Q&A: Repacks, The End, The Clone Wars, and The Future of You

By Adam Pawlus — Sunday, June 8, 2014


1. What is the deal with RE-Issues of figures and vehicles? Are these products Hasbro bought back from a retail store or something they never sold and had as back stock in a warehouse somewhere? Or are they remolding fresh characters of something that clearly looks like it didn't sell very well in the first place? I have been collecting since 95 and almost everything that returns to retail in some fashion appears to be scraps from days long past. Can you please give me insight into how this process works these days?

New vehicles are new production - the tooling is still workable, and as long as those molds work Hasbro has a strong interest in getting the product out to market. Since 2012 we've seen a rather steady stream of reissues with a decreasing number of new figures per year, and it would seem interest wanes accordingly. It may not be worth their investment to make more new figures just yet, but I can say that it costs way, way too much money to collect unsold figures from stores, send them back to China, put them in new boxes, and send them back to US stores. When Hasbro and Kenner used to collect old, dead product it would often show up in other outlets or, if the rumors are true, donated to various organizations and most likely given to kids or sold at a very, very low price.

If you consider factors like American manpower and freight, clearing old toys out of a store is really cost-prohibitive. Even if you're just paying some dude to drive around and pick up scraps, things like gas and minimum wage add up fast. You really don't want to repackage old stock, and courtesy of Hasbro carving (or printing) date stamps on figures and vehicles we can actually see when a figure was produced. Most But not all) Hasbro toys now have two numbers on them somewhere - a 5-digit SKU (for example, Tailgate has #A5783) and a 5-digit date stamp. A date stamp might look like this: 32591. It means the figure was produced in 2013 (that's the "3") on September 16 (the 259th day of the year.) The significance of that final 1 is not known but some have assumed that it means that it's the first (or only) shift at the factory.

If you pick up a figure in 2014, with a 2014 copyright on the box, but a 2013 date stamp on the toy or the packaging? That's normal. If you ever find a figure in 2014 packaging with a 2012 date stamp on it? Please let me know - because that would lend credence to your repackaging theory, which Hasbro insists never happens, which my time working/consulting/otherwise puttering around in the toy business says is cost-prohibitive, and generally goes against making cheap plastic crap in China as a thing. I should also point out that alterations to packaging on a retail product after shipment do happen but are exceedingly common. In the 1970s and 1980s, Kenner would sometimes send a roll of stickers advertising products or promotions that a retailer could slap on their existing inventory. In the 1990s, if a store got damaged boxes on their product Kenner would sometimes send replacement flat, unused boxes so you could slide in the toy, paperwork, and inserts while the consumer gets a minty-fresh box. The latter hasn't happened (as far as I can tell) in ages - but I do have some flat, unused boxes from a local retailer in my collection as evidence. (An AT-ST box and a Shadows of the Empire Swoop box, in case you were curious.)




2. The closing statements in [this Q&A] struck a nerve - "Rethink your completism and reconsider the value of paying for a second or third storage space for all of this stuff now, because the fleeting pleasures of a new purchase are going to add up between now and the time you can no longer take yourself to the bathroom." It makes me glad that I've become focused on a particular subset of collecting that I am able to ignore most everything else and not worry about running out of space; though I did break my 'Vintage-only' rule for Mara Jade and Darth Plagueis. However, the main point (though your intent was implicit, I'm sure) I took away was the longevity of this collecting thing - do I really want to still be trying to buy stuff when I'm an invalid? If you had told me at age 10 that I'd still be trying to hunt down SW action figures in 30 years, I'd have told you were nuts. Yet here I am, doing so. I don't want to keep this up for the rest of my remaining years, and the more I think about it, the more I'm beginning to realize that I'm pretty content with what I have. So...is it possible to actually finish a collection through sheer force of will, or are most of us in so deep that will there always be that 'one more thing' that brings us back?

