets in.
The passing of Charles Lazarus is an ideal time to remember that retail is not just about numbers, metrics, and financials. It’s about passion, purpose, and strategy. Proper merchants, like Mr. Lazarus, knew this—which is one of the very many reasons he will be missed.
Neil Saunders is managing director of research firm GlobalData Retail.