5 Things to Learn from Toys R' Us Closing

The first Toys R' Us store opened in June of 1957.  For over 60 years, the toy giant sold toys, dolls, nursery supplies, clothes, bikes, video games, birthday presents and more to kids and families across America.

The mascot for the company was Geoffrey, a giraffe.  Millions of kids grew up with Toys R' Us and now as adults can still whistle the theme song, "I'm a Toys R' Us kid."

Now, as I'm sure you've heard, Toys R' Us is closing all of its 735 stores in the United States.  Back in September of 2017, they had filed for bankruptcy and tried to restructure.  But the effort was not successful.  This past quarter (which included Christmas shopping season), they only earned $81 million, which was $250 million below their target and 25% less than what they earned the same period the previous year.

So, what caused the demise?  And are there lessons we can learn from this as the church?  Let's look at what happened and 5 lessons we can take away from it.

Lesson 1 - You cannot allow past success to dictate future strategy.  Toy's R' Us hadn't made a full-year profit since 2012 and had lost $2.5 billion since then.  If something is not working, the answer is not to continue trying to work it, but to adopt a new model. 

Not changing, tweaking and adjusting with the changing times has led to the company's closing.

All across the country, there are churches that are slowly declining.  They see less and less people attend each year.  What they are doing is clearly not working, but they refuse to change.  They are clinging to traditions that worked in 1960, but are irrelevant today.  When you do this, you are sealing your demise.

Churches that will continue to thrive are the ones that will be anchored to the truth, but will be geared for the changing times.  Churches must be willing to let go of tradition when needed and shift to new ways of doing ministry. 
Our message must remain the same, but our methods must change to stay relevant for the day in which we share the message.
Lesson 2 - The big box is being replaced with smaller venues.  In past decades, big box stores like Toys R' Us popped up as families moved to the suburbs.  These big box stores focused on a product category and offered lower prices than the small mom and pops stores found in urban, downtown locations.

But there are shifts happening again.  Although stores like Target are still big box locations, the trend back toward smaller venues is on the rise.  An example is the Apple stores, which are normally smaller and offer limited product displays.  And Walmart's smaller, neighborhood grocery stores are being built across the country.

This trend is also being seen in the church world.   

Churches that are growing, are doing so, not by building giant auditoriums in one location, but rather by building smaller venues in multiple locations.  The massive auditoriums of 7,000 are being replaced by seven 1,000 seat auditoriums in seven different locations.

Churches that want to experience growth and impact an entire region should take note of this and make it a key part of their strategy.

Lesson 3 - Online and on demand.  Companies like Amazon and Ebay have changed how people shop.  They offer amazing selection, fast shipping and lower prices.  Customers are opting to browse online from the comfort of their home rather than having to wander up and down the aisles of a store.

And with the rise of mobile phones, people can shop anytime and from anywhere.  That's a hard combo to compete with.   

The ease of online is also affecting church attendance and is one of the reasons why families are attending church in person less frequently.  You often hear someone say they decided to stay home and watch online rather than driving to the physical church building.

A few things to keep in mind about this.

If churches want people to show up in person, they will have to create in-person experiences that simply can't be matched online.  This includes meaningful worship, community in a small group, powerful prayer, etc.

One key element to seeing families attend church in person is children's programming.  While a few churches are trying to offer online children's ministry, no one has cracked the code yet by creating online children's ministry that can be an ample substitute for in-person children's ministry. 

Children's ministry is one of the biggest reasons families decide to attend in person rather than online.  Churches that want to grow and see families attend more often in person, would be wise to make children's ministry a top priority.

Lesson 4 - Families are not just looking for products - they are looking for a shopping experience.  While Toys R' Us offered toys, what they did not offer was an experience while you were shopping for the toys.

If today's families are going to walk into a physical store, they want an experience while they are there that makes it worth the trip.  

The Lego company is a great example of this.  They set up their stores with play areas where kids and families can have fun building things with Legos.

Disney is another great example of creating a shopping experience for families.  Their stores are not just retail stores, but are fully interactive experiences for families.  They incorporate a movie area, dress-up area, a clubhouse area and more. 

Churches that want to grow should take note of this.  Parents are always looking for opportunities to create shared memories with their children.  Providing experiences will draw families to your church. 

Some examples are...

A family worship experience.

Live animals and petting areas at Christmas and Easter.

Photo spots for families.

Characters at the above photo spots that kids can take pictures with.

Cookie decorating stations.

Putting food and care packages together for missionaries and other outreach needs.

When you create irresistible experiences for families, you will see them come. 

Lesson 5 - Customer service is a critical component of success.  Toys R' Us was not know for its customer service.  While it was not bad, it was certainly not exceptional.  And in today's culture, your customer service must be exceptional if you are going to succeed.  
When you went into a store, you would be met with aisles and aisles of merchandise in an arrangement that made it hard to find the specific item you were looking for.  And then when you looked for help, it was hard to find at times.  This often led to frustration.  

Here's what churches must remember.  When families are walking into your ministry, they are not comparing your customer service to the church down the street.  They are comparing it to what they experienced that week at the grocery store, the restaurant where they ate, the car dealership where they had their oil changed and the retail store where they bought a new pair of pants.  
Churches that want to grow must, must, must, must provide families with great customer service.  This includes things like great parking, clear signage, friendly greeters, easy check-in, etc. 
Due to these and other factors, Toys R' Us will now be remembered as Toys Were Us.  
Is your church plateaued or declining?
Will your church one day be known as the church that used to be?
Your ministry doesn't have to become irrelevant or just a memory. 
Now is the time to evaluate, step out in faith and make the changes needed to continue to thrive in the days and years ahead.