Q&A: Made On Demand, Star Wars Price Increases, Guns, and Exclusivity

By Adam Pawlus — Sunday, October 5, 2014

1. I know Walgreen's Proto Boba is an exclusive. But my friend says their Back Series Vader, Chewie, and Sandtrooper are also. If true, how different are the last 3 from the standard retail versions?

Your friend is wrong. I suggest you stop being his friend.

...in actuality Walgreens just has a special assortment mix - 2 Vaders, 3 Bobas, 1 Sandtrooper, 1 Luke, and 1 Chewbacca. Other stores have 0 Bobas and 1 each of the new guys. Hasbro has elected to give Walgreens these figures first as Walgreens is a retail powerhouse and in the game of knowing whose ass to kiss and when, Walgreens is always a good bet. Their toy section has expanded with numerous collector-friendly toy lines at lower prices over the last few months, so as long as they prove effective and the tens of thousands of proto Fetts don't rot in the shelves during the massive dumping come November you'll probably see a lot more of this in the future.

So far it seems Walgreens is specifically aiming for collectors, an interesting choice given that as for our cultural group Walgreens is generally not one of our regular stops as comic books, hamburgers, or video games are largely unavailable there. What you are seeing - unless Hasbro royally miscommunicated things to a number of fans and retailers (all of them) - is just an early release window. This is not uncommon - Hasbro has given Walmart an exclusive window on Energon Transformers toy Megatron, Toys R Us got the first few batches of Hero Mashers before anyone else by a couple of months, and so on and so forth. It's a different way to do someone a solid in an era with fewer new products and a decreasingly active product release slate.



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2. I am a fan of the original trilogy movie props that were made by companies such as master replicas and before that, icons. I would love to own the MR Han Solo blaster from A New Hope, but it is un-affordable on the secondary market now, being out of production for so long. I was wondering if you had any intel or even hunches regarding a new company snatching up the rights for movie props such as these, with the new movies on the horizon, and Star Wars being in the main spotlight again?

To paraphrase the great one: Don't get your hopes up, cheese.

While there was some buzz of "FX" prop replica blasters around the time Hasbro took over the FX Lightsaber brand from Master Replicas, nothing has happened in that time and strict gun laws in this and other countries prevent toy guns in realistic colors from being sold. The sad irony here is that it would probably be easier to convince an actual gun manufacturer to make replica blasters that shot real bullets than it would be to get a US vendor to make a realistic replica weapon whose sole purpose was to look good with a costume or collect dust on a shelf. I was doing some research on gun laws in other countries as they relate to collectibles and in some, like Australia, you have to be a member of a recognized gun club in order to own a transforming gun toy Megatron. When I go to a Phoenix Walmart, I see a number of people wearing holsters with real guns that could actually kill me, but selling Han Solo's gun as a replica cast in black? That's not happening.

While I'm all for limiting the sales of new, deadly weapons to untrained hands, I'm sort of a big proponent of putting toys and collectibles in the hands of anyone who wants them. Because Star Wars is generally mostly sold as a collectible in the USA, and the USA has bizarre attitudes toward real and replica weapons alike, I would suggest that you begin lurking on the many active prop replica forums and buddy up with people posting castings, blueprints, and howtos to get a weapon of your very own to use in the privacy of your own home or at your favorite convention. They are unlicensed, but it's not like anyone with a Lucas/Disney license is likely to make an item like this due to the potential headlines they may cause.

Also, with Han Solo returning to the big screen, it's always possible Rubies or Hasbro will make a toy one. While the white and orange is a mess for a collector, I have been told that black and metallic spray paints are sold at a number of arts and crafts stores. (Similarly, so are orange and white paints.)




3. Prices going up? Is this [$11.79 The Black Series action figure at my local Target store] becoming widespread, just as there are actual figures to buy? And why is it still saying Vintage!!? How much of difference would it make if the reissued the sku's for black series? Behind these were 8 dak's. All I want is 6 inch now based on these issues: price, quality and availability.

When it comes to store politics, there's a lot we don't know - but here, thankfully, I do know part of it. Target has internal SKUs called DPCIs. They make these up as they go, and sometimes reuse them - but with action figures, usually each new assortment gets a new DPCI. At this time, the old DPCI goes on clearance, goes away, and you don't see it after a few weeks.

With Vintage, Hasbro gave the assortment a new SKU in early 2012 with the Phantom Menace wave - that's a new 5-digit assortment. For some reason Target assigned it to the existing 2010 Vintage DPCI, which means "Oh hey, we've got plenty of Vintage still, so don't order any more." To make things worse, they kept the same DPCI for 3 3/4-inch The Black Series, so if your store had a rough time of Vintage, the momentum for The Black Series was clipped at the knees before it even started. Hasbro decided to treat them as two different lines (not unlike Collection 1/Collection 2 in the 1990s), while Target did not. Target supported the product, but didn't manage it as well as they have done with everything else I've ever paid attention to in their stores. Basically, a strange accounting/inventory system decision resulted in a line being underserved to a major chain of stores. Sometimes the problems go the other way (I've seen nationally mismarked price tags on items) so things don't always work out for the favor of collectors.

