Monday, October 10, 2005

Spotlight on Heroes Club, San Francisco

Heroes Club
The Art of Toys
840 Clement Street
San Francisco, CA 94118

Phone: (415) 387-4552
Fax: (415) 387-5229

Store Hours:
Mon – Sat 10am – 6pm
Sun 10am – 5pm
Closed on Tuesdays!

Looking at Toys as Art
By Kirkland Jue

When thinking about a toy store in the San Francisco Bay Area to spotlight for Eternal Collector, one immediately came to mind: Heroes Club in San Francisco. Opened in 1987 by Robin Kwok, Heroes Club has won numerous awards including:

“Best Place To Find an Intergalactic Police Force 2002” San Francisco Weekly .
”Best Figure and Model Shop 2000” Japan Trade Commission .
”Best Manga Toy Shop 1996” San Francisco Bay Guardian .

Heroes Club specializes in Japanese models, plastic model kits, resin cast kits, vinyl toys & model, collectibles, full action figures, novelty toys, die-cast toys, pre-assembled statues, nostalgic items, printed matters, and much more...

Walking into Heroes Club is like stepping back into my childhood. As boy, I would beg my mother to drive me downtown to Japantown so I could go to the Japanese toy store and gaze at the glass shelves with all the Japanese toys and figures posed as if they were ready to blast each other to bits!

Heroes Club is arranged more like an art gallery than a crowded toy store with racks of toys everywhere. The sides of the store are lined with glass shelves the entire length allowing for easy viewing of all the figures and toys. The reason for the gallery look and feel is because owner Robin Kwok looks at toys as a true art form.

Kirkland Jue: When did you first open and what were you selling back then?

Robin Kwok: 1987, we were selling mostly Japanese plastic and resin model kits. We have evolved over the years and have sold different kinds of toys, figures and kits but have always remained true to our loyal customers and collectors.

KJ: How have things changed since those days?

RK: Well before, we would sell a lot of kits that required a great deal of patience and skill to put together and paint. The hardcore builders will still spend a great deal of time assembling resin kits and painting them with air brushes, but these days, most cannot be bothered. Kids today don’t have the patience or the skills to build kits the old-school ways. Bandai and the other model makers have come a long way to make it easier for today’s model builders including snap-together parts pre-molded in color so no glue or paint is required.

KJ: Is that why Action Figures are so popular today?

RK: Yes. Think about it. Action figures represent today’s internet culture which is everything Now, Now, Now. Instant gratification is the only way to satisfy today’s youth culture. Why spend hours putting together a model kit that is fragile and doesn’t look that great when finished, when you can buy a highly detailed action figure with tons or articulation and accessories ready to display immediately?

KJ: Yeah, I’m guilty of that too. I used to build those Bandai kits you described, but now just don’t have the time or patience. I now buy Bandai’s awesome FIX Figuration series, which are essentially highly detailed action figures.

RK: Exactly. You’re not the only one. Now days, the major designers and sculptors are switching from sculpting model kits to action figures. Now all of them are doing it.

KJ: Why do you think toy collecting is so popular today?

RK: Several reasons: We both remember playing with the vintage toys as a kid. Most of us threw them away and have now realized that they are worth a lot of money now. We have collectors that come in and buy vintage Medicom dolls that are over 20 years old that sell for $1,500 each and up. So now when you see toys you like, you buy them and keep them. Then the collecting begins. As you know, once you get started, you can’t really stop. Also, the variety and quality of the toys have dramatically increased. You look at Bandai’s Soul of Chogokin series or any of the 12” figures from Dragon, BBI, Sideshow and many others and level of detail is astonishing. They are truly forms of art.

RK: What are you collecting these days?

KJ: I still collect a lot of anime action figures / Robots, but recently I started collecting mini-figures. In fact, I saw on your website that you have the Front Mission Trading Figures. I came today to take a look at those. They are hard to find right now. I have a love/hate relationship with these trading figures because you never know what you’re going to get since they come in a blind assortment. It’s a bit like gambling. You buy one, get a crappy figure and then you want to buy another one to see if you get the one you want. I can see why the toy companies came up with the idea. It’s very compulsive. I was in New York a couple of weeks ago and went to Toy Tokyo and bought a Metal Gear Solid 2 Trading Figures. Out of the series, there was only one I really didn’t want: Emma, the lame computer girl. Of course, I got her. I was pissed, so I bought another one and got Emma again. I wanted to buy another one, but this time the guy behind the counter let me bend the box so I could see inside and it was another Emma! I was bummed and just left both Emma’s behind.

