Geoffrey the Giraffe’s Last Call of Toys for Hacking

Many of us in the United States frequently browse the shelves of Toys R Us for things to hack on. Sadly that era will soon end with the chain’s closing. In the meantime, the entire store becomes the clearance shelf as they start liquidating inventory. Depending on store, the process may begin as soon as Thursday, March 22. (Warning: video ads on page.)

While not as close to hacker hearts as the dearly departed Radio Shack or Maplin, Toys R Us has provided the hacker community with a rich source of toys we’ve repurposed for our imagination. These toys served various duties including chassis, enclosure, or parts donor. They all had low prices made possible by the high volume, mass market economics that Toys R Us helped build. Sadly it was not able to keep its head above water in the low margin cutthroat competition of retail sales in America.

As resourceful consumers, we will find other project inspirations. Many projects on this site have sourced parts from Amazon. In commercial retail, Target has started popping up in increasing frequency. And no matter where new toys are sold, wait a few years and some fraction will end up at our local thrift store.

We’ll always have some nostalgia for Geoffrey the Giraffe, but toy hacking must go on.

30 thoughts on “Geoffrey the Giraffe’s Last Call of Toys for Hacking

  1. “As resourceful consumers, we will find other project inspirations. Many projects on this site have sourced parts from Amazon. In commercial retail, Target has started popping up in increasing frequency. And no matter where new toys are sold, wait a few years and some fraction will end up at our local thrift store.”

    Oddly Amazon is thinking of buying some Toys Я Us stores. Nice thing about B&M is that making judgement of suitability is
    easier when it’s in your hands.

    1. I have not looked into this with much detail but how much real estate did they own outright and how much was leased? Their existing debt load crushed them the moment anything slowed down.

      I presume that Amazon is not thinking of buying anything here except the shell space that is zoned for retail, has logistical support (loading docks, highway access) and would be presumably cherry picked location wise as to which ones they might be interested in picking up if physical property is actually now for sale.

      The bigger question is why would Amazon be wanting to push into traditional brick and mortar growth opportunities? Thus far it has been fairly limited.

  2. “They all had low prices made possible by the high volume, mass market economics that Toys R Us helped build. Sadly it was not able to keep its head above water in the low margin cutthroat competition of retail sales in America.”

    What utter crap. They were bought, saddled with debt, and never had the lowest prices, nor were in a position to have low prices because of their dept. Bad business sunk Toys R Us, not competition. Next you’ll be blaming Millennials for their downfall. Scapegoating isn’t needed.

    That said I will miss them, during the late 80s and early 90s they were a great source of electronic or gear-driven toys to cannibalize and use on projects or “upgrade”.

    1. “Bad business sunk Toys R Us, not competition. Next you’ll be blaming Millennials for their downfall. Scapegoating isn’t needed.”

      It’s not scapegoating. The market changed drastically, just as it did with books. Even if they were mismanaged, it still was a matter of when, not if, they went completely under. With Amazon on one side and Target on the other side, there is no market for a brick and mortar, supermarket-sized toy store anymore.

      1. They’d very likely still be around today if it wasn’t for the leveraged buyout and the debt and huge interest payments by vulture capitalists. Like taking a pedestrian who was slow but was steady and giving them something huge to carry, but nothing to help with speed, direction, or balance.

      2. ToysRus was sunk by a PE firm that tried a pump and dump but failed. It has sunk many companies that were limping along because the strategy is to dump inventory, increase debt with suppliers, fire staff and remove any easy to trash liabilities. The books look good for an IPO or investment takeover (trading on the goodwill). The only ones that profit are the PE firms themselves – usually. Often the company collapses soon after.

  3. Toys-r-us put a lot of independent toy stores out of business by competing on price and range. Now the likes of Amazon have come along and ate their lunch. What goes around comes around.

    1. Yeah, last week so many toy manufacturers had press releases mourning the loss of Toy’s r Us.
      Why? Is it because Toys r Us didn’t deal them down for the lowest prices like WalMart or Amazon?
      Otherwise, toys will sell just about anywhere.

    2. Not really. In their line, they have performed competitively with (maybe even better) than the on-line retailers over the last several years. They are paying the price of the takeover a number of years. To simplify, they had good credit, were bought for the purpose of leveraging that credit, the credit was used and the proceeds drained, and the company sold in debt that there was no way it could recover from. The money wasn’t spent to develop the company, it was raised solely so that it could be sucked out.

      Yes, they put a lot of small stores out of business (as did the orange place and wally world and…), but unlike some others, did maintain selection of products and useful staff that were actually paid, for the most part.

    1. Where I live we had Savers, Salvation Army and Goodwill. Savers recently closed. The other two are still around but Savers had orders of magnitude better stuff for hacking unless you are into making quilts out of moldy old clothes.