Completism didn't used to be a problem - most toy lines were pretty small by design, so kids could probably get a good chunk of it between allowances, birthdays, and Christmas or whatevers. At $2-$3 per, getting mom & dad to buy you 8-16 figures per year wasn't unthinkable. At $10 per, there's a bigger psychological barrier and the $5/$6 figure ploy is as close as we can hope to get to engaging fans at a larger scale. The vocal, super-articulated, I'll-pay-anything fan is a dying breed and we need a large pool from which to draw money to keep any action figure line going. Multiple lines can cause a brand to compete with itself for dollars, but at the same time as a toy conglomerate you want to make sure you have a Star Wars toy for any potential customer young or old.

When I switched over from "a kid who buys figures" to "a kid that's going to finish this set" in the late 1980s I had a pretty good idea as to what that meant - one of each figure, a few years of garage sales, and every last dime of allowance made it happen. Because there was an end in sight, it was possible - a permanently complete collection is impossible for any extant line. For any of us to truly be "complete" the line must die. I don't necessarily want it to die, but it's possible economic considerations will force Hasbro to do something like move to a smaller, cheaper scale and axe 3 3/4-inch and/or 6-inch as prices approach $20 and $40 respectively. It won't be soon, but we've seen figure prices climb quite a bit since 2005 - the "normal" generously articulated 3 3/4-inch Star Wars figure was $5-$6 in 2005, $7 in 2006, $8 in 2008, and finally $10 or higher starting in 2010. Articulation also steadily increased, but accessories jumped in all directions. The point is this: for you to be complete, Star Wars must, on some level, die.

I expect even without a movie or TV show, Hasbro could squeeze a few bucks through reissued lightsabers and repackaged action figures for a couple of years before pulling the plug completely. Once a collector exists, most collectors I've spoken with exit completely. Things like 6-inch bring back lapsed fans, but generally speaking most people who quit collection 3 3/4-inch seem to first rid themselves of loose or packaged figures (one of each is space prohibitive) and after that? It's over. Not everyone is like this, but a lot of people are like this.

I have a feeling my own collecting will soon be price-based if this all keeps up because $20 for a 3 3/4-inch action figure doesn't really click against other forms of entertainment or collecting. Some things get expensive to the point where they slowly strangle their audience out (see: comic books, trading cards) and turn into a collector-only affair. That's not what I want to see happen, toys should be a kid's game and anything we want to buy should be icing on the cake. When you alienate the billions of dollars kids control as pocket money, that's going to cause problems. Look at Hot Wheels - they do something to keep those at a buck after 45 years. There are higher-dollar ones, but it's still accessible. Of course, it's also impossible for any sane person to complete that collection - just like it's going to be with Star Wars for a person of modest means starting this year or later.




3. The secondary market value for many Clone Wars TV series action figures has been very strong, with many carded figures going for $24.99 and up on ebay, amazon, etc. Does this surprise you, and to what do you attribute this to?

Kids, and collectors.

Fun fact: parents were paying premium prices for Hulk toys before the Avengers movie brought him back to retail and retail shelves were bare. Kids - actual kids - went to comic shops and paid premium prices for scarce WWF figures from Jakks Pacific in the 1990s. In 2007, Transformers Movie Bumblebee was shipped at a decent case ratio but kids wanted him and could not find him - so the price went up and now Hasbro makes a lot more Bumblebee toys. We saw something similar with Ahsoka in 2008 for The Clone Wars, minus increased production as the line went on. Granted, some of The Clone Wars figures were always tough to get but if you have a popular toy line that got cut off too soon, this sort of thing has been known to happen. The phenomenon of premium prices for hot figures has, sadly, been around at least since 1989 when I first noticed it with the Toy Biz Batman movie line.

We saw the writing on the wall for this phenomenon as early as 2008 for Hasbro's The Clone Wars toys, and collectors in early 2010 knew right off the bat that the animated Darth Sidious would be a thorn in their sides if they couldn't find him or order a case. We saw a little of this in the 1990s with the original Kenner 1978-1985 Star Wars figures, as certain more interesting and therefore desirable characters saw their prices increase and when I worked in a collectible shop. It was not unusual for kids to come in and ask for those. Collectors, too - but remember, parents also pay whatever the market may bear for Cabbage Patch Kids dolls or Tickle Me Elmos or Wiis when supply is short. Hell, look at Frozen toys and kid's costumes these days - there couldn't be a better example of how this works right now. Those Anna dresses for 5-year-olds aren't being bought for $200 by adult collectors. Amazon and eBay allow their reach to extend back farther, and we're seeing this happen on many toy lines.

