Collectors Maintain Grip on Toy Industry
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September 2003 | Vol. II - No. 9

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Collectors Maintain Grip on Toy Industry

Some adults find it impossible to close the toy chest on certain types of toys. Whether trains, cars, action figures, dolls or trading cards, somehow these toys captured their imagination as children and still occupy a significant portion of their adult lives -- and basements.

For some, the pursuit of a particular type of toy often demands hours of research and thousands of dollars. For others, however, the interest lies in the projected resale value an item could command. The latter are often a source of frustration to die-hard collectors.

"Those type of people really destroy the collector hobby for the real collectors," noted Ed Hohberger, manager of Canada's Greatest Collectors Toy Show in Toronto. "It destroys it because it drives the prices up."

Hohberger, himself a collector of old tin toys, says he's seen the hot collectible item of choice change at the annual October show over the years. Today, many of the displays will be of action figures, from the early Star Wars models to today's highly detailed figures. In years past, the prized items included train sets, dolls and others. So big is that collectible market, in fact, that some companies target the collector exclusively, forgoing the children’s market.

"Collectible action figures are really more of a newer category," said Michael Horn, president and CEO of Palisades Toys (ToyDirectory). "Adults are buying action figures with the intent of displaying them or getting them all. That's our first audience. We don't really make the toys that are out back in the sand box."

While companies such as Corgi (ToyShow)have established themselves as favorites with collectors of toy cars and trucks, Roy Nakamura, who operates the website (ToyDirectory) believes collectors account for a very small percentage of the whole toy car market.

"I think the collectible market is insignificant to overall toy car sales," he said. "However, when the parents buy collectible toy cars for themselves, I believe they also buy toy cars for their children and as gifts, which may keep the interest in toy car collecting for generations later."

While Hohberger says the collectors that attend the Toronto show range in age from pre-teens to senior citizens, the hard-core collector tends to be older and possesses a high disposable income. As a result, companies looking to break into this lucrative market need to consider the quality of the product they are producing if they expect to command both buyer loyalty and higher price points.

"The real collectors are demanding that level of quality -- the metal etch, the high quality of paint, the accuracy of scale," explained Bob Adie, owner of Modelcraft Inc. (ToyDirectory), a British Columbia-based producer of model kits, particularly military vehicles. "The old modelers -- they're looking at 48-scale model and armor, and they are willing to spend the money. They have the disposable income."

Recently, releases of everything from dolls to cards to teddy bears have been accompanied with the term "collectible," which has resulted in some frenzied efforts to obtain limited edition products. This manufactured interest creates what Hohberger refers to as a "feeding frenzy.”

"A true collector buys what he likes and enjoys it," he said. "If it goes up [in price], great. If not, it really doesn't matter."

This attitude is echoed by Dick Wessel, president of Cincinnati Auto Replicas (ToyDirectory) and a collector of model cars, who believes there is no way to pin down what someone will collect.

"They want to build the car their father drove or their friend drives," he suggested. "There's also the Walter Mitty [type] who will never have a Ferrari, but he has 11 [models] in the basement. Whatever melts your butter.”

Hohberger believes there is a 20 to 25 year delay following the release of a category of toy before the collectible cream rises to the top. The problem now, he says, is that with everyone collecting, the Darwinian reduction of supply may not apply.

"If they made 5,000 in 10 years [today], there will still be 5,000 [in years ahead]," he said of a hypothetical collectible toy. "Toys back then were meant to be played with."


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