Founded in 2003 by Jesse Combs, Toypresidents, Inc. (ToyShow) has met with tremendous success crafting collectible, battery-operated talking president action figures. This year, Combs expands the concept to include other historical figures by opening Timecapsule Toys.
Toypresidents has established over 1200 retailers nationwide through the use of catalogs, direct response advertising, and an aggressive public relations campaign. Consumers can also purchase their products online. Seven percent of the company’s sales are international, a number that is growing fast. With the release of the Princess Diana, Winston Churchill and Tony Blair figures, they expect the European market to open up.
Presently, their bestsellers are George W. Bush followed by Ronald Reagan and Bill Clinton. John F. Kennedy is another popular figure among democrats. Most retailers sell them for $29.95, but some retail at $34.95 to $39.95 and still keep pace with others in reorders. On the secondary market these figures will appreciate, satisfying a base of loyal collectors. The retired Reagan 1st Edition sells for as much as $80.
Typically, 10,000 of each figure are made, but this quantity will vary with new releases. They have 20 new figures that will be launched within the next month or two. Dwayne Crosby, vice president of sales and marketing, attributes the company´s success to increased political awareness and patriotism. Adult collectors enjoy history and politics combined with the imagination they had as children.
Because Combs is constantly on the go, running numerous companies that deal with everything from airport parking to real estate development to refrigerant gases, Crosby discusses with TDmonthly the past and plans for the future.
TDmonthly: How did you start, and where did you get the idea to design replicas of presidents exclusively?
Dwayne Crosby: We were in Washington, D.C. doing some lobbying for a project that we were working on with one of [Combs’] other companies. I was the vice president of operations for Coolgas, a refrigerant management company. We noticed that almost all of the products that dealt with the presidency were satirical in nature and that there was a lack of educational and historical materials available for children and adults. We were on a sales call to a pharmaceutical company a year later when we began brainstorming ideas, and this one just made sense. So we went for it.
TDM: What impact will these figures have on the toy industry?
DC: We have seen a trend in the action figure industry where more and more figures are geared to adults. We also recognized that there was a lack of products that could be used to educate children about history and politics. We have found that people are enthusiastic about our products because they represent an admiration for our political system. When you turn on the TV or listen to the radio most of what you see and hear is castigation of public officials. Most of us are proud of our political system and the people who are involved. When we decided to make this product our first realization was that every president had the same goal of bettering our country and democratic society. As individuals we may not agree with the way they attempt to improve our country, but that shouldn´t overshadow their accomplishments. The toy industry will always have something new that makes neat sounds and has flashing lights, but if you want something educational other than a book you really have to look hard. We also find that a hero in a suit will be played with just as much as a hero in a military uniform. Our impact on the industry has been minimal thus far because our company is still young.
TDM: How did you select your first figures and what process do you use to obtain memorable quotes?
DC: The figures were selected initially by noting the most famous and easily marketable. After the initial build-up of the company we decided to include a section on the Web site called “exercise your right to vote” where consumers, in true democratic fashion, elect leaders onto the production schedule. I listen to all available speeches and interviews within the public domain and select clips based on their relevance, importance and impact. With older presidents there are only a few such speeches, but with more modern presidents the number of speeches is at times overwhelming. But if I listen to them all, I will often find a small clip of enormous potential buried in an obscure speech. It certainly keeps it interesting for the consumer.
TDM: Will your final decision on whether to proceed with a particular president be based on voting results alone?
DC: Consumers are often better educated than most manufacturers give them credit for. Some of the feedback that I have received has helped in guiding the development process.
TDM: To what extent does a politician´s name recognition sell your product?
DC: It´s difficult to quantify the extent of impact. People buy the product because they like a particular individual. I doubt we would sell very many figures if they were generic and spoke phrases from a dictionary. People buy the product because it´s an affirmation of their personal beliefs. The figures are designed to be likenesses of individuals that have celebrity status. Most people have a favorite politician, and we have a product that treats them all in an unbiased and respectful manner.
TDM: How much of your success stems from your company´s marketing strategies alone?
DC: If our marketing strategy consisted solely of passing out flyers at a grocery store our impact would be localized. Thus a broad, multi-prong marketing approach is essential to our success.
TDM: Why is the action figure a popular concept and where is it headed?
DC: Action figures are popular with children because they have vivid imaginations and like to role-play. Role-playing as a president is seen by many parents as a far better alternative than role-playing as a superhero. Adults like to display them as a conversation piece.
Although parents and teachers use these novelty items to educate youth, the action figures aren´t just kids´ toys. The importance of these talking political dolls to collectors has the capacity to change with the daily headlines.