It's week four of our Sponsor Appreciation features. There's also a contest tied in with
all this, with tons of great prizes. You can find the contest
here, but take the time to check out the features as well! The
previous weeks interviews:
Alter Ego Comics -
Aisle Sniper - 04/14/04
Killer Toys - 04/21/04
interview is with Joe from Southern Island. Here's what he had to say
about life, the universe, and everything:
MWC - How long have you been in the action figure/collectibles business?
- Our company has been around since 1994. We originally started out as an Internet Service Provider then sold that portion to another interested company. Finally in August of 2003 we focused our business on the one thing we all loved,
MWC - Do you have a brick and mortar store as well, or only an on-line store? How does having only one or both effect your business?
- We are entirely operated on the internet. We have a huge warehouse out in the middle of the desert that is home to all of our products. I think the benefit of not having a brick and mortar store is the savings we can pass on to our customers. We do not have to pay for a sales location and sales staff so it allows us to cut our costs. Not to mention working in a warehouse in the middle of nowhere allows our staff to focus on what’s important and that is learning about all types of toys and collectibles. It is a really enjoyable place to work with daily Halo matches and fun time theatre with action
MWC - How did you get started?
Joe - We got started because we all collected toys and knew that keeping up with our collection was becoming difficult. I remember during the months before Star Wars The Phantom Menace many of us were lined up trying to get the hottest action figures. This was crazy as scalpers would always come in and snag the last pieces we would need before we could get to it. We knew if we could have a place that made it easy for everyone to get the toys and collectibles they want, then that would be ideal. Hence Southern Island became what it is
MWC - How does having a store effect your own collecting?
- Being part of Southern Island has made my collecting so much easier. Now all the employees can order the items they want above and beyond that which is offered to our customers. It makes it easy to get a hold of those incredible Gentle Giant Statues and those Sideshow limited edition items. Some days I feel like Willy Wonka in a toy factory! All we need is the Umpa Lumpas and we are all set.
- What are your feelings on the current action figure and collectible market, and the forces at work in retail?
- I think the trend has slowly been moving from toys to collectibles. Everything is becoming higher detail and limited edition. As a seller I personally like the concept of limited edition items as long as they are within numbers that the majority of people who want them can own them. I am strongly opposed to chase figures. Chase figures make it too difficult for collectors who want to own a certain figure to get a hold of it. I find that most of the time chase figures end up in the hands of scalpers who then drive up the cost of the figure to a point that your average collector cannot afford. Who wants to pay $50 for a $9 figure? It’s just crazy!
As for the forces in retail I will not name names but I feel the national retail chains are slowly sucking the life out of the action figure market. Big retail chains can buy in bulk which is good for the consumer because it lowers the prices of the figures. The problem is that these stores also dictate what figures the general public gets to buy. How many times have you went into a retail chain and been disappointed by the limited selection or quality of the products. The reason is because these giant chains buy in bulk they are normally unwilling to buy higher quality products because it cuts into their profit line. I also feel that retail stores are havens for scalpers. If you ever go to one of these stores right as they are opening you will notice a few people waiting to run in and invade the toy aisle. The major retail stores have no invested interest in stopping this activity and thus allow it to go on unmonitored.
In the end I think shopping at online retailers helps eliminate the problems. We are able to buy the higher end products at great savings for our customers because we are not tied down to the weight of corporate margins. We can give customers a larger selection of items then the huge retail stores and guarantee that one will be available for them eliminating the scalpers.
- What do you feel sets you apart from other on-line retailers?
- Personally I feel there are a lot of great on-line retailers around. Before Southern Island, I had purchased items from many of them. I think the major thing that sets us apart from other retailers is our knowledge of the product and our level of service. Since I often still answer the phones at SI, I get to have good conversations with our customers. If someone is interested in a product that we do not carry I instantly research the item and see if it would be a worth wild fit for us. Basically all of us at SI are huge toy junkies. We are as interested in what is cool and hot as you are. One of the best parts of my job is talking on the phone with customers. The second thing that sets us apart is clearly our service. We want to make sure you are absolutely happy with the items you purchase. That means if you need an item replaced or you want to make an update to your order we are here to help you. I understand that one major concern for people is price. That is why we are one of the few on-line companies that will price-match any reputable dealer. If you find it in-stock for a lower price elsewhere we will honor it at SI. In short there should be no reason for you to shop anywhere else.
What trend did you completely misjudge? What really surprised you?
- The trend that really came back to kick me was the Nightmare before Christmas toys. The first month in business we had an opportunity to buy these toys and we passed on it. I thought they would not sell well and would not have much interested generated from them. Boy was I wrong! Come to find out they were one of the hottest toys last year. Buying toys is a hard game. The best thing I found that you can do is to listen to your customers. They know what they want and if you listen they will guide you in the right direction. What really surprised me is how the Masters of the Universe line was abandoned. I have to admit I am a Masters fan and it was disappointing to see no mention of them for the most part at this year’s NY Toy Fair. I think this line could have been huge if it was handled correctly. Fortunately we still have some great statues and busts coming out from
NECA. The Skeletor statue in a word is “Amazing!”.
MWC - What's coming up in 2004 that you think will be exceptionally cool?
- One of the coolest things to coming in 2004 is the Clone Wars Yoda Marquette by Gentle Giant. This statue is by far the Star Wars item I am most looking forward to this year. It couldn’t have been captured any better. It literally looks like they pulled Yoda off Cartoon Network and into the real world. The next thing I am excited about is the original action figure lines of Crittaz and Freakables by Palisades. Both of these lines are very well made and should appeal to a wide variety of people. I think of Crittaz as Homies meets animal farm. They are cute creatures with extreme attitudes..
As a retailer, what's your biggest challenge?
Joe - The biggest challenge is getting our name out to people. We are very new to this market. Although we have been in business ten years we have only been in the collectibles realm for eight months. So when you see our advertising in Toy Fare, Lees and of course MWC Toys, please let us know. Also stop by our booth at the Wizard World Conventions as we are always looking forward to meeting new
MWC - Anything else you'd like to comment on?
- Thanks for talking to us. We look forward to working with MWC Toys for a long time.
you right back Joe, for your continued support of MROTW. Next week I'll
have another sponsor interview - until then, make sure you enter the contest!