Joe Milone looks at the current Funko Pop! craze and compares it with one of biggest collectible cautionary tales of the past 20 years.
Welcome to a new edition of My Toy Box. In this article, I’d like to take a look at a toyline that is sweeping the nation with both toy collectors and non-collectors alike, the Funko Pop! vinyl figures.
I’m sure that you have seen these little guys somewhere, as they seem to be available at almost any type of retail setting. For those who are unfamiliar with the Funko Pop! figures, they stand around 3 ¾ inches tall and have large heads with black dots for eyes. There’s a Funko Pop! for just about any character you can think of.
I’m guilty of owning quite a few of them myself—I mean how can I not own the Funko Pop! versions of the Masters of the Universe, KISS, or Army of Darkness‘ Ash? They are fun and easy to collect, and the more I think about them, the more they remind me of another hot collectible from years past: the Beanie Baby!
Does it sound crazy? Maybe. However, the more the similarities between the two toylines are really quite similar.
In 1997, I was 16, and in high school and I worked at a McDonald’s. That same year, the restaurant chain had a Happy Meal promotion for Teenie Beanie Babies, which were smaller versions of the retail offerings. They were so popular; people were lining up to get them and we couldn’t keep them available for Happy Meals. This promotion sparked a huge boom for the retail versions.
As the demand increased, so did the availability. It wasn’t long before the Beanie Babies could be found at grocery stores, pharmacies, card stores, and more. Ty Warner, CEO and founder of the company (Ty, Inc.) that made the toys, restricted the number of designs allotted for store shipments and regularly retired designs to drive up the demand in secondary markets. The growth was incredible, as were the demand and prices for the retired and “rare” Beanie Babies.
In 1996, revenue from Beanie Baby sales was at an estimated $280 million; by 1998, that figure had ballooned to $1.3 billion. In 1999, however, Ty, Inc. stopped production of the original Beanie Babies, sales and the secondary market trade declined, the market crashed and you couldn’t give them away. I still see tons of them at garage sales, flea markets and thrift stores today.
While the Funko Pop! isn’t the same thing as a bean-filled animal, what makes them similar is availability and overabundance. You can go just about anywhere and find a wide assortment of them. And to me, they are like Pringles—once you (Funko) pop, you can’t stop. If you don’t get them when they are available, prepare to pay over-inflated secondary market prices.
In 2014, the Funko company generated an estimated $40 million in revenue and $28 million of that was from the Funko Pop! figures alone. As long as these things keep selling, Funko is going to be producing them, so barring some catastrophic supply shortage, there’s no real reason to believe that the secondary market prices will persist over the long run.
This isn’t to say the Funko Pop! toys won’t hold their value over the years, but the collectibles market is always fickle. Thirty years from now maybe that Funko Pop! Daryl Dixon will be worth thousands of dollars, but the market is currently saturated with these things, so chances of that happening are slim.
I’m not hating on the figures or deterring anyone from buying them—like I said, I am just as guilty as the next person when it comes to buying them up. In fact I am a big fan of many of the Funko products, particularly the company’s vinyl My Little Pony line.
As with any other collectible, however, consumers should collect Funko Pop! for fun, not potential financial gain.