Billionaire toy magnate campaign to save Toys R Us is not a stunt
LOS ANGELES Pulled by four children, all chanting "Save Toys R Us," Isaac Larian sat inside a red-and-yellow plastic toy car Tuesday, holding two tots in his lap, as he maneuvered his way through the chain's store in the Woodland Hills neighborhood.
The 64-year-old toy magnate and his rambunctious entourage were followed along the worn linoleum floor by a cameraman who captured their every moment.
The object of all this fun and games? A video to promote Larian's "Save Toys R Us" GoFundMe campaign, a long-shot effort to keep open hundreds of the chain's stores.
"Toys R Us is like a sick patient on the ICU table, and if you don't operate fast, it's going to die," said Larian, chief executive of Van Nuys-based MGA Entertainment, the maker of the popular Bratz doll.
Last week, Larian announced that he was starting a campaign to raise $1 billion to save the stores after the chain's decision to close its 735 stores in the U.S. after it could not agree with its creditors on a restructuring plan. The Wayne, N.J., company filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection in September.
He didn't have to look far Tuesday for a reminder of how little time he had. Liquidation sales started at all U.S. stores Friday, and outside the San Fernando Valley store hung a large yellow-and-black temporary sign that said simply, "Going out of business."
Larian figures he has until early May at the latest to get a deal done.
Larian has pledged $100 million of his own money and said he has another $100 million from other undisclosed large investors. Still, he needs hundreds of millions of dollars more to save the 200 to 400 U.S. stores he would like to combine with 82 Canadian stores still in operation if the Bankruptcy Court would even approve that request.
Restructuring adviser Larry Perkins noted that the toy chain has been in bankruptcy for months and has been unable to work out a deal to stay in business.
"I'm familiar with virtually all the professionals that are working on the case. The investment bankers are some of the best in the world. If this was a viable alternative, I think they would have uncovered this stone," said Perkins, chief executive of SierraConstellation Partners in Los Angeles.
Others have poked fun at the notion that a GoFundMe campaign could help save Toys R Us. The website usually is where people go to raise a few thousand dollars for medical expenses or a family funeral.
Until now, the largest campaign on the platform was for a Time's Up Legal Defense Fund, to provide legal assistance to survivors of workplace sexual harassment. It has raised more than $21.2 million in three months from almost 20,500 donors. Larian has said he wants to raise as much as $800 million on the platform from donors.
Among the items the campaign is offering donors who give $100,000 are a bumper sticker with the campaign's SaveToysRUs hashtag, a pin, a magnet, a T-shirt and an invite to a local Toys R Us reopening block party.