I started a list of my own tips and hints for toy hunters to be posted
exclusively to this web site. I'd appreciate any input you all
might have to improve the list (dare I call it a FAQ?.....nah....it doesn't contain any questions really). So without further ado, here goes:
EGM'S TIPS FOR TOY HUNTERS
We all know about where to find toys. Otherwise we wouldn't be here. But
sometimes simply looking on the shelves of the local Toys R Us or Target
leaves me feeling discouraged. It is this feeling that has lead me to become
more creative in my toy searches. I will try to share some of my "secrets."
Some are fairly obvious. Others you might never have thought of. Feedback is
TIPS FOR MAJOR CHAINS (e.g., TRU, Target, K-Mart, etc)
The first rule overall is simply this: Information is power. The more you
know the better off you will be. However, how you acquire this knowledge may
differ from place to place. Most of the info I have gotten deals with the
stocking habits and lines of toys carried by certain outlets. For example,
my local K-mart does not stock toys very often (maybe once a month...if
that). However, Target and Venture stock quite often (several times a week
sometimes). It didn't take a genius to figure this out.....just multiple
trips to each store and a good memory of what had been there previously.
The bottom line was this: A trip to Target was worth more than a trip to
K-mart 9 times out of 10. I go to K-Mart less frequently because the
cost-benefit ratio is much worse. Now before you start sending me angry mail
about how wonderful your local K-mart is, let me reiterate, this is just my
experience. Your local experience may be just the opposite or completely
different. The secret is to learn for your own area.
In acquiring information, it never hurts to hear it from the horse's mouth.
I was in my local Venture looking through the toy racks when the Toy Manager
asked if he could help me find something (first and only time this has ever
happened). I told him what I was looking for and he said he didn't think it
was on the floor, but there might be a case in back. He didn't find what I
wanted but I now talk with him every time I see him and he lets me know
what's in and what's not (though he has never pulled anything for me and I
have never asked him to).
I took this experience to heart and began asking the stockers at TRU
questions about particular items. While I am rarely lucky enough to have
one of them go into the back and pull out an unopened case of anything, I
was once directed to an out of the way endcap that had the figure I was
searching for that particular day. The point is, it never hurts to ask. The
worst they can say is "No." Learn the stocking patterns as well. My TRU
starts stocking in the late afternoon. Perfect for a stop by after work. My
Venture stocks over night, so a morning visit is preferred. And above all,
be polite. It's not easy working retail and the last thing a stocker wants
to deal with is an obnoxious and demanding customer. So be sure to thank
the individual for their time, even if they didn't find you anything.
As a side note, I have found that I get a much more favorable response from
the stockers if I be sure to let them know that I am just a collector and
not a reseller. I have been mistaken for a secondary market dealer on several
occasions and when I clear up that misconception, I seem to get a better
response. Of course, if you are actually a dealer, it won't take long for the
staff to figure that out so don't bother lying. I mean, who needs the same
shortpacks week after week except dealers? My wants are always changing as the
old ones are fulfilled.
Another source of toy news, besides stockers, is sometimes just Toys R Us's
customer service. Apparently, they keep an online list of every new toy
they're due to get. If you have a TRU nearby with nice, knowledgable
customer service people, they can sometimes tell you stuff like, "No, we're
not due to get any more shipments of Action Masters," or, "Yes, we'll be
getting tons of brunette Barbies next month."
Speaking of TRU, it's probably worth getting into the "policy towards
collectors," stuff, that is, whether they'll fill out a goof slip for you,
and whether they'll hold a toy for you if you call (As an aside, a "goof
slip" is basically a raincheck notice. You tell them what you are looking
for and they will call you when it comes in. The name "goof slip" comes from
the fact that these slips used to say something like "We Goofed!" at the
top.). I've found these two things really save time and increase my hit
rate for new toys. Debates on the newsgroups aside, I've found the policies at
different TRU's are quite varied. For instance, some won't hand out goof
slips on "hot" toy lines, but the definition of what a hot toy line is may
vary from store to store. I've found a couple of local stores that tend to
be more relaxed about reserving toys, and always put in a set of goof slips
These tips are pretty obvious, but worth some consideration (please feel
free to add or modify for me). The next couple of tips I discovered through
months of searching. The best way to find older figures (as well as some
newer ones) is to go where the dealers/speculators don't. Where is that you
might ask? Several places....but mainly not the big outlets (e.g., TRU,
K-Mart, Target, Venture, etc.). There are other places that sell toys, just
not very many.
