Q&A: Star Wars Collecting and Overstocks

By Adam Pawlus — Sunday, November 12, 2023

1. With the sheer volume of Star Wars merchandise showing up at discount retailers (Ollie's, Ross's, etc.), is this an indication there is too much of these products on the market? The amount of Black Series & Vintage at prices that are 2005 ish (Or earlier) is mind boggling to me for 2 reasons

#1: Everyone seems to say, at one time or another, "I can't find anything at retail", is this a product of over buying and product arriving later than asked for? The pegs are not clogged with Vintage/Black series (Not in my area of Southern Mass at least)

#2: The prices being seen at these places, $3.99, $5.00, $5.99, etc are WAY below the $16.99 and $24.99 for Vintage & Black Series, is Hasbro just taking a HUGE loss or do these products cost way less to produce than we think and Hasbro just jacks them up because they know a segment WILL pay full price to begin with and then a certain amount is sold off at a loss and it all evens out in the end?

When you're dealing with overstocks sold at a lower price, they cost the manufacturer money. If you have a product that comes in your warehouse and leaves, and is replaced by more product that comes and goes, you're making money on that turnover. Once that product just sits there, it's costing you money that could be made with other, better product. Hasbro absolutely loses money when those figures get blown out, but they'll lose even more money (storage costs, additional warehouse space) if they hang on to them for too long. You need stuff to go away - new product generally needs to be blown out before it's "good" again years later, if ever.  So yeah, Hasbro is losing money, but they would lose more money by hanging on to stale product.   (I can't speak to their factory costs.)

There are a lot of changes about when and how product ships, combined with what seems to be increased production run sizes, leading to problems. For example, multiple The Black Series waves all hit in the last month - I don't think wallets can handle $200 of new figures per month, let alone $400 or $600 when they double-up and/or exclusives hit. Eventually fans say "I can't spend more" and you see clearance exclusives at Walmart and increasing amounts of stuff on markdown shelves. Can you believe there are $4.99 G.I. Joe Classified Series figures already? Or a $5 Han Solo at certain deep discounters? I can't.

The only cure is probably a smaller line with more selective reissues. Rerunning a product that the market was underserved is probably a good idea - but remaking an item, in new packaging, where the free market has already said "no thanks" has got to stop. The Vintage Collection stuff at Ross is largely the latter, at least so far, and a lot of these guys weren't in stores in a big way. Seeing what's coming next year, I predict a lot more Ross dumping unless Hasbro deliberately tightens the run size and leaves money on the table. Old fans just don't need this much "more of the same" product - they can get it on eBay if they want it. If Lucasfilm cultivates new fans that don't have the stuff, then it might be a reasonable thing to do. (R5-D4 has since cultivated new fans since his last release.)

If I were them, I'd probably implement a lot of revisions really quick, like perking up the Star Wars logo on The Black Series packaging so it doesn't fade in the background like it does now. I'd probably look into cutting some articulation (and maybe change the packaging) in an effort to reduce prices by a buck or two. With The Vintage Collection I would probably put figures on a diet - fewer accessories, no swappable hands, and whatever it takes to get it down to $14.99. Maybe some figures don't have ankle joints, and that's OK, it's not like Mon Mothma needs them and yet she has all these expensive parts as a 6-inch figure that are negated by the clamshell-like dress. And as to The Retro Collection, I'd probably move it to a subscription or crowdfunding model to ensure what gets made is wanted and other than reissues of 1980s and 1970s figures, little to nothing is around for the casuals. Buy or die.



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2. Excluding Super7 and their deep-cut philosophy, the state of most nostalgia / adult collector figure lines in the US reminds me of what has been going on in Japan for decades - a focus mostly on souvenir main characters, smaller runs, and higher price points. (Japan doesn't seem to have the problems with over-production and poor distribution we see in the States though.) Which makes me wonder: are we carrying unrealistic expectations of what an adult toy line or retail situation should be based on the memories of the kids' toys action figure boom in the 1980s?

I personally think a big toy line is best when it has a mainstream/kid focus but acknowledges collectors. Take 2005, Revenge of the Sith gave us a pretty good 3 3/4-inch line with recognizable main characters that are going to sell to everybody, plus a lot of new and weird aliens, Jedi, and droids that appeal to a smaller (but more excitable) audience. It's a big win, with a massive marketing plan that was well-executed and resonated long enough that we got The Clone Wars. I really think if Hasbro or Disney had a focused plan for The Mandalorian with a hybrid kid/collector line that really built out the world with roleplay accessories, vehicles, and a 3 3/4-inch kid line we'd probably have a healthier Star Wars market. But that's me. And "built out" may not be what Lucasfilm wants to do now that Star Wars is hundreds of hours, instead of maybe a dozen hours.

