Friday, January 13, 2012

"...More Guns Than a Tea Party Convention in AZ"

Believe it or not, this is not a political post, but a Transformers-related one. The quote comes from alt.toys.transformers member "Banzai-Tron" (here's the full post), and was simply too good to ignore.

Unless you follow Transformers a lot (or you've already clicked the link), it's probably not obvious from the arsenal laid out in the picture to the left, but that quote was talking about the BigBadToyStore reissue of the Seacons.

Unlike the Transformers Collectors' Club version, which I featured a couple of years ago, this set closely (if not precisely) duplicates the color scheme of the original Seacons from 1988. But unlike the original 1988 US gift set (which failed to include Nautilator for some reason), this set has all six Seacons.

There's not really a lot of point in talking about the toy in too much detail, since you can easily get that information from what I said about TCC's version, but it's worth mentioning a bit about the history of this version. Visitors to BotCon 2010 saw the first indications of this reissue in one of the Hasbro display cases. The card in front of the displayed figure indicated that the set would be an exclusive, but didn't mention which venue, and suggested an "ARP" (Approximate Retail Price) of $49.99.

A short time later, it was learned that BigBadToyStore (BBTS) would be the North American distributor of this set, but that the price they would be charging was actually $59.99, a full $10 higher! Some of us (myself included) felt like this was a bit of a bait-and-switch, but it should be recognized that this isn't really BBTS's fault. The ARP is set by Hasbro before the toy is actually sold to retailers at all (most of us prefer the acronym MSRP, for "Manufacturer's Suggested Retail Price," which more accurately conveys the intention of the ARP), and tends to assume a different retail model than what applies to small online toy stores such as BBTS. A Target or a Wal-Mart, for example, can charge a relatively low price for toys because they are diversified in what they offer to consumers. If toys aren't selling as well, they'll make money off of food, or clothes, or something else, enabling them to offer items at lower prices without too much risk. An online vendor such as BBTS, on the other hand, doesn't have the same kind of luxury. People come to them looking for toys, and only toys, and thus BBTS simply can't diversify as well. Moreover, a larger retail store can negotiate a lower price from Hasbro because they'll be buying a lot of toys, whereas an online store has smaller buying power, and thus less ability to negotiate a lower price from Hasbro. All this basically means that, when BBTS committed to buy a bunch of Seacon sets from Hasbro, they always knew that they'd have to charge that $59.99 price to consumers, and Hasbro's lower "ARP" came as much of a surprise to them as to anyone. (I should note that none of this even mentions shipping rates, which obviously aren't a factor for traditional retail, but which are added on to most online orders.)

The fact is, if the past 10 years or so have proven anything, it's that reissuing 20+ year-old Transformers is a very risky endeavor. They don't have the same universal appeal that modern toys have to both kids and adults. They pretty much depend on the nostalgia factor of those of us old enough to remember when the toys were available the first time around. This is part of why, when these toys are reissued at all, they're pretty much always exclusive to some store or another. Making fewer toys means a lower risk to Hasbro, although it also can mean a higher cost per unit. Also, the changes in toy-making technology don't always translate to lower production costs for toys designed in an earlier age. That's a combination of both lower overall sales and higher prices (compared to more modern toys of comparable size), and this isn't even getting into the online-vs-traditional issues of the previous paragraph.

This, of course, can also be a bit of a chicken-and-egg problem. I still believe that the reason that the Toys R Us reissues of the early 2000's failed to sell better is because the prices were placed too high. BBTS has suffered from this problem, as well. Like Battle Unicorn before it, the Seacons reissue has since been discounted a number of times (currently at the originally suggested $49.99 price, interestingly enough), and I've little doubt that BBTS still has a ways to go before they'll finally sell out. Arranging for Hasbro to make exclusive toys is an expensive undertaking with pretty high risks, and it's actually remarkable that BBTS and stores like them make the attempt as often as they do. As such, I hope that my comments about them come off with the respect I intend for them, rather than scorn. Without fan-owned stores like BBTS fighting to provide toys that older collectors care about, these toys wouldn't exist at all.

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