Because 3 assortment SKUs are under one DPCI, this presents something of an issue - because Hasbro rarely (never?) puts an individual figure's 5-digit SKU in another assortment SKU. (An old figure may reappear with a new SKU, however.) So Target sees the 3 assortment SKUs as interchangeable, but Hasbro sees them as three distinct lines and it's not just a matter of "let's go ahead and switch it on again." Hasbro seems to have a bizarre internal system wherein SKUs can't be generated willy-nilly and they do whatever they can to not make a new one, and bringing back an old figure in a new assortment requires a new 5-digit SKU for the individual figure. Since SKUs do not actually cost money or resources, the reason for this is not something we mere mortals can understand and likely comes out of a lack of understanding (or desire to address) that collectors bore easily if there aren't new and interesting products in constant circulation.

Price increases are sometimes regional and sometimes seasonal - certain neighborhoods just jack up prices, and it's not uncommon for a price increase this time of year so we can see a "Great Deal" price show up in early November. I have not personally seen any $11.79 figures at my Targets yet, but given how slow it has been lately I haven't had as much reason to go to my usual Targets.

This pricing rollercoaster is very common with Transformers. "Deluxe" toys used to be $10 in the 1990s. Since the second movie, it wasn't uncommon for them to be $11 or $12 - or as high as $15 in 2010. However, we would sometimes see Target and Walmart slash the prices back down to $10 for various events, like Christmas or following the release of a new movie if sales were a little light (like this year). These pricing variations sometimes varied from week to week and location to location, so as a collector you have to ask yourself if it's worth buying the figures at the higher price, or waiting a few weeks to see if you can save a few bucks. If it's literally one figure, I always err toward paying the $1 or $2. But if we're talking $5 or more, sometimes it's worth the wait - depending on the density of stores in your area and how much gas you feel like wasting to hunt down the figures at a lower price.

Regarding the DPCI, it's also important to remember that Target has a great return policy. People can and sometimes do return figures to stores that were never sold at a store - those Daks may have come from cases, and they may have come from collectors. Back in 2012, some of us started seeing Vintage Aurra Sings at Targets despite that wave being exclusive to online retailers. These things can happen - especially when a non-exclusive figure turns into an exclusive one. The UPCs and information are already in everybody's systems, usually. You can have a lot of fun - well, it's fun to me - taking around barcodes to stores and seeing what happens.




The Walmart near me has been through a lot of redesigns over the years, particularly when it wasn't near me. Since early 2012, it's been a little light in Star Wars and until just this week, didn't get anything from the Hasbro collector action figure category in 2014 - not even new Mission Series or Saga Legends. 12-inch figures, sure, but that seems to be the one thing everybody has these days.

As of a few days ago they got 6-inch - and not only is it not on the action figure aisle, they got a bunch of wave 3 so it looks like Bespin Luke, Obi-Wan Kenobi, Han Solo, and a Stormtrooper will be sitting there for a while and there's no sign of new 3 3/4-inch right now. There is, however, a healthy presence for Command (the army men) and while I enjoy those, it is strange to see an uptick in two categories that seem to cater to extremes of the Star Wars customer base without the more moderate items - that is, 3 3/4-inch figures. Maybe things will change when the new Saga Legends start shipping, but for now at least it seems that the toy aisle is more of a mess than usual and the selection of toys at smaller Walmarts should probably require the firing of the boy toy buyers. Hot Wheels and vehicles seem well-stocked (if not filled with freshness) and turn over quickly, but when action toys deplete, they frequently stay depleted. Seeing new arrivals of a couple of waves back at a store that has slowly smothered its action figure presence over the last couple of years does not inspire hope, either. The larger stores seem to be doing just fine, though.

Action figures are less and less of a sure thing. It used to be you could probably put out any of a number of weird concepts and someone would buy them - but it seems that the group prone to collect action figures wasn't replaced with a new generation. As nobody knows what really creates a new collector - wide variety, abundance, drought, unfilled desires - this isn't really something people can plan for, and if anything it seems the last couple of decades of Star Wars really changed the playing field to roleplay lightsabers, LEGO sets, and video games when it comes to licensed items of interest. Kids don't buy comic books, or trading cards. And while they buy action toys, their interest in this category has diminished considerably.

If you ask me, there's a certain danger to being in an era of plenty as nerdly pursuits go. We have countless genre movies per year, and there are so many movies that could be toy lines that it's difficult to establish anything new. Some lines like Star Trek have been rebooted several times, The Next Generation had iterations through Galoob, Playmates, and Diamond Select Toys - and that first Galoob line outright flopped. Today if you get something new, it'll probably be Pop! Vinyl (great for mass-market) or Neca (great for one-shot or smaller lines) and that'll be that. Of particular interest is the new blossoming indie figure scene, of which this enterprising fellow has put his own original take on Battle Beasts on Shapeways. This category has been of great personal interest - but every new figure is inspired by the original, while this print-on-demand figure line seems to be much more true to the original format. Obviously we're not yet at a stage where we can bypass China for everything, but it's certainly interesting to see a line of figures extruded in the USA for roughly double or so what it might cost overseas. As the printers get better and the resolution increases, we could see some very big changes in a few years - and Hasbro is already on board with the made-on-demand concept.

--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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