At forty years old, Star Wars is still ruling the roost when it comes to toy properties. 2016 saw an increase in US Star Wars toy sales on the year prior, with the toy industry as a whole seeing a 5% increase.
Research firm NPD Group said Star Wars sales totaled nearly $760 million in the U.S. alone last year, beating 2015 by $60 million. That made Star Wars the top property in the toy world, based on dollar sales. The perennially popular property has seen resurgent interest thanks to two recent films, 2015’s “Star Wars: The Force Awakens” and last year’s “Rogue One: A Star Wars Story.” Both were released late in the year, during the toy industry’s peak holiday shopping season. And with more films to be released in subsequent years, Star Wars is poised to remain a hot toy property for many years to come.
The LEGO Group’s product range continues to be a significant portion of Star Wars toy sales, as the traditional action figure line from Hasbro becomes less relevant to current consumers. Star Wars is the only licensed theme that has not been put on hiatus since its inception in 1999, demonstrating the property’s longevity.
A nice little story but in my opinion this has mostly to do with Lego who are the world leaders in all toys, not just Star Wars. They promote, distribute and sell their products like no other company on the planet.
Compare that with Hasbro, terrible distribution, awful product, they seem to put figures out not caring about the quality. Hasbro has always had its minor issues, but then again most companies do. However the prevalence of problems should never be as apparent in so many ways as they are with Hasbro.
Recently consumers have noted they have been displeased in a variety of ways, from the figures themselves, all the way to how the products have been distributed. Unfortunately I absolutely have to agree with them. Fans on several forums (such as YakFace) have been quite outspoken with their views.
There is a problem, and Hasbro is either unaware, or does not care to fix these issues.
I picked up a figure from Toys-R-Us, there were only two "new" figures on the pegs. The other older figures have been there for months. The inclusion of two new figures can be attributed to a new store procedure. Toys-R-Us has started to split up cases between stores. They no longer send out solid cases of twelve figures any more.
Instead of relying on a good mix from the manufacture, Toys-R-Us must now take distribution into their own hands, and split the cases themselves. This presents two issues, both of which hurt the line. The first being that the products are easily damaged in transit, and that consumers will not be able to purchase as many items in the toy isle.
The variety to shop from is simply not there. There are two or three other figures in the wave that Toys-R-Us received that I would still like to purchase, however there is a zero percent chance of them arriving on local shelves now. Furthermore, what "has" recently been on the pegs in the past year are figures that no one wants, which oddly enough, still ship to stores under Hasbro’s supervision. Whether it is a distribution or availability issue, either way it is going to hurt the appeal of the product when it shows up on store shelves.
This brings me to my next point, poor initial distribution, which threatens to harm the line as well. In the first wave of figures that shipped, there were several characters that were poor choices. Not only were they characters with no consumer demand, but they were also carry forwards in just about every case that was distributed. Not only were they peg warming during the first case that hit stores, but they were included in every case after that. In a short amount of time all that was available became limited to one or two characters that were moving slowly from the shelves (if at all). The figures no one wanted had essentially clogged the pegs for any future releases, and even then in-demand figures we not carried forward, and were single packed in a case. An even further problem is that many times these figures that have been haphazardly put back together actually share the pegs with figures that have been there for years. These products have seriously not sold since they shipped in 2015.
Almost every store I can visit within a two hours driving distance stocks a mixture of products from several different lines, none of which have ever been clearanced out or sent back to Hasbro to make way for new products to be stocked. This further complicates the problem of smooth distribution, as many stores seemingly have a plentiful stock of Star Wars figures.
In the UK the only place you could find the rarer figures of the 9 inch black series was Asda (through parent company Walmart). Now even there are very short on any Star wars product. I went in 12am on Rogue Friday to find nothing and talking to the store manager, he knew nothing about it.
Another issue with the figures themselves is that Hasbro apparently recently switched production plants in China, so the vast majority of action figures had horrible paint applications. Many items I have seen first hand were either missing huge sections of paint, or had wonky eye syndrome (like gluing googly eyes to anything and everything). Overall, consumers were forced to cherry pick what figures looked the best, and because distribution was so bad, this became increasingly difficult. Quality control is not what it used to be for the line, and it definitely shows.
If you’re wondering what else Hasbro can make that few people are asking for, then you may have guessed gigantic static vehicles (though I’ve heard big vehicles aren’t child friendly/don’t sell well to collectors). In past years the big H has also produced a large X-Wing that isn’t to scale for any of their available lines, as well as a Millennium Falcon that doesn’t do anything.
In the past Hasbro has made the argument that childrens’ play patterns have changed over the years, but I don’t think it has devolved into doing nothing with their toys. I don’t think these were good choices to produce, especially when there is such a demand for playsets or other large vehicles such as Jabba’s Sail Barge.
On the topic of vehicles, Hasbro has also downsized the molds they use for their starships. Now Imperial walkers and anything else that is large from the Star Wars universe is produced at a fraction of the size it should be (or even has been in the past). This so-called Hero Vehicles line is anything but something that stands for a positive company goal. Not only are the toys sized smaller than ever before, they have also risen in price by around five dollars.
Though I’m sure most collectors would pay a premium price for more properly scaled vehicles. In fact, I think most were probably hopeful that this dream would eventually come true, however with the new trend of tiny proportioned vehicles, this seems highly unlikely.
The recent vehicles have been highly priced white elephants which have quickly been reduced. The At-Act is now being sold for under $80.
By taking all of these factors into consideration, I don’t believe the Star Wars line seems too healthy. That is to say in comparison of how it used to be, especially between 2007 and 2012. As mentioned before, that seemed to have been the best time to have been collecting the line, as not only were figures of extremely good quality, but they were also of characters that had been long in demand.
Distribution was not a major issue, and the line was seen with a positive view.
By taking this once bright past into consideration, and looking at the current state of things, I don’t think many collectors have smiles on their faces.
These people are not only displeased with the products on the shelves (or lack thereof), but they also have an intense hatred for what Hasbro has done to their once appreciated line.
These fans no longer have the desire to help carry what shows up at retail, as many have now turned to purchasing their figures online, and only in a limited amount.
Personally, I think this may be one of the worst times that Hasbro has handled their line. The company has been producing figures from Star Wars since the late 1970’s, and by now they should have enough information or know-how to accomplish the task of pleasing their fans, especially when they can easily access a great amount of commentary on dozens, if not hundreds of online forums.
I understand the limitations they face, and that they must keep other consumer groups in mind, as well as their bottom dollar.
However it it is always strange to compare how the license was handled in the past to how Hasbro has recently dealt with the line.
The Star wars contract is up in 2020 so we may find another company taking the line to bigger, better places..... One can only hope.
Maybe Lego could branch out.
Thank you for reading.