December 2004 | Vol. III - No. 12
Known as the West Coast´s largest and most influential comics dealer, Sunset Strip-headquartered Meltdown Comics and Collectibles is only one of five southern California stores owned by Gaston Dominguez-Letelier and his partner. The Meltdown family of stores are delightful, singular shopping experiences (right down to their three-legged alien mascot Mel, designed by an Oscar-nominated writer/cartoonist), and Dominguez-Letelier´s been rapidly expanding into new businesses, like high-end baby accessories, cutting-edge toy conceptualization and creative DVD packaging for major film franchises.
In an exclusive and candid conversation with TDmonthly Magazine, Dominguez-Letelier´s experience and insights prove essential for both established retailers with an eye on expansion and those just thinking about starting a new business.
TDmonthly: How did you start in the collectibles industry?
Gaston Dominguez-Letelier: My wife at the time and still partner and I started Meltdown eleven years ago. We had amassed a giant collection of vintage Spiderman and superhero collectibles encompassing all types and styles of products from all over the world. We had also cultivated, through many trips to Asia, a Key vintage Japanese toy collection. We have retailed and brokered complete runs of Star Wars and other science fiction-superhero related toys.
We have also sold limited edition items, such as Randy Bowen Marvel Comics bronze statues with runs of twenty-five or less, robots, die-cast toys, vintage Kaiju monsters, toys from Japanese cinema, Tin Tin (the European equivalent to Mickey Mouse or the Asian Astro boy), and one of a kind items such as high-end maquettes, original screen used movie props, and original comic and fine art.
TDM: What special knowledge did you apply to the business?
GDL: Currently, in our main store we opened a gallery that focuses on original comic art, illustration, and its by-products, like packaging design for consumer products. The designer toy and art vinyl market has created a network of small independent boutiques all around the globe. Span of Sunset was our answer to the local demand. We feature art toys that are made in small runs by fashion houses and creative types from around the world. We also manufacture, consult, and run production for artists and Fortune 500 companies looking at the art toy marketplace as the new entry point for cool urban types.
In 1999, as a case study, we manufactured a character premium of the Meltdown mascot. This character was designed by Oscar-nominated cartoonist Dan Clowes. Once released, and due to brisk sales, we immediately realized the potential of the mom and pop toy niche.
TDM: Are there risks to overspecializing or does specialization make a store more efficient?
GDL: There isn´t one right way. All of our shops are destination stores so the best approach for us, of course, is to specialize and cater to a specific market and clientele. That works best for us and what we sell.
TDM: Do economic fluctuations have a negative impact on sales?
GDL: Our buyer keeps the inventory very well diversified so as not to have economic fluctuations affect us too much. We have a loyal customer base generally made up of creative types, who usually work in design, architecture, fashion, music, and the entertainment industries. They tend to be world travelers and are pretty much split evenly 50/50 in the gender department. They are the type of customer who probably spends more on clothing, books, magazines, DVDs, and music than on toys, so their toy budgets are usually not affected.
TDM: Does the secondary market draw attention to the primary market or detract from it?
GDL: We carry all the new figures from the designer toy world, be it from France, Hong Kong, Singapore, Japan, the UK, as well as loyal boutique toy brands that manufacture items like the Enid Hi Glamour doll that we have sold upwards of 200 pieces at $38.00 each. Some of these production runs are so small that within days of them arriving in our stores, we sell out and then have to restock from the secondary market which forces us to raise our prices.
TDM: Do you have a motivating business philosophy?
GDL: I look forward to going to work everyday. I mean, apart from having a steady and lovely clientele to all our retail stores, we have a toy pre-production lab in-house and to top it off, we are now embarking on our first animated project and DVD packaging gig for New Line – a short based on the New Line blockbuster "Blade" franchise, whose next installment will be released this winter aptly named "Blade Trinity". Our short will be called, "Blade Is Bloodthirsty" and will accompany the soundtrack DVD with the score by Rapper RZA. It really comes down to having a strong will to succeed and an unrelenting determination to satisfy each and every customer or client that I encounter at any one of my stores or that I consult with.