We’re celebrating NECA’s big summer all this week, and Brand Manager Randy Falk shared his thoughts on NECA’s incredible journey into the collectors’ spotlight and the toy landscape at large. Check out the full interview right here!
NECA has become one of the shining stars of the collector toy community, thanks to the incredible efforts of Randy Falk and his team. But not only is Randy a dynamite Brand Manager for the toymakers, he’s also one of the most thoughtful and accessible guys you’ll ever meet. Always open, honest and passionate about toys, Randy took the time to answer ten questions for Kastor’s Korner, offering some great insight into the modern toy world.
Kastor’s Korner: NECA has always been known for great sculpting, but over the past two years we’ve seen a dramatic increase in articulation on many of your figures. Was this always part of the plan, or did your designs evolve over time based on fan or sales feedback?
Randy Falk: This wasn’t part of the plan, at least not in a premeditated sense. We evolved that way over time. We buy a lot of toys from all different manufacturers and I really become enamored with the amount of articulation being added to GI JOE and Star Wars at 3 3/4″ scale a few years back. The insert molded ball-hinged joints is something I fell in love with and started using on our figures about 4 years ago and we’ve been pushing it further ever since. It wasn’t based on sales feedback per se. More of my personal tastes evolving and seeing how well most fans responded to it validated the decision and pushed us to go further with it
Kastor’s Korner: You’re known as being upfront and honest with fans, but there¹s been times that NECA has managed to release seemingly-impossible characters. Dutch from Predator might be the best example– after years of saying he couldn’t be done, this year saw the release of four versions of the character in plastic. Is there any one character you still can¹t believe actually came to be as an action figure?
Randy Falk: Arnold from Predator is definitely one of them. Going way back Pinhead from Hellraiser is another. See first and foremost I have am a huge fan and I want these figures just as much if not more than our fans and collectors do. I don’t give up and persistence is the key to securing deals and rights for hard to obtain likenesses and licenses. We have had more success than anyone in that field and have done the “impossible” many times over. There are still some things elude us but we’re still pursuing them and it’s good to have something to chase – keeps you motivated and on your toes
Kastor’s Korner: NECA’s products seem to be getting more experimental in the last year– a rekindled focus on large scale figures, 3.75² figures, lights and sound, and some entirely new concepts like the retro Django Unchained series. Is this based on your desire to push the envelope, or is it more in service of the specific properties?
Randy Falk: It’s both actually. First we continue to serve our primary audience and product line, the articulated 7″ figure with all the detail, articulation, and accessories. The expansions into 3 3/4″ open the lines up to retailers who want smaller figures at lower price points $10 or below and let us do things like horses or vehicles we can’t do at 7″ scale. The Django retro-doll thing came about because it fit with the kitsch factor of the 70s and the QT aesthetic and we had 4 months from concept to shelf which could never be done with an injection molded plastic figure.
Kastor’s Korner: You manage the NECA Twitter account personally, and the company is very active on social media. This is not only a great way to stay connected with fans, but also presumably to “test the waters” regarding interest in a product or property. Do you factor this unofficial, social media “focus group” into your market research?
Randy Falk: I do, I love the personal interaction. I love hearing the feedback, seeing the customs, the collections, how they display our toys. Twitter is amazing and has been a real joy to watch grow. I don’t understand why more companies aren’t making use of it and engaging their fans. Many celebrities and musicians who have 100x the following we