Q&A: Star Wars Stormtroopers, White Paint, Kay-Bee, and Toys R Us

By Adam Pawlus — Sunday, May 5, 2019

This week in Q&A - Kay-Bee and Toys R Us - why yes, there is news! Stormtroopers and the ravages of time! Sure, you can do something.

Be sure you send in your questions for next time. Our mail bag is empty. Read on!

1. Has there been any update about toys r us or kaybee toys making a return to retail? It seems so quiet when it comes to any news about returning businesses as opposed to downsizing and closing businesses.

Industry people are indeed talking but I haven't heard anything that will be taken as great news yet. Kay-Bee's fanfare in 2018 seemed to go from "we're launching in malls again!" (which seemed to indicate maybe not all research was done on how malls are doing today), to applying their trademark to existing pop-up stores, to nothing. As of today, nothing happened and people to whom I have spoken seemed to indicate there was never really any "there" there in 2018. The new 2019 plan calls for up to 250 stores, but from my experience as a toy buyer (that's what I do!) it takes lead time to set up accounts with bigger toy companies and to get in line for product. "We have a name of a store that went out of business 10 years ago, no web site, and zero retail locations" doesn't do much to get you product on short notice. I'm not saying it won't happen, but I am saying it's May and you generally want your pop-up stores to be up by November. They could also focus on boutique brands up front - Melissa & Doug, Playmobil, LEGO, even Funko - and probably get set up a lot sooner than if they wanted the bigger traditional American toy companies in their stores for the holidays. Assuming, of course, they get stores for the holidays.

Chain Store Age seems to be reporting Toys R Us wants to come back this holiday season with stores up to 10,000 square feet in size. They face similar challenges to Kay-Bee toys. TRU Kids supposedly still employs former Toys R Us people, and Toys R Us closed last year leaving every major toy manufacturer with American-focused product with some sort of drama, be it unpaid bills or untaken products. How eager will the likes of Spinmaster, Schleich, Epoch, Jakks Pacific, Mattel, and Hasbro be? Will they be using those corporate-owned locations that remain standing with shelves and signs inside the stores? Are there toy companies willing to take a risk on a company that failed them just last year - and will the likes of Nintendo, Sony, Microsoft, and their developers also accept them again? It's bizarre to close up shop and then, only a year later, try to start up again like it never happened. At least with Kay-Bee, it's a new crop of people trying something with an existing brand name. With Toys R Us, it's theoretically the same clan of executives rebooting after an unavoidable and largely painful disaster.

One good success story is the gradual return of FAO Schwarz which has one real, legit, physical store again now. Sadly I wasn't able to make it during Toy Fair this year - but hopefully next time I'm in New York. That's sort of how these things used to be - Toys R Us was a juggernaut that steamrolled over tons of regional stores, many of which had single-digits or low double-digits of locations. Kenner and Parker Bros. had to sell to hundreds of small stores and chains before Toys R Us Walmartted them out of business by the end of the 1990s, with Kay-Being the only other survivor of consequence. There were a lot of other baby/child stores with decent toy sections in the 1990s and early 2000s, but Toys R Us and Walmart managed to control more and more of the market.

Anyone - including you, dear readers - can change that now. We saw book stores go away, but neighborhood small bookstores are slowly coming back from the Borders/B. Dalton/Waldenbooks ashes. Sam Goody and The Wherehouse are dead, but Zia Records, Amoeba, Newbury Comics, and others are still making records and CDs available to customers in regionally-curated ways. You could start a new toy store tomorrow - and if you do, call me, I know a good distributor you should try. With empty commercial real estate thanks to the retail apocalypse we're in now, someone is going to make something out of all this empty space and available product. You can't download a Nerf ball, and if you've seen specialized stores like Rocket Fizz you know that toy and novelty products can be sold next to just about anything.



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2. Adam, the new [Hasbro The Vintage Collection] Stormtrooper looks amazing. Is there a paint application that will not yellow over time? Put another way, is there some method (regardless of cost) that could theoretically make an action figure that looks and plays just like the new TVC 141 model, but will never turn yellow?

Yes! Maybe.

Not all white plastic turns yellow, and I don't know if Hasbro or Hasbro's factories know which ones are better or not - or cares to take that into consideration when developing products. We've seen plastics yellow with age, yellow with sun/light exposure, and even yellow thanks to a greenish/yellow oily residue that builds up over time (and in that case, can be wiped off.) Retro computer and video game enthusiasts are often fond of Retr0bright but the jury seems out on if it's a good, permanent solution or not.

As far as a paint application goes, yes - so far, white paint does not seem to turn yellow. White plastic frequently does. If Hasbro wanted to incur a few pennies of cost, they could mold a white figure and paint the white plastic with white paint for better results. The plastic underneath could discolor with time, but as long as the paint stays on, it'd be white. I doubt Hasbro would want to incur the extra cost, and it might look wonky as kids play with them and it scrapes off over time. (See: 1979 X-Wing Pilot Luke's boots.)

This is unlikely to be done, but it would probably result in a figure that stays the same shade of white longer. Some indie toy companies do this, like the Four Horsemen with their various figures (Seventh Kingdom, Outer Space Men, Mythic Legions) and Mattel even painted most of their Masters of the Universe Classics range. Usually paint looks better than bare plastic as far as getting an even look, especially when you mix different kinds of plastic - like ABS body with PVC limbs. If you look at old Stormtroopers, sometimes you see yellowed limbs on a white torso or a white torso with yellowed limbs. Fate is cruel and inconsistent.

It's worth mentioning that paint can flake off, but it's less common of a problem than yellowing.

The big thing is that your stuff will age and it may discolor and decay over time. There's not much you can do about it - keep your toys out of the light, don't smoke, and hope for the best.




3. Entertainment Earth among others has listed the young Lando and rogue stormie case for pre order. Any chance EE will be able to request full case of stormtroopers?

Much of what you see is determined by what Hasbro makes available, and pre-orders are now open. It's live if you want it!



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As fanbases go we've been pretty lucky overall. A lot of the talent behind these movies, including the recently departed Peter Mayhew, would make the rounds at various conventions. Before fan conventions were the big business of today, Mr. Mayhew and the likes of Warwick Davis, David Prowse, Jeremy Bulloch, and many others would tour together to small conventions (including one in my town) under the "Men Behind the Masks" tour. They even inspired a bunch of custom figures where you could pop the heads or masks off and show the actors - sadly, such figures would never actually be produced by Kenner (or later, Hasbro.) While some of the masked players would get their faces seen on screen eventually - some of which would result in action figures - Peter Mayhew was not one of them.

I've seen him at countless conventions and he was always good to his fans. He will be missed.

--Adam Pawlus

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