One of the best places I have found is Supermarkets/Grocery Stores. Lots of
supermarkets have a junky little toy section. These days, they are selling
better toys than when I was a kid. Its worth a look.
By far, my best source for older toys has been drug stores (particularly
Walgreens, but also Eckerd and such). I found a load of old Batman villains
for a friend. I also came across some old X-men for myself. They don't
carry everything....and not every store has what others have. But if you
collect some of the major lines (Star Trek, X-Men, Batman, Aliens, Predator,
to name a few) these are really fertile hunting grounds. For example, I was
in a Walgreens over the 4th of July in another state. I found 3 Stryfe's
(from the X-Force line). Where I live, you would never see this figure on
the shelf at retail and only occasionally see it on the secondary market and
then it is sold for about 16 bucks. For those of you unfamiliar with this
particular line of toys, this figure was fairly common when it first came
out, but quickly disappeared when production and shipping stopped. So even
those formerly common figures can be extorted on the secondary market after
enough time has passed (3-4 years in this case).
Now, this following tip may be a bit controversial, but it is not intended
as such. It was merely an observation I made in my Toy hunting for which I
have come up with a plausible (but by no means definitive) explanation. For
hunting in supermarkets and drug stores, often times the best hunting
grounds are in the poorest or most run-down parts of town. My explanation
for this is that toys in these venues are generally higher priced (by a
dollar or two) and the customers that frequent these stores usually do not
have a lot of disposable income to spend on toys. This is not meant to be
elitist, snobbish, classist or whatever. I just found that when I went to
run down stores, I often found more (and older) figures.
It is also worth mentioning that stores in obscure, out-of-the-way cities
can yield a bounty of supposedly rare toys. I have had reports of good
scores travelling to visit relatives in such places as Noxon, Montana, the
Sand Point, Idaho KMart, and the Coeur d'Ilene, Idaho Target. Reportedly,
the racks were overflowin' at the Chehalis, WA Walmart. Don't know if
they're worth a trip, but if you're already planning a car trip, leave
some time to stop and shop in these little out of the way towns.
Similarly, in-city places that are "toy hell," places that don't restock
very often, like KMart near me (or Fred Meyer in other locations...you need
to figure out the one near you), can be a great source for
both older, discontinued toys, as well as newer rare figures, just because
collectors don't tend to hit them as often.
Oh, and if you're anywhere near the Canadian border, try a day-trip to
some Canadian TRU's. Our Neighbors to the North don't always have the
same taste in toys, so you might find some older stuff. Also, sometimes
they get shipments of certain lines weeks before they're out in the
states (Vancouver BC had Action Masters and 30th Anniversary GI Joes
weeks before they showed up in Seattle). Canada also has a couple of toy
lines (Hasbro's Sindy dolls, and Thunderbirds toys) that are tough or
impossible to find in the states.
One last thing: I HIGHLY recommend a subscription to either Action Figure
Digest, or Action Figure News (or any number of other toy mags). Pam Green
prefers AFD, and it's sometimes hard to locate on newsstands. Groovy pix of
all your fave figures. It's fun to look ahead and decide which toys you
absolutely cannot do without, plus it's fun to browse the old toy fair
issues to see all those toys they never made.
THE HIDDEN TOY TRICK
This trick actually evolved from my girlfriend (Michelle Thompson, for specific credit). She became the number one toy finder in all of Texas by sniffing out toys that others had hidden in places like Venture, Target, K-Mart and TRU. Her finds have included a slew of Pewter Medieval Spawns and numerous other shortpacked or otherwise difficult to find toys. Here are the specifics:
When looking in the toy aisle of your favorite retail outlet, it may be worth your time to look behind boxes of other toys on the shelves. Don't limit yourself to just looking on and around the pegs for the toys you are seeking. If you look behind stuff, you may find what someone else has stashed to collect later. This seems to work especially well at chains like Venture, K-Mart, and Target. An easy method to accomplish this search with a reasonable success rate is to simply push on all the boxes on the shelves. If the shelf is stocked to capacity, you will not be able to push far. However, if you are able to push the box back (even a little) it may be worth your time to look behind it for secret spaces that may hold hidden loot.