      1. The two near me here in California, are Salvation Army and Goodwill.
        Goodwill is privately owned, sucking profit out of a (Imagined) charity 401.c3 rating.
        Salvation Army is actually a charity.
        Many hospitals create a “Thrift Shop” but are not a “Chain”.
        Yore mileage will vary..

        1. Aren’t they supposed to be 501c4’s or 501c3’s? I think the first is the charity and the second is the non-profit. The first is usually easily tax-exempt where the c3 can be also though not necessarily like noted is a strange Church like entity that can be lead by business people for the intent of profiting like say the Red Cross.

  4. TRU wasn’t wiped out by Amazon. They were wiped out by debt that got incurred after they were bought out by Bain. Competition from Amazon didn’t help but that wasn’t what the cause was.

    1. Correct, this was a vulture capitalist money grab that they could blame on online competition and a changing world. Greed is what did it, it was the reason the shareholders sold to Bain, and its the reason Bain only put up 20% and leveraged the rest as debt, and the reason they’ll blame anything else but themselves for being crappy greedy businessmen. When you only focus on the money you lose sight of what is important like American brands, American jobs, and America.

  5. Do we still need this in the same way that we used to?
    Don’t get me wrong, a great hack is still an accomplishment worthy of praise. But.. with all the flavors of X-Pis, ubiquitous laser cutters and desktop 3d printers… I find myself a lot less excited about hacks than I used to be.
    I remember being floored when I first heard that someone had replaced the firmware on an off the shelf home router. And.. they shared directions and code on the internet. WOW! I could have relatively cheap and powerful SBCs to build into various projects! Now though… it makes so much sense to just use a Pi, something that was intended to be general purpose, made for someone like myself while hacking some off the shelf device usually means having the manufacturer (whom you paid) working against you the whole way!
    I used to browse the thrift shop toy isles where others saw discarded RC cars, separated from their remotes I saw cheap robot chasis. But.. those were by nature one-offs. If I wanted to make two of something or even find a part to repair the first I could never depend on finding the same exact model toy again. But.. I can save an openscad file indefinitely and print or lase as many parts as I could ever want!
    That brings me to another issue.. the intenet. Who doesn’t want to see their project right here on HaD? Who doesn’t want to see others duplicate their work? I can walk into my garage and start grabbing pieces of junk I have stashed over the years and throw it into some new project any time. But.. who else has the same junk? Probably nobody! Some people might write nice comments but after that the project is all over, soon to be forgotten. OTOH if I design new stuff from scratch and write it up on the internet maybe some day I’ll stumble on a project idea that goes viral. How cool would that be?!?!
    Is it just me? Does anyone else feel this way?

  6. If the Australian arm of Toys R Us follows the US parent into oblivion (which the rumors suggest may happen) then I for one wont miss them. They are consistently more expensive than other local retailers on LEGO (the one thing I look for at toy stores :) with some local retailers selling certain LEGO sets below RRP and others having nice consistent %off sales across the board meaning paying full RRP at Toys R Us is stupid.

    Other than the sets Toys R Us has an exclusive on, everything LEGO they have is going to be available cheaper elsewhere (either because someone has a cheaper everyday price or by waiting for a sale) and even for the exclusives, sometimes it can be cheaper to buy those from the LEGO Certified Store at Dreamworld rather than from Toys R Us because Toys R Us is charging higher than RRP.

    Toys R Us leaving the market would also be good for the other toy retailers and boost their chances of survival.

  7. I remember when the internet was young (late 1990s), Toy R Us did not have a great web presence while Amazon was already ahead. Toys R Us URL was something like http://www.parentcompany.com/toyrus and the experience just felt poor compared to the ease of Amazon. So, I think Toys R Us had a bad start developing an online presence and thus it lost potential sales online for a while.

  8. I picked up an auxiliary to FM Stereo adapter from Target to make a “Magic Mike” I thought was humorous. I’m not sure where I placed the thing now that I decided to try youtube. One of those toys would have been hilarious as a child or even if I know people listening to the FM radio… now days at least for a one time gag or reminders to eat/chores from the woman. Looks like there are Karaoke mics now days that do the same thing.

    1. They weren’t cheap. And most toys are pretty useless for most of our purposes. The few that have potential, maybe construction sets or computerised stuff, we can get cheaper elsewhere. Other toys are usually made of the smallest number of completely specialised parts, not much potential for adapting into anything.

      There were those neat RF thingies a few years ago that let kids communicate wirelessly over text, using short-range radio, they ended up getting adapted by hackers. But they were going cheap on Ebay or Amazon, they were only any use to us because they were end-of-life and dirt cheap. A bricks-and-mortar shop wouldn’t have been able to stock them.

      So really TRU’s demise doesn’t affect HAD readers at all.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

w

Connecting to %s