Archives all under one roof? Saving the Toys “R” Us collection
In February 2018, the British arm of Toys “R” Us went into administration. The American toy chain opened its first branch in the UK in 1985 and expanded to 105 stores over the next 35 years. It became one of the most highly recognisable brands in children’s retail with ‘out of town’ outlets, but increasing financial pressure and a failure to find a buyer forced the firm to liquidate its assets in March 2018. This resulted in the closure of all branches and the loss of thousands of jobs. Thankfully, specialist archives The History of Advertising Trust (HatAds) stepped in and successfully became a lasting repository for the company’s marketing records and artefacts.
The Crisis Management Team (CMT) contacted the administrators in February 2018. They connected the CMT with the firm’s remaining marketing team, based at ‘Geoffrey House’ in Reading, Berkshire, named for the Toys “R” Us mascot ‘Geoffrey the Giraffe’. The CMT then contacted HatAds to serve as a repository for the marketing records. The company was vacating Geoffrey House and HatAds had only a week’s notice to rehouse the records.
- Apart from the immediate economic and social impact that comes from any business closing, the collapse of Toys “R” Us put at risk decades of records that charted the firm’s development, rise and fall.
- The successful transfer of records was due to timely and swift action. The CMT was able to quickly identify and communicate with essential contacts and HatAds, being used to the fast-paced advertising industry, was able to appraise and assess the material remotely via email, saving precious time.
- At the offices, the archive team worked with Toys “R” Us staff members to go over what records were available. Alistair Moir, Archives Collections Manager at HatAds, emphasised the unique circumstance of dealing with recently failed businesses: ‘The situation requires a sympathetic approach to employees who have just lost their jobs. If you engage in the right way with them, they are a great source of knowledge about the material you are collecting and are often eager to alert you to more potential material.’
- The records saved include catalogues and other publicity from 1985 onward, together with ‘Geoffrey the Giraffe’ artefacts. Thanks to some quick thinking from the HatAds team, they were even able to rescue a brand-new Geoffrey costume from the firm’s Brent Cross offices that were set to close the following day.
- Maintaining ongoing relations between archive and administrators after the initial transfer is vital. A further 35,000 boxes of Toys “R” Us material are in storage and remain to be assessed for historical value. HatAds has maintained contact with the administrators who understand the importance of safeguarding material of historical interest.
- Continued cooperation between heritage and insolvency sectors will ensure this valuable historical material is reunited for historians, toy lovers and others to enjoy and learn from in the future.
Special thanks to Business Archives Council volunteer Joe Mackenzie and to The History of Advertising Trust.
Images courtesy of The History of Advertising Trust.