Tuesday, November 08, 2005

Making Moolah Selling Mini Figures

So you guys know by now that i'm addicted to mini-figures. I love their bite size goodness and want to have shelves of them all over the place. As you can see in my earlier post, I even put up a little glass shelf above my desk to hold all of them as it was getting quite crowded below. I used to have 3 shelves, but my wife forced me to take them down. She wasn't too happy when I resurrected this one. This isn't to say this is my entire collection either. I have three 6' tall glass Ikea display cabinets as well downstairs. I guess there are these little buggers all over the house.

Well, mini-figures usually come in a blind assortment. What are blind assortments you ask? It's a brilliant, yet diabolical way to sell more toys. I started to see the popularity of mini-figures grow over the last couple of years. Mini-figures are extremely popular in Japan for several reasons: they are small and don't take up a lot of precious space. At $5-$10 each, they are relatively in-expensive compared to most other toys. They are highly collectible since they always come in a series and as a result, they are about as addictive as the first potato chip out of the bag. You have to go back for more. I dare you to buy any mini-figure, put it on your desk and see how long it will take you to get another one. They are like toy crack. You seriously can't stop.

Then some genius decided to package them in a blind assortment. It's the age-old take on gumball machines. You see the cool Hot Wheel car in the display and then when you put in your quarter trying to get one, you get a lame, stupid, plastic yo-yo. The idea of course, is to get you to continue pumping in quarters not realizing that there is no Hot Wheels and nothing but lame yo-yo's in the entire machine.

A blind assortment is a sealed box and you don't know which figure you're going to get until you open it. It's deceptive in it's marketing simplicity. Some manufacturers like Kubrick will even list the percentages of each figure so you know how many come in each sealed case. It's very much like gambling. There's a bit of excitement gambling that you picked the right box with your desired figure inside. In a series of eight figures, there are usually two really cool ones, two really lame ones and four so-so figures. So you have a 2 in 8 chance of getting one of the really cool figures.

On a recent trip to Toy Tokyo in New York, I looked at the Metal Gear Solid trading figures and thought there is only one that I didn't want out of the entire series which was the lame computer girl Emma. Of course, I got her. I was pissed, but I was compelled to buy another one so I wouldn't leave disappointed. So I bought another one and got Emma again. I was beside myself at this point and I knew I couldn't leave without one figure that I liked. 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 after shelling out $10 each, I just left both Emma’s behind.

What was really strange was that the next day, I went to another toy store in Manhattan and saw the same Metal Gear Solid trading figures, but they were in a clear blister pack. You could see what you were buying. Oddly, even though I could pick out exactly the figures I wanted, I didn't buy even one. There is something about the blind assortment that pulls you in to try and "win" the figure you want.

Toy karma does swing both ways. On a recent trip to Seattle, I stopped by Kick Hobby and noticed they had the new Tokyo Tribes Kubricks in stock. I looked at the series and thought there wasn't any figure that I really didn't want, but I really wanted the Sanjuku "Hands" which are a specific gang in the manga sporting camo urban street ware with these giant Hands on the front of their sweatshirts. I randomly picked out three blind boxes opened the first one which was one of the rarest of them all, the guy with the gas mask. The manager at Kicks was impressed and even offered to buy it off me if I got doubles. I opened the second box and it was another "Hands" soldier to my surprise and delight. The chances I would get another "Hands" figure were pretty slim since there are only three in the series to begin with, but to my amazement, I opened the third box and the "Hands" leader with the Samurai headress was inside! I felt like I won the lottery!

A recent visit to the historic Kimono My House toy store in Emeryville, CA brought another unusual story about blind assortments: Another small toy caught my eye. It was a mini-figure that was out of the box from the tv show Kikaider. It was Kikaider's doppelganger Hakaider on his awesome motorcyle. It's a mini-figure so its only a three inches tall, but very, very cool. I wanted it immediately. I asked Yuki if he would sell it to me. He said it was a sample and pointed me to a carton of blind mini-figure boxes. I protested that I hate purchasing blind assortment toys. Blind assortment is extremely popular in Japan. There are a series of different toys but you don't know which one you're going to get until you open it. I hate them because I always get the lame figure. This is by design of course. The really cool figures (like Hakaider and his motorcycle) are rare. In fact, in one full case of 12 figures, there will only be two (2) Hakaider and motorcycle-one white and one black.

Yuki surprised me by offering to weigh the boxes. In this particular series, the different figures each have a different weight. Since Hakaider has a motorcyle as well, this one is the heaviest. Yuki at one time even had a chart. So we went about weighing the small boxes and tried to determine which one was the heaviest with his little postage scale. He even went as far as getting a new case because he knew for certain there was two of the highly desired Hakaider's contained within. He then taught me a little trick passed down from a Japanese toy distributor: the rarest figures in a blind assortment are placed in specific locations within the case. In a box with an odd number of rows, it will be in the very front left. In a box with an even number of rows, it will be left of the center row in front. Sure enough, when Yuki opened the new case, he picked the one in front on the far left and weighed it. "This is it" he whispered in his deep, raspy Japanese accent.

Sure enough, I opened the box and there he was. Hakaider and his cool motorcycle- only it was the white motorcycle. ugh! I hate white. I wanted the matching black motorcycle. Yuki looked at me and said "I told you I would find it, but there is no way to determine the color". I wanted to buy the other heaviest box, but Yuki didn't permit me. He said it would be unfair to his other customers if I bought both. Disappointed as I was, I understood and thought it very considerate of him to think of his other customers. (although one with good money willing to spend more was standing right in front of him). I ended up buying a few more figures and then took a black marker to the white motorcycle so it would match. You can hardly tell.

The whole blind assortment thing has spawned a cottage industry in itself. Entrepreneurial toy merchants on eBay will buy cases of blind mini figures, open them all up and assemble complete sets for lazy bastards like me and sell them at a premium. Sometimes even double the original cost! It's great business sense! It's classic strategy betting that the parts are worth more than the whole. Take Dunnys from Kid Robot. Extremely popular mini-figures that are designed by fashionista artists. You can pick up a case of 24 figures in a blind assortment for around $110. One or two of those rare figures may pop up and sell for as high as $25-$30 each. The other figures will sell for $10 each and some may go for list price. There is almost no downside. My hats are off to these saavy marketers as they are providing a service that people want and are willing to pay for.

After spending much more than my fair share with these guys on Armored Core Mini Figure sets, when I saw that there was going to be a third series of the mini-figures, I ordered a case of twelve for myself straight from Japan to see if I could get the figures I really wanted and sell the rest paying for my original investment of $100. After I opened all twelve of the little boxes, I realized that you need a bit more scale to make it work. Not only was I not even able to complete an entire set in the same color, I received multiples of the same figures in different colors. This was not a good start to making millions selling mini figures on eBay. Worse, I didn't even get ONE in any color of the figure I really wanted. @#$^^%%& blind assortment!!!

Drop me an email if any of you want any Armored Core Series 3 Mini Figures cheap!

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