Deborah Derby is one of the country’s top female executives. As president of Babies “R” Us (a division of Toys “R” Us), she is responsible for the growth and welfare of the largest baby-product specialty chain in the world, with annual sales of $2.5 billion.
Derby previously served as executive VP of human resources, legal and corporate communications for Toys “R” Us. The company was taken private in 2005 when it was purchased by an investment group for $6.6 billion. In May 2006, Derby was named president of Babies “R” Us.
The public-to-private transition has allowed the company to concentrate on its brands’ core values and histories—and has permitted Derby to nurture and expand a maturing Babies “R” Us concept. She uses hard-earned juggling skills gained at home (she is a mother of two) to strategically manage all aspects of merchandising, marketing and store operations at work.
“Since being named president, I have focused on building a talented, seasoned team of retailing executives to lead the company’s merchandising, marketing and operations areas,” Derby told Chain Store Age senior editor Katherine Field in a recent interview.
#b#Do you feel that being a mother has enhanced your effectiveness as the leader of Babies “R” Us?
As a mom, I know that expectant mothers can be overwhelmed at first—there’s so much to learn and do when you find out you’re having a baby. At Babies “R” Us, we want to make this transition as easy as possible for parents. We offer the broadest assortment of baby products, but also knowledgeable employees who can guide expectant parents to the products that will best fit their lifestyles.
#b#How has the transition from human resources impacted your view of the company’s employees and policies?
My human-resources background, together with my tenure at the company, impacts my leadership style every day, giving me a unique perspective on hiring decisions that will positively impact the company, as well as providing the resources our employees need to succeed.
#b#What aspects/amenities of the store most reflect you?
One of my favorite things about my job is that we have the privilege of being part of one of the most important times in a woman’s life. Our Baby Registry is often the first exposure an expectant mom has to Babies “R” Us, and I think that’s the aspect of our stores that most reflects me. The Baby Registry provides a mom with a checklist of must-have items so she can make sure she registers for everything she needs to prepare for the baby’s arrival. Once her registry is complete, it’s easy for friends and family to purchase the gifts that she really wants. Offering a convenient experience for expectant moms and gift-givers is something I know that I would want when in either role.
#b#How challenging was the transition from a public to a private company?
There have been so many positive changes made since the company went private in summer 2005. Since that time, we’ve focused on bringing the two businesses back together and operating as one company, leveraging the resources and strengths of our toy and baby businesses to achieve our goals.
#b#How has the company evolved since the transition?
Since becoming a privately held company, the Babies “R” Us and Toys “R” Us divisions work together much more closely. Since 2006, we’ve remodeled numerous existing Toys “R” Us stores to include a small Babies “R” Us store, not only providing a better, convenient shopping experience for parents, but returning the company to its roots of offering toys and juvenile products in one location. The addition of a Babies “R” Us store to an existing Toys “R” Us store helps draw shoppers year round, combating the known seasonality of the toy business.
#b#What are the current development plans?
One of our strategies as a company is to accelerate the growth of Babies “R” Us. We opened nine new stores in 2007 and will open two this year, in Kissimmee, Fla., and Santa Clarita, Calif.
In addition, we will continue to remodel existing Toys “R” Us locations to include Babies “R” Us stores, which become our “side-by-side” stores. Following the success of this business model, we opened our first “R” Superstores, which combine full-size Toys “R” Us and Babies “R” Us stores under one roof, in November 2007. There are plans for more than 10 additional “R” Superstores before the end of the year. These stores are approximately 65,000 sq. ft.; stand-alone Babies “R” Us stores range from about 23,000 sq. ft. to 39,000 sq. ft.
#b#How would you describe your leadership style?
I am fortunate to be surrounded by a talented leadership team that has the creativity and drive to help ensure Babies “R” Us maintains its position as the nation’s premier specialty baby-products retailer. I try to empower my team to make their own decisions in their respective areas that will enhance our business, but at the same time, I have an open-door policy and encourage them to talk to me freely about new ideas or concerns.
I am also a firm believer in giving credit for a job well done or going above and beyond what’s expected. Taking the time to recognize someone’s efforts is essential to making sure we retain the talented people we need to succeed as a company.
#b#Has your children’s interest in your job waned somewhat since they have “outgrown” Babies “R” Us?
Despite the fact that they’ve been out of the Babies “R” Us age range for quite a few years, my kids really take an interest in what I do. Sometimes they’ll come along on store visits on weekends, and they certainly don’t hesitate to tell me what they like and don’t like.