I know adult fans really like to feel special and unique, but parents are just as likely to overpay for a rare toy for their kids - not many toys like we are, but a few? Definitely. If I were a betting man, I'd suggest that you begin to stockpile toys connected to Fox/Universal Marvel movies that aren't going to be made by Marvel/Disney - if Fantastic 4 clicks with kids, and (I'm assuming here) Hasbro won't make toys for it like we saw with the latest X-Men picture, we should see more examples of this down the road. Everybody has access to Amazon, and it's not like eBay where you have to bid - it's an easy process, so now anyone can easily overpay for action figures online.




One of the more fascinating things about the Star Wars Universe is how it has been expanding and contracting for years. If you were a child of the 1970s, you had three movies and a legendary TV special. Were you a child of the early 1980s, you had five movies (Hi, Ewoks!) plus about 39 episodes of a cartoon series in your quiver. The notion of legions of fans ignoring some elements of the franchise is nothing new - as I've mentioned, Bill Slavicsek completely ignored the Marvel run but made sure to include the radio dramas in his official guidebooks in the 1980s and 1990s.

As of this week we saw another expansion to the universe, with another film director being announced. Josh Trank will be doing the second spin-off movie, whatever that is. In less than a couple of years, we went from a perception of six movies to what may well be at least twelve films, while the aforementioned 1970s TV special, 1980s telefilms, and 1980s cartoons continue to be ignored. As collectors, some of us are exceedingly selective - 3 3/4-inch or bust. Super-articulated or it doesn't count. Original Trilogy or who gives a crap. To you, I salute you - your collection will be much easier to maintain than any all-in fans.

While we'll see surges in kid purchases, my guess is that those will be fleeting unless the franchise goes beyond its original programming. We're seeing Hasbro Marvel sales stagnate as the superfranchise Avengers has milked roleplay toys and core characters as figures quite nicely, and Transformers has only just finally brought a massive influx of new characters with movie Dinobots to augment its two big winners Optimus Prime and Bumblebee. Star Wars will undoubtedly win big with lightsabers, retro Darth Vader products, and collector product but how do you keep stuff moving once kids have a good smattering of the franchise? Will a Han Solo spin-off convince kids who passed on the character to strap a blaster to his hip? (Can Hasbro even sell kids guns in a few years?)

Arguably the best marketing trick any toy line had before was that it ended. Kids burned out on Star Wars by 1985, and it was completely absent from retail shelves until about 1993. Transformers had some dark times. TMNT went away for a bit. Marvel came and went, or changed formats, between Mego and Mattel and Toy Biz and Hasbro. Kids had a real chance to get sick of something and then get a break from it - most megafranchises haven't really gone away for quite some time, saddling us (and kids) with a lot of the same stuff. Hasbro seemed intent on giving us even more toys from Revenge of the Sith and the (temporary) evergreen status of Spider-Man means we'll see tons of the webslinger for a while. But then what?

The Ewok movies - while under merchandised - could have been developed into a few good series of toys. Big weird creatures, Noa, marauders, a witch, and more Ewoks would have been fun and built up the Endor aspect of the line. It's my sincere hope that the spin-off films do what the cynical critics would lob at them and just be awesome toy commercials. I love A-Wings, but I've got A-Wings. Will the new movies mean Hasbro can just dust off the Millennium Falcon yet again?

Being in Hasbro's position must be rough. Clearly they want to just keep playing the hits, but can't seem to bring back in-demand toys when the market demands them. The new Rebels TV show looks to be genuinely refreshing with a huge selection of product that doesn't feel like more of the same, particularly when it comes to vehicles and figures. New product may keep people focused on one character or one set of movies away, but hopefully it'll bring in kids. How many Captain America shields or lightsabers can one kid buy? There has to be something new, and I hope Hasbro and Disney can figure that out before we get another line like Revenge of the Sith which felt like familiar faces in new costumes.

--Adam Pawlus

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