You may think that finding these toys is just a result of messy stocking or kids moving things around while playing in the toy aisle. You'd be wrong. I offer up for example, my recent encounter with a novice toy dealer. I was in my local TRU one day and found nothing interesting on the shelves. However, they were unloading a truck and I noticed a few others waiting around so I struck up a conversation with two young men who were waiting as well. One was an avid toy collector who was waiting for the possibility of one specific action figure to be brought out. The other was more interested in the potential monetary value of action figures than the inherent value of owning toys. This second individual left me and the other gentleman several times during our conversation only to return seconds later with one shortpacked toy after another. Upon each return, he would inquire of me, "How much is this one worth?" Eventually, I asked where he kept finding all these figures (since we were standing in the action figure aisle to begin with). He responded by saying that he had the figures hidden all over the store. In fact, he claimed to have things hidden in almost every aisle.
Lest you think that speculating customers are the only ones who hide toys, be advised that many stores have policies prohibiting their employees from reserving merchandise. In these stores, employees must purchase items from the sales-floor (as opposed to the stockroom) and must do so on their own time (such as a break or after their shift). Even these types of regulations do not stop employees from holding stuff back. And some even hide things right on the sales-floor. One trick I have been alerted to (though I have yet to have it work for me) is that the shelves of some stores pull up easily (or are easily lifted) to reveal a hidden "pocket" for storing items (see below). You might also look behind items on the topmost shelf if you can. Many employees have access to the store's ladder and can put stuff behind other items with ease, thus insuring that the average customer will not have access to them. Be careful not to bring down the house when searching the upper shelves! It can be dangerous.
The moral of this story is: Don't just look on the pegs. Look around the pegs. Look around the shelves. Look in other aisles. Look behind boxes. Look wherever you can. It won't pay off all the time. In fact, it won't pay off the majority of the time. But all it takes is one good score and you will be scouring the bottom shelves for evermore.
THE HIDDEN TOY TRICK PART 2 - LIFTING THE SHELVES
I had always been kind of skeptical of this trick, but I have been converted. Special credit for this section goes to the Angry Red Herring (aka Dave) whose escapdes in shelf-lifting helped me to see the light. Here are a few tips on shelf lifting.
You may be asking yourself: "What is he talking about? Which shelves do you lift?" Good question. We are talking about the bottom-most shelf in the aisle. This is usually attached to the base of the entire wall display (i.e., there are usually pegs on the top portion and then a shelf or two on the lower portion). The base of the display can often be lifted quite easily. However, some shelves are indeed bolted down. Shelves in the middle of the aisle may be easier to lift in some stores. Of course, the shelves may be heavier because of the items placed on them. A little experience will be your best teacher in the art of shelf-lifting.
Look for shelves that have signs of being lifted already (e.g., toys fallen over, not packed too high, etc). Also look for shelves that didn't get put back completely last time they were lifted. Shelves are sometimes easier to lift than they are to replace so the askew shelf is often a sign of recent lifting.
When you lift a shelf, be sure to look all the way to the other side (which is the actually front of another aisle). Sometimes, stashed booty gets pushed back all the way over. Plus, by looking all the way across, its like lifting two shelves at once (one on each side).
Don't limit yourself to the action figure aisle. Signs of shelf lifting may be readily apparent in other parts of the store. Look for easily lifted shelves or signs of prior lifting.
What if an employee catches you lifting the shelves? I had always been somewhat concerned about this issue. Remember, the person hiding the items had to lift the shelf too so if a shelf is near a well-trafficked aisle or in plain sight others, it is probably not the most desirable site for hiding. Most stashes are tucked away a little bit. Perhaps mid-aisle or toward the back. Remember, the person hiding the stuff wants it to be a secret. However, if an employee does indeed question you, just honestly explain what you are doing. Explain the problem of people hiding the much sought after items. If you can show them an example, do so. Show them that their merchandise is being kept from the consumer. Now mind you, the employee who questions you may be the person who placed the item there in the first place. If they hassle you too much, get a manager and explain the situation to them. Be polite yet firm.
And just to put your mind at ease, I have been with Dave (aka the Angry Red Herring) on his shelf-lifting escapades and he has never been questioned about what he is doing. He has even literally left piles of recovered items in the middle of the aisles. He is direct and bold and no one ever says a word. I guess the moral of this story is that if you look like you know what you are doing, no one will question you.
I'll stop there for now as this is long enough as is. I'd love to get some
feedback on this and I will repost it with successive versions as it
evolves. Let me here from you.
Special thanks to Pam Green for her suggestions and additions (especially
information seeking at TRU, rural toy hunting, Canadian toy hunting, and
subscriptions to toy mags). Dave Harlan (aka the Angry Red Herring) gets special credit for teaching me the finer points of shelf-lifting.
Send comments and suggestions to EGM at firstname.lastname@example.org