Friday, March 2, 2018

Power of the Force 2 Action Figures: The Failed Get Rich Quick Scheme of the 1990's



This article came about when a recent question was asked on my blog by an anonymous reader. They essentially stated they were going to start looking into some of the Power of the Force 2 figures for their kids and were inquiring about what some of the more expensive ones will be. After thinking about it for a moment, I concluded that there was really only one figure I knew of which held any value - R2-D2 with the Holographic Princess Leia. Even then, at $30.00 (average), that figure isn't going to break the bank for most people. In essence, I told this reader most people would probably love to give their stored boxes of figures away to him for free just to get rid of them.

So with that as our lead in...

Remember back in the mid 1990's when a fair percentage of the world thought they were going to retire on the concept of buying and hoarding the newly released Star Wars figures to sell later? You know. When everyone saw this in their head...


But the reality which became of it was...


Those were sad times indeed for many people.

The Star Wars craze of the 90's turned you average Joe into an avid "collector" overnight. Worst of all, they dragged their children into the mix of it. Rather than revel in the joy of little Johnny and Jane finding a toy they wanted. Parents were instead pushing the concept on them of not playing with their toys while admiring them through the unopened package as one day they may be worth a ton of money.

As a Toys R' Us employee in the midst of this craze, I watched as people would swarm toy stores daily, constantly on the quest to be the first to own the latest and greatest Star Wars figures. They would never believe you when you told them nothing had come in or that you had sold out already. No, somewhere in your store you were hiding a case or two and the employees were buying them - Which was true to an extent.

Toys R' Us did have a policy in place which allowed employees to put aside merchandise to purchase when the next payday rolled around. However, if you didn't make said purchase at that time the merchandise would be returned to the toy isle.

Now before you go crucifying any Toys R' Us employees who may or may not have partaken in this, keep in mind that when I was working at this store the average hourly salary was $6.25 per hour, most of us didn't get a full forty-hour work week, which meant we also got no health insurance or other benefits. Personally speaking, if the only perk you (or anyone) gets from working at a toy store is the option of first buy on something you most likely can't afford anyway based on the minimal pay you receive is a fair trade off for all of the above - IF - you are indeed buying it for yourself and not scalping it to subsidize your minimal wages - Which believe it or not Toys R' Us did have a policy in place which stipulated employees could not do this.

With that said, I can attest that at least in my minimal time working at this particular Toys R' Us that 95% or more of the merchandise went on store shelves.

I digress though. This story is not about the woes of being a Toys R' Us employee, but rather the people who made our lives a living nightmare. Knowing a few collectors during this particular time period, I heard stories of  bounced checks around town, missed important payments on necessities (such as cars) or in general simply overdrawing their bank accounts because the reward would pay off in the end when they sold all these beauties to some sucker. It was terrible.

So what happened? What was the driving force in the 90's that lead people to think Star Wars was the end all be all to all of their future financial troubles? What made people believe in twenty years time they would sell their entire mint in box collection which they had patiently stored in their attic and retire to some hidden island to live out their golden years?

There are a few factors which come into play and they all just so happen to hit right around the same time period. One could call this a coincidence. Others would call it the planets aligning and most would simple say who cares. Those latter people should stop reading now.

Between 1991 and 1993 Timothy Zahn released a set of novels now known as the Thrawn Trilogy. These landmark stories breathed a large breath of oxygen into what many considered to be the decaying lungs of Star Wars. Though it would be unfair to say there wasn't a legion of loyal Star Wars fans out there, these novels helped to push the franchise back out into the limelight - Something it had been out of since at least 1985 when the original vintage figures first ceased production.

The internet becomes widely accessibly in 1991 to most households via dial up connections and suddenly fans across the globe are able to link up. Chat rooms boom and people start discovering an all new outlet to meet people who share a common interest with them. Some even begin trading toys with each other, but because of the exclusive nature of most of these groups things stay relatively confined.

Then 1995 hits. Suddenly toy stores were receiving shipments of all new Star Wars figures - The first wave of the Power of the Force 2 line. Now add on top of this Lucasfilm / 20th Century Fox release the THX "One Last Time" editions of Star Wars on VHS and Laserdisc. Suddenly Star Wars is on a whole lot more radars across the country and it doesn't stop there.

An all new website launches on September 3, 1995 catching the attention of a lot of people. In essence it's a worldwide garage sale, and everyone had something to sell. Welcome ebay. Sure things are a little difficult at first. People are scammed, payments are slow as they're being delivered via snail mail across the country and on average a successful transaction takes thirty to forty-five days. However, things will soon balance out and streamline more efficiently - Especially once PayPal is brought into the fold in 1998.

Everything is for sale on ebay. Clothing, movies, CD's and of course toys. Children of the 70's and 80's who are now blossoming into self sufficient working adults find hundreds of sellers who are cleaning out attics, garages and just want to make a few bucks for those toys that have been sitting in a box for twenty to thirty years and many are eager to help take these off their hands. There's only one problem. For every five figures for sale, twenty people want them. Now prices start skyrocketing.

