Site Article: A Survival Kit for New Collectors
Friday, June 13th, 2008 11:58AM CDTCategories: Site Articles, Collectables, Editorials
Posted by: Counterpunch Views: 79,963
I get, a lot of questions posed to me both in real life and online in regards to toys and toy purchases. It’s an interesting side effect of having both been in the hobby for 7 or 8 years now, of being a vocal member of the community, and from experience collecting various exclusives and oddities. Most of the questions come to me via other collectors who have a degree of experience (or a lot of experience) in the hobby and are stuck on a particular purchase or bit of information. It was recently pointed out to me that many of the newer collectors, those who came in via the movie and now through Animated are kind of stranded without a solid source of information on some of the tricky money based elements of the hobby.
This article is for you newbie. It’s for the literal hordes of Seibertronians out there who read and don’t post and it’s for those out there who aren’t necessarily sure what question to even start by asking.
So, let’s get down to the most important factor in your collection: Money. You may be someone who lives at home, is still in school, an old collector returned, or even someone who has stable employment. No matter who you are, your ability to collect toys is based on your ability to save, budget, and have available the money to make those purchases.
I won’t go into the whole discussion of what money is in relation to time; instead I will just make this as clear and simple as possible: Transformers do not get cheaper. They do not decrease in value. They are probably the most stable and profitable collectable around. This means, that Transformer toys are never cheaper than they are on the shelf of a TRU (Toys R Us), Wal-Mart, or Target. If you know what you want, plan to buy it in the store. Secondary market prices for our hobby are a dangerous place to tread. Even more dangerous is the fact that on the secondary market (read: eBay), you’re contending against jerks like me who will buy what we want regardless of the price.
On occasion you can find ‘End of the Year’ sales at the major retailers where often times you can score buy one get one deals or other such mark downs. Trust me; these are the exception to the rule. Keep one thing predominantly in your mind if you want to be a collector with a wallet that remains fat: Pay NOW, or PAY later. Money in your pocket is never worth as much as it is now and prices online only go up.
eBay has become a dastardly place in the past 2 or 3 years for Transformers collectors. Values on everything have skyrocketed. Add up the factors of shrinking stock of figures in the open market, increased interest by fans, and attention from sellers that there is profit to be made and you have a demon on your hands.
The only real trick to successful eBay shopping is to be patient. Watch and learn what things go for. If you really want something on eBay, watch it for a month, get an idea of prices and then decide how much you are willing to put out for the toy.
One other thing that should be said is to avoid feeding the sharks. Many out there will buy up entire initial waves of new toys and list them at inflated prices. The trick is that in buying up all the stock, they create a false sense of limited availability and you wind up buying something that you will find in Wal-Mart in 2 weeks. Be patient and be smart. Only once in several years during the Energon series was stock SO limited that you could not find things in the store (and that was largely Wal-Mart’s fault…).
Find one, make friends, and reap the rewards. Eventually, you are going to want something shiny and Japanese…your friendly neighborhood On-line Retailer to the rescue. They all have their points of favorability and points of contention. I can’t emphasize the importance of having a reliable retailer enough. If you are going to dive into the dangerous and expensive world of foreign toys, you’re going to need an ally. There are the “Big 3”, being BigBadToyStore, TFSource, and Hobby Link Japan.
BigBadToyStore (BBTS) is my usual choice, but that’s just my personal preference. You will hear complaints that their prices are high and to some degree this is a valid complaint because they ARE higher than other shops, especially in regards to recent vintage items. However, your money gets you great shipping, tracked packages, and most importantly a real, legitimate, and outstanding return policy. They understand that collectors expect a degree of perfection from their purchases and are willing to exchange unsatisfactory items. I have returned reissues and Masterpiece figures alike with no hassle. They do not charge for pre-orders until the item arrives. You BETTER learn to use this service well. While you may not be able to afford that Masterpiece figure now, getting one reserved and saving up for it is a very valuable service. BBTS also offers numerous ways to save on shipping.
TFSource is another popular choice. The downside with them is that all pre-orders are paid immediately. However, TF Source has cheaper prices to make up for it. They also are the undisputed kings of packaging and quick shipping. For items you want to buy now, I would rate them on par with BBTS.
Hobby Link Japan is a popular choice among other collectors that I have not had the pleasure of dealing with yet. I understand them to be quite reliable, reasonably priced, and that they have the best shipping options for those not within the US.
I’m biased towards BBTS and I suppose it shows, but I like options in my purchasing. The other listed retailers are all great and have been supporters of this very site. They all deserve your business.
Acting Like a Little Twit
One word: Don’t. Here’s the issue; being a little twit is infectious. People see you freak out and do so in return. One notable example of being a little twit is the Movie Concept Bumblebee Incident of 2007. Scores of new fans learned a lesson in patience and that they were in fact, not the first people ever to have to hunt for Transformers. You see, Bumblebee from the recent movie was a main character, something which begets numerous releases. Now when the toy was first released, fans flipped. It was literally ridiculous. We would have 10 or more threads in the toy forum about where to find 08BB. Though all the older board members and collectors said, “Chill, it’s all good. No worries.” The good advice fell on def ears. As such, impatient fans paid up to and more than $50 for a $10 toy. They fed the sharks and suffered humiliation as the toy was released as a heavy packed item in subsequent wave releases, was put into two Target exclusives, put into the Battle Scene box, and finally released as a premium toy. The point is, don’t be impatient about collecting. Sure, you can’t wait a year or more to find a toy, but occasionally you may find yourself wondering, “Am I in fact being an jerk over a toy?” If you were wondering this question at any time, the answer is ‘yes’.
