There is sad synchronicity in the timing of the death of Toys R Us founder Charles Lazarus, which comes as the retailer is preparing to shut up shop.
News of the passing of Lazarus, 94, was tweeted by Toys R Us overnight. He founded the company in 1957 after returning from military service.
The current woes of the toy giant do nothing to detract from the passion, skill, and enthusiasm that 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.
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 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 Lazarus, knew this – which is one of the very many reasons he will be missed.
Announcing Lazarus’ passing, Toys R Us commented: “There have been many sad moments for Toys R Us in recent weeks, and none more heartbreaking than today’s news about the passing of our beloved founder, Charles Lazarus, after a period of declining health. He visited us in New Jersey just last year and we will forever be grateful for his positive energy, passion for the customer and love for children everywhere. Our thoughts and prayers are with Charles’ family and loved ones.”
- Neil Saunders is MD of GlobalData Retail.