Japan has companies that are not only willing to do smaller runs, but also has a thriving export market. (And a smaller domestic market.) America is the biggest market, Hasbro is a massive company that has to make a lot of a toy to appease the bean counters and share holders. Generally the quasi-artificial collectible market requires underserving the market in order to thrive. In Japan there are a lot of pre-order windows and sometimes things are built to order - which works great, assuming you're not ordering from 3 stores and canceling whoever doesn't fill your pre-order first.

I'm a little surprised Hasbro doesn't just lean in to the 1980s-ness of it and make a combo kid/collector line like Mattel did for Masters of the Universe Origins, which is effectively "the originals, with knees" plus "some new guys mixed in." It's proven successful enough to do vehicles and playsets, too - and it has a bigger audience since it's kids and collectors, not kids or collectors, with closer-to-fair price points. Imagine if Hasbro basically "remade" the old Kenner line with knees and elbows, and vehicles, to dads/granddads and kids/grandkids? I really think there's a market for it and the last time Hasbro tried a line like that, it was Kenner, it was The Power of the Force in the 1990s, and until they glutted the market with repacks and remakes of pegwarmers it was pretty successful and widely bought. (Sure, yes, a lot of it was by speculators too.)

Looking back at the 1980s, it's probably a good direction for these current lines to take with smaller product lines of 12-20 figures per year, with a handful of vehicles and maybe a playset here and there. Would fans be happy? I don't know - but it worked for Nintendo when they realized fans buy the same amount of games per buyer per year if they release 4 games or 20 games. Hasbro would probably make as much money with a smaller line if it's one that appealed to a wider audience, especially as that fair weather fan interest from the COVID collector era seems to be diminishing. (I would also buy the figures I'm skipping if the lines were smaller. If there's only 20 figures per year, I'm in. If there's 80-200, and at $25 each, I gotta stop eventually.)

I don't know if Star Wars works as a figure line without a large offering - but premium roleplay/props, they're doing fine as premium price points. I overheard a dad talking with his kid in a Walmart on Sunday, with the kid basically saying action figures are no good since if you buy one, you can't do anything with it. That's sort of the Forces of Destiny problem - if the characters don't really play together (share screen time), kids might not want to get a cluster of them as playthings. Right now, the Hasbro line tends to veer away from "this group of characters goes together" on shelf at any given time for Star Wars.





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I'm happy, and I know that's rare. I was out last week and I found a The Retro Collection Chopper from Ahsoka at Target, according to what I was told, early. (I wasn't expecting these until closer to the end of the year.) I've got a review I'm working on but all you need to know is that it's great and you want it. Also it's too wide to fit in the Return of the Jedi 1983 Kenner Y-Wing socket. The dome clicks. The removable third leg is nice and tight. The sticker is nice. Maybe it's more than you need - I also saw Marrok and Hera, and I didn't want to pick them up since I had a case ordered at work, so I just got Chopper. (But Hera looked excellent. I later saw Ahsoka and Morgan Elsbeth. Still haven't seen Sabine yet.)

The Retro Collection isn't for everybody - I assume mostly older fans, but I've heard Hasbro throw out they're for casuals and I gave myself whiplash my head turned so quickly out of confusion - but it's nice to see the continued development of a line of figures that are the reason I entered this hobby in the first place. If it weren't for The Power of the Force ending the line, I wouldn't have started going to garage sales, flea markets, and other weirdness to track down figures I knew I was missing and those I later found out I didn't actually imagine. Having a wave or two of new guys every year has been so much fun. Heck, having just Grand Moff Tarkin in a $30 board game was an absolutely amazing experience, that's how starved I was for more of these.

A lot of new toys are shipping to stores now, so keep your eyes open for whatever format you love. I'm no hater, I love a good figure - the 6-inch Ahsoka General Hera Syndulla figure is amazeballs good for $25, and I'd recommend her highly to anyone who likes that costume design. I'm an easy mark, I love the post-Return of the Jedi galaxy. As such you can assume I'm kind of quietly dreading the prospect of The Acolyte action figures in any size, even though I assume the show is good, just because they don't fit in with the timeline of the decades of other toys I've got here now. I just want more to build out what I've got... hopefully some aliens or droids will be in the mix because I don't that I'm dying to get pre-prequel Jedi unless there's something (or someone) truly amazing.

Anyway, now's a good time to get out. You'll see something new - for example, Krrsantan is starting to overtake other figures as a pegwarmer in both Vintage and Black Series in many local stores, and it's possible retro Krrsantan could do the same too. It's like the changing of the seasons.

--Adam Pawlus

Got questions? Email me with Q&A in the subject line now! I'll answer your questions as soon as time (or facts) permit.



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