Enter Average Joe. He doesn't own any vintage toys. He doesn't want any vintage toys. But, he sees an opportunity at hand. If people are paying $200.00 for a Luke Skywalker from 1977 in 1995 it only stands to reason they'll be doing the same in 2015 for the 1995 version. Average Joe quickly goes to every local toy store, his credit card at the ready to swipe, swipe and swipe some more. He's not wasting money. He's investing.

Average Joe is now part of the problem. He's swooping up every piece of plastic he can find on toy pegs which means secondary prices start to adjust on new toys. Suddenly that $5.99 new figure is $25.00 if you want one. This only feeds Average Joe's mania even more because he's already starting to see the formation of a return investment. At this rate his figure which he anticipated he could get $200.00 for in 2015 will surely double or triple. So what does he do? He buys even more.

This in turn leads to Kenner's bottom line rising and rising. Star Wars is hot again. Let's strike while the iron is hot. So what happens next? Over saturation. Kenner pumps out every figure they can and when the company is sold to Hasbro, they do the same. The duo release upwards of fifty figures between 1995 and 1998 - and mind you, that doesn't include vehicles, playsets, multi-packs or creatures which were also produced in abundance.

They don't stop there. By 1999 Lucas has not only released the Special Editions which draw even more collectors into the fold, but is also on the heels of releasing Episode I: The Phantom Menace. Extreme hype surrounds the film causing it to be the most anticipated movie of all time.

Hasbro is ready to take full advantage of this which of course means more figures are on the way. In the midst of all of this hype, Toys R' Us does something incredible - On May 3, 1999, just sixteen days before the film hits theaters, the store opens at midnight to sell all the new toys based on the film. Stores are ransacked and by the time the sun rises are also sold out.

Unfortunately this is where it all starts to go down hill. On May 19, 1999 the world watches Star Wars: The Phantom Menace for the first time and the general consensus is it's not good. People don't like the story, characters and the film as a whole. Prices on secondary markets start to drop quickly because suddenly nobody wants these figures. It doesn't stop there though. People start offloading all of their Star Wars figures because they fear the backlash of the film will actually kill the future of Star Wars and as a result the desirability of the toys.

This over saturation now floods secondary markets as people run to sites such as ebay or second hand toy stores in an effort to offload everything they've acquired over the years. Unfortunately, there is so much product available now, but so few buyers because everyone has pretty much bought a storage unit's worth of toys. How do you possibly sell something to anyone if they already have it?

The answer - You don't. Prices start to drop rapidly in a mad attempt to liquidate average Joe's bad investment. The problem is he still can't get rid of them. Some of the toys are so undesirable that now they're below retail prices. He can't even give them away.

Which leads us to the inevitable point we are with this story. There are so many people out there with boxes and boxes of new era Star Wars toys who can't do anything with them other than decide to open and enjoy them, throw them away, blow them out for as little as a dollar a piece or continue to sit on them in a potentially vein effort to see some form of return in the future.

Average Joe is so confused over his current predicament. What went wrong?

Unfortunately, he missed the one key aspect of the potential value of something. Supply vs. demand. When Hasbro produces ten thousand units of one figure and only eight thousand sell there are still two thousand of them out there. I.E. no demand. What makes a vintage Luke Skywalker from 1977 on a twelve back card so valuable today is because there simply aren't many of them out there. If five people want the one that is available, prices go up. It's really that simple.

Will Joe's 1995 red carded original Luke be worth something in 2015? Well, we already know it wasn't. As of 2018, people can't even seem to get five bucks for it. Will this change in the future? Theory - No. So many people have bought these figures that the potential for demand will never return. In short, if you bought these figures as an investment, you have long since missed your window to score any form of profit.

Which leads me to my closing statement - Many visitors of The Toy Box stop by to ask those two ever burning questions on their minds, "What's it worth?" The short answer is fairly simply - What it's worth is what you paid for it. "What can I get for it?" Whatever the next person will pay for it.

The bottom line is this - Don't buy toys for their resale value. Buy them because you enjoy them. Yes, I know there are people who stumble across boxes of toys in their homes who have no interest in them and want to sell them to make a few bucks, but here's a concept I challenge those people with - If you don't want it anyway and someone pays you a buck, you've essentially made a dollar on something you were just going to throw away anyway. Who cares if you didn't get top dollar for it if it brings a smile to someone's face who will appreciate it more than you did? Life doesn't always have to be about making money.

I can promise you one thing - When the day comes to finally say goodbye to my collection, I won't be selling any of it off to the highest bidder. Instead, I'll be looking for the right person to hand all of it down to. Someone who will enjoy it as much as I do and will cherish it all for another lifetime.

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