Backwards R

My timing for this journal entry is probably in a bit of bad taste. After all, it isn’t very kind to make fun of some person or entity when they are having trouble. But somehow I can’t resist making a small comment. And the story is in the news. Here is a quote straight from the New York Times: “Toys “R” Us, the iconic retail chain that has sold toys and games to millions of children for generations, is closing shop in the United States. After filing for bankruptcy protection in September and suffering through a brutal holiday shopping season, the company decided on Wednesday to close or sell all of its remaining stores, after executives met with creditors throughout the day, according to three people briefed on the discussions.”

This is no laughing matter. More than 30,000 people stand to lose their jobs. Starting with a single baby store in Washington that sold cribs and strollers, the business grew to over 2,000 stores nation wide. A couple of generations of children grew up knowing Geoffrey the Giraffe and the jingle, “I don’t want to grow up, I’m a Toys ‘R’ Us kid.”

I have spent my share of money in Toys “R” Us stores. I remember following our children through that maze of impulse items set up at the entrance of the store. Our son headed for the Lego brick sets and our daughter for the dolls and accessories. When we moved from Boise, Idaho to Rapid City, South Dakota one of the comments I heard from our kids was, “Well, at least it has a Toys ‘R’ Us.”

I think I understand the dynamic pretty clearly. In the age of Internet selling, the bricks and mortar toy store is an antiquated sales model. The chain simply couldn’t keep up with Amazon and Walmart. Even with the simple architecture and low building costs of its stores, the overhead was simply too high for them to compete. Then there was the 2005 leveraged buyout that left the chain with a $5 billion debt. They just couldn’t keep up. And now liquidation sales will take place over the next few months. The signs will come down, complete with the backwards “R.”

And that is what I want to talk about today. That stupid - yes I think it was stupid - backwards “R.”

I always felt uncomfortable with the stores’ name and slogans on two levels. First of all as a parent, and now as a grandparent, I work diligently to teach children the correct way to form letters and to write. When they write a backwards letter, I make a gentle correction. I am careful in my printing when I write a note or postcard to our grandchildren, so that they see an example of clear printing. Every time I did business with the store, I wondered about a business that seemed to be intent in teaching children how to write the letter backwards. It bugged me enough that the clerks got tired of me mentioning it to them, I’m sure. The clerks, of course, had no input on marketing decisions or the logos and branding of the stores. They couldn’t do anything but be polite an humor that strange bearded guy who wanted to pick a bone with the sign on the front of the store. And it was clear to the clerks that the backwards “R” wasn’t stopping me from shopping in the store or from making purchases.

On another level, however, it seems like the name and logo is making fun of children and the way they learn to write. Of course I find it charming when one of my grandchildren writes me a note, even if the words run together and there are line breaks in the middle of words and letters are backwards and words misspelled. I love every paper and note that they give to me. My office and my home are filled with samples of early attempts at writing. But when I write back to those children, I am careful to make sure that my words are spelled correctly and my letters are written correctly. To do less would be, it seems to me, to be making fun of children. A store that caters to children and sells products for children should never make fun of children.

I enjoyed shopping in the stores. I have fond memories of some of the toys we found there. I like toys and I like shopping for toys with children. Still, I’m pleased that the backwards “R” s are coming down.

So the dilemma for me this week comes from the fact that I am a Toys backwards R/ Babies backwards R rewards member. I have rewards points that I need to use. And our local store was already stated for closing so they are advertising up to 60% savings on remaining inventory. It is a pretty inviting scenario. After all, our grandchildren have birthdays every year. And a little gift from Grandpa at Easter might be in order. And they have some really neat Lego sets of which I bet a few remain.

I do not need anything that they have in the store. I don’t enjoy shopping in the first place. I could just let the whole thing go. After all, someone else will be just as happy and maybe even more so that I and perhaps someone who couldn’t normally afford a toy will get something really special if I don’t scoop it up before they get to the store.

I could go shopping, get whatever strikes my imagination and that would give me one last chance to make a snide comment to the clerk. I’m thinking of something like, “If only they had put the R up in the right direction on your store, maybe it wouldn’t have to close.” On the other hand, that’s just kind of mean and I don’t want to be mean. And I’ll guarantee you that the clerk won’t appreciate my sense of humor.

And I feel sorry for the clerk. After all that person has to find a new job.

So goes business in America in the 21st Century.

Note to you who are thinking of starting new businesses. I’m not that bad of a customer. And I appreciate grammar and spelling.

And I know which way an R goes.

Copyright (c) 2018 by Ted E. Huffman. I wrote this. If you would like to share it, please direct your friends to my web site. If you'd like permission to copy, please send me an email. Thanks!