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  1. Every day I look around, whether it’s on my own site message boards or various social media pages, what I generally see are a lot of frustrated and even angry action figure collectors. There are a number of reasons for this including the fact that the world itself just hasn’t been a terribly fun place this past year or so. Sticking specifically to the world of action figure collecting however, most of the things that seem to be frustrating collectors the most can be traced back to two sources, Walmart and Target. Now before we go any further, I want to note that I don’t have any solutions to these problems, and in fact we may very well be past the point of no return. My point for writing this article isn’t to tell you how we can fix these things, because I honestly don’t know. However I do want to try to help people understand how we came to this point based on my own observations having covered this industry, the toy manufacturers, and the people who make up the hobby for the last 20+ years. That being said, this is all just my own personal opinion, and while I have often gotten looks behind the current of this industry that many of you reading probably have not, I am still just someone looking in from the outside. One other quick point I want to state before we go on is that everything I talk about here is in regards to the US market. There are other factors at play that effect markets outside the US, and I know many of those who live outside the US have their own frustrations to deal with, but for today I am only focusing on those in the US. Ok, so next let me clearly state what I see as the number one cause frustrating most collectors today. Lack of product availability. The irony is that in the past couple years we are actually seeing some of the coolest action figure-based products being made by the toy manufacturers since I started covering the hobby, but that just compounds the frustration collectors feel when they can’t actually find the products on shelf. Now, I think it’s fair to point out that in some cases it’s not necessarily real lack of availability, but a perceived one. Or it’s a lack of availability only in some locations. For this point I want to use Hasbro’s G.I. Joe Classified line as a prime example. Setting aside the exclusives for that line, I often hear people complaining about not being able to find the figures, even the regular release ones. Well that’s just not true. Yes, finding G.I. Joe Classified figures on shelves at places like Target and Walmart can be a challenge, but those regular releases are easily obtainable online at the small etailers, even the army builder figures which retailers have the ability to order solid cases of. The biggest downside going that route however is you usually have to wait longer. Almost always, these things start showing up at the big box retailers even if only in limited capacity. Still, once something starts to show up at the big box retailer, you then start to see those who usually are willing to hit those stores up daily finding the items and then posting pictures of them on their social media. You’re sitting there waiting patiently for your pre-order to arrive in the mail and then you see all these other people finding the stuff in stores. Of course then you go to the store and all you end up finding is NOTHING. That in turn creates frustration. Eventually you are going to get your figure, but nobody likes waiting. Still, there are action figures that are truly almost impossible to get your hands on unless you are willing to go to extreme measures to get them, and generally those are the figures that have the word “EXCLUSIVE” attached to them. I would say the word EXCLUSIVE has become one of the most hated words in the action figure collector’s vocabulary. EXCLUSIVES have always been part of the hobby, but there is no denying in recent years they have become more and more common. Seems like more figures today get released as a store EXCLUSIVE than not. And if it’s not a straight up EXCLUSIVE then it’s a LIMITED EXCLUSIVE. A LIMITED EXCLUSIVE is when a certain store is given first crack at the product. They get to sell it for a certain period of time before any other retailer is allowed to sell it or even take pre-orders for it. In the past year this practice of LIMITED EXCLUSIVES has become more and more common, and not from just one toy manufacturer. Whether it’s Hasbro, Mattel, Jazwares, McFarlane Toys, or NECA, they are all doing it. And of course it’s not the small guy who gets these EXCLUSIVES, it’s Walmart and Target. I know most of you reading this probably look at this in regards to just not being able to get the action figure you want, which is a legit concern, but I look at the bigger picture. These tactics of having all these EXCLUSIVES or LIMITED EXCLUSIVES seem to have one primary purpose. Putting the small retailer out of business. Now I don’t think the toy manufacturers really want to put the small retailer out of business, but I do think Walmart and Target do. Where I fault the toy manufacturers in this, is that they seem perfectly willing go along with these tactics, which is probably because they don’t want to upset their biggest customers which are Walmart and Target. Now before we go any further, this is another point I feel needs to be made, because I see a lot of confusion about it. In general, you as the individual collector are not the manufacturer’s primary customer. When you buy a Hasbro action figure from a retailer, your money doesn’t go to Hasbro. It goes to the retailer you bought that action figure from. Hasbro’s customer is that retailer. The retailer buys the inventory they sell from the manufacturer. By the time you see that Hasbro action figure on shelf, Hasbro has already made their money. So keeping that in mind, which retailers do you think purchase the most product from the manufacturers? If your answer is Walmart and Target, then I would say you would be correct. Even though Walmart and Target aren’t carrying action figures in the numbers we the individual collectors would like to see, they are still ordering far more inventory than any of the online toy etailers. In fact you could probably combine the order numbers of all the toy etailers together, and my guess is that it would fall short of what Target