Make your decisions on whether or not you want these guys early on. Store exclusives are no longer shelfwarmers. They command some of the ugliest mark-ups on the secondary market. Even if you think that a given toy is horrid, explore every aspect of said toy to figure out if you really can live without it. Chances are that if you don’t act soon, you will in fact be living without one. Example: CostCo release of Armada Prime and Overload. At only $50 at the time of release, this was a bargain…You got a Leader Class toy and a Voyager Class toy. You were actually saving $10.
Can you live without this?
Hope so, it’s in the $200 range now, if you can find one…
Store exclusive toys are nice…They’re good at separating your collection from about 50% of the others out there. Someday though, you might be interested in something so…off, so…rare, that other collectors stop and say, “Hey buddy, what the hell have you got there?’
Oh, how the Japanese must laugh when they decide the ways that collectors will have to go to get these toys. Some examples include breaking up a set or team and distributing them individually across Japan in various store. How about making you buy some crazy book, clipping some Japanese coupons, and mail ordering a green ambulance? Are you a fan of coloring contests? Well, unless you live in Japan and are ready to jump through these hoops, your gaijin option is to pay far, far too much to obtain these toys.
Only you, as a collector with your own interests and desires can decide if you are willing to pay anywhere from 5-10 times what the retail value of a standard toy is to obtain these. This is dangerous territory and you need to determine early on if you are willing to tread into it. Let’s see where you’re at.
How does something like this strike your fancy?
Only $80-120 for the figure…
($40 for the black sword he’s holding…)
If you joined us as collectors in the past 2 years you may have the impression that BotCon is an evil horde of scalping elitists. BotCon is a community event you should make every attempt to attend. It is probably the most expensive thing discussed yet. Saving up is a necessity. The entry fee alone to get in and get a box set is about $300. Hotel costs, travel, food, and everything else are on top of that. Plus there is always another $250 of convention toys to buy as well as the hypnotizing dealer room.
It ain’t for everybody…
Understand though, that the BotCon set of toys is a glorified set of repaints. Glorious both in terms of look and price. BotCon sets are never requirements for collections. Even the much lauded 2007 set with its Classics Thundercracker was not necessary to finish the collection of Classics (Technically, Thundercracker, Thrust, and Dirge were all dead by the end of the related fiction and are not really a continuing aspect of Classics). Most importantly what you need to know about BotCon is that the toys can be purchased without going to the convention. You can have them shipped to your door and when you do, go ahead and throw all those ‘elitist’ garbage comments out at the same time.
So, you want to buy ALL of a line? Are you ready for what this actually means to your life and wallet? Consider this. To purchase the entire Armada line at retail would have cost you about $1,200 before your local tax is put on. Energon would have cost you about $1,700. Cybertron falls in around a tidy $1,500. I know. I keep track of these things. The problem is that these approximations do not account for the various exclusives and other things to track down.
Being a completionist means different things to different people. You will likely not ever actually complete a line. For example, Armada can only be truly finished by about 5-10 people in the world. Shining Unicron makes that feat an virtual impossibility. Not only are there 10 or less of him in existence, but he costs about $4,000-6,000 a pop. The good news is that you shouldn’t have to feel like you need to buy everything. Carefully consider what you want out of a line of toys. You may only want the on-screen cast. You may only want the Autobots. You might want all the US releases. The point is to have a plan and not shoot in the dark. That’s a quick hard way to part with your money and usually only leaves collectors with a hollow unaccomplished feeling.
Question: Can I have a girlfriend AND be a Transformers collector?
Nope! Haha! You’re screwed.
You can however, be a cool person who collects toys and has a girlfriend (boyfriend, partner, what the hell ever…). The question should be, ‘Can I choose between finding someone who likes me for who I am and finding someone who will tolerate the things I do.” Fellow collectors will tell you all the time that toy collecting is normal and nothing to be ashamed of. This is only part right. It’s nothing to be ashamed of, but normal?..not so much. The thing is, that doesn’t matter. It’s not the point. Don’t justify who you are and what you like to your friends, family, or relations.
After all, how can a prospective girlfriend or boyfriend be accepting of your hobby if even you have to justify it?
Be cool. If collecting toys is an aspect of your hobbies and personality there is someone out there who is compatible. Hiding who and what you are only makes it suspect. There are plenty of people out there, both male and female who think like you do. Relax and enjoy life by not letting either your hobbies overwhelm your relationships or by letting others make decisions about the things you love to do.
Home is Where the Homepage is…
One thing I discovered in the past few years was the validity of the online community. Oftentimes we trivialize online relationships, drama, and interaction to make it seem ‘less real’. Here is a bit of naught said truth that more people should realize: “Friends and relationships you make online in today’s world are often times as real and valid as those in the everyday (irl) world.” Many of the people you talk to online are people you interact with more than your co-workers etc. The benefits of getting to know people are significant. Often times they will be willing to help you track down hard to find figures, clue you into local releases, and otherwise just provide for good communication. I have been repeatedly struck by the good will and friendly nature of those collectors I meet in the local community and at BotCon.
Don’t waste this valuable community resource we have here. Post counts, mod-ship, and internet celebrity be damned. Interact, introduce yourselves, and get to know the community at hand. There is ample opportunity to enjoy your hobby that much more by making it something that you can share with likeminded collectors and friends.
That about sums it all up. Throw out questions, say hello for the first time, or just jump in to the boards. Community resources extend beyond the news and pictures. It’s inevitably the discussion, debate, and occasional flames that bring everyone together and make this hobby something to talk about.