RK: Yes, we are very sympathetic to your frustration. At Heroes Club, we open each one of those boxes to see what figure or object is inside and then we mark the box so the customer can see what they are getting. We do this because many customers want an entire set but don’t want duplicates.

KJ: Really??? That’s awesome! Then I’ll take 1 –5 of the Front Mission Trading figures! No worries about duplicates or getting pieces I don’t want! Thanks Robin!

KJ: Has the internet helped or hurt your business?

RK: Both. What makes me very sad is that many boutique toy stores like Heroes Club have gone out of business or will go out of business due to the internet. Sometimes I have customers that bring me internet listings and ask if I will match the price. What they don’t understand is that those sellers on eBay don’t have a real store fronts with rent, utilities, staff, etc. As a result, toys on the internet will almost always be less expensive. Of course, I don’t blame them. Nobody wants to pay more than they have to. So we have an online store as well as an eBay storefront but the majority of our sales come from this retail store.

KJ: Ummmm, Yeah...I’m guilty of that as well. I buy a lot of my toys online. It’s less expensive even with shipping and I can shop anytime I want and get exactly what I’m looking for. So, why should customers go to their local toy stores and not shop online?

RK: One word: Service. We have customers that fly into San Francisco from all over the world to shop at our store. As you pointed out, coming into the store is an experience all in its own. We get to know our customer’s tastes so when we see something that may be interesting to them, we let them know. We also appraise Japanese vintage toys and collectibles. Our Heroes Club Workshop also provides services ranging from model assembly and painting, as well as scratch-build models and action figures. We also educate our customers on how to build models, paint, pose and even dress the 12” figures.

KJ: Dress and pose the 12” figures?

RK: Yes. The 12” figures are very, very detailed. If you look closely at fighter jet pilots for example, you can see his harness has many buckles and straps. Many of our customers don’t know how to properly fasten all of the accessories and equipment on the figures. Even if they get all of the uniforms, straps, buckles, weapons and accessories on the figure, posing them realistically is another problem. The goal is to pose them so they look as if you are taking a snapshot of them in real life. This is not as easy as it sounds and it takes practice. For example, take this pose of Yip Man, who is Bruce Lee’s martial arts teacher. He is posed in a real Wing Chun fighting stance.

KJ: Yes, I’ve noticed a lot of Bruce Lee toys around here. Tell me more about the Yip Man set.

RK: The set is to commemorate the 50th anniversary of “Wing Chun” Kung Fu created by Grandmaster Yip Man who was Bruce Lee’s Sifu (teacher). Bruce Lee’s “Jeet Kune Do” fighting system is based in part on Wing Chun. The 12” figure set is a collaboration between Dragon, Heroes Club, US Wing Chun Kung Fu Academy, Bruce Lee Club and Wing Chun Dynamics. Only 100 sets were made for promotional purposes only. We auctioned one of the sets on eBay the other day and all proceeds went to a local cancer charity. For more information on this exclusive Wing Chun Masters set, click HERE:

KJ: That’s very cool. What other kinds of collaboration figures have you done?

RK: In 2002, I worked with Jason Ng from Tao Productions on a new concept for 12” figures. Jason is well known for his 12” figures based on Chinese Mythology and Chinese Martial Arts. We collaborated on a figured called “DX Ninja Dark”. The main concept of the figure was to incorporate wearable jewelry into the figure itself. For example, DX Ninja Dark has a sterling silver ninja mask and chain that can actually be worn around your neck as a pendant. For pictures and more information, click HERE:

KJ: That’s awesome! What’s next for Heroes Club?
RK: We are looking at more collaborative projects with more designers. Creating new toys and figures with talented designers and forward thinking manufacturers is very interesting and unique. We would like to do more.

No comments:

Related Posts with Thumbnails