and Walmart order. Also let’s not forget companies like Hasbro and Mattel make more than just action figures, which they rely on the Walmarts and Targets to sell. The only online store that probably comes anywhere close to being able to order as much product as Walmart and Target is Amazon. This grip Walmart and Target have had on the toy industry has gotten steadily worse over the years, but became even worse when Toys R’ Us went out of business. So now that we are clear on who is really the biggest customers of these toy manufacturers, when those customers go to the manufacturers and say we want all these exclusives or first access to your product, do you really think the manufacturer is going to say no and risk pissing off those customers??? Of course not. And yes, money talks and BS walks. Welcome to the world of business. Now that’s not to say the toy manufacturer isn’t doing everything within their power to try and convince Walmart and Target to carry more of their products. Anyone who really thinks that Hasbro doesn’t want collectors to be able to walk into their local Target and see their products overflowing on shelves is crazy. The more product those retailers order the more money that goes into Hasbro’s pockets. Look at NECA, we have definitely started to see some improvement when it comes to their TMNT Target exclusives. It’s still not great but has gotten better, which I am sure is thanks to NECA doing what they can to get Target to carry more of it. I do think the toy manufacturers are just digging their own graves long-term as they continue to blindly cater to Walmart and Target. Eventually Walmart and Target are going to have a complete monopoly on the toy market, and at that point in my view it’s ENDGAME, especially for this hobby. Other than the occasional lip-service, I don’t think Target and Walmart are ever going to truly take the adult action figure collector demographic seriously or be willing to cater to it that much. Walmart launched an action figure collector section on their website last year, but then shipped collector-oriented products out in bags or small boxes so they often get damaged in transit. That’s assuming you can actually buy them online. So the next logical question you should be asking yourself is, why aren’t Target and Walmart willing to order more inventory? Why don’t they take the adult action figure collector demographic more seriously? Why does it seem to be such a struggle for the manufacturers to get these stores to carry their stuff in greater numbers? Well the simple and most obvious answer to me is the numbers aren’t there. These retailers aren’t basing their order numbers on social media comments, they base them on sales data, and the unfortunate reality is that I don’t think the data supports ordering large numbers of inventory. I would say the data suggests that these retailers should order small, and then if a particular item shows an increased demand, go back and re-order more of it. This of course then takes longer time for the item to show up in greater numbers. From the retailer stand point, my guess is they think its better to order conservatively to ensure they sell through their initial inventory than ordering large numbers and being stuck with unsold inventory that collects dust and eventually goes on clearance. You know when you sit there waiting for stuff to go on clearance because you don’t want to pay full price. Well short term that may be a good strategy for your wallet, and we’ve probably all done it. Long term however it sends a message to the retailers that they shouldn’t be ordering larger numbers of the stuff. So why the exclusives? If there aren’t that many collectors out there, why bother carrying it at all, let alone to do it exclusively? Well keep in mind I didn’t say there wasn’t money to be made here. It’s probably a drop in the bucket for Walmart and Target’s overall bottom line, but that’s not to say there isn’t money being made. The main purpose of an exclusive is to get you in the doors of the store. It doesn’t matter if you find the exclusive or not. Once you are in the store, the general thought is you will likely end up buying something. That’s a sale they wouldn’t otherwise have gotten. In fact it works out better for the retailer if you don’t actually find the exclusive, because that means you will be back to try and find it another day. Scarcity in its own right also creates artificial demand. If you as the consumer think something is easy to get, you are less likely to make it a priority to go out and buy. In fact if you think it’s going to sit on the shelf you may wait for it to go on clearance. When it’s deemed “hard to get”, you are out there hunting for it, sometimes daily, and the moment you see it you buy it. Sometimes you may even find your self buying something you otherwise would not, simply because it’s hard to get. How many times have you focused more on the hunt thinking it’s something you just have to have, and then after you finally get it, the item just sits there on the shelf where you barely think about it again? I know that has happened to me from time to time. Another factor of when the perceived value of something is artificially inflated with these tactics is that it brings out the scalper element of the hobby, which sadly I think has become a sizable portion of the collector demographic. I don’t want to go down the scalper rabbit hole in this article since that is a subject that can easily fill an entire article of its own. But I think it’s important to note that a sale is a sale in the eye of the retailer, regardless of what the final intentions of the buyer is for that product. As I mentioned above, I do feel many of these things long-term will have detrimental effects on this hobby and the manufacturers making these toys. Short-term from a business perspective I can totally understand needing to cater to your largest customers, but long-term I see it is just digging a hole that eventually the manufacturers will never be able to get out of. The more frustrating it is for collectors to find stuff, the more collectors will leave the hobby never to return. Instead of growing a small demographic into a large one, you are just making it smaller to a point where eventually there will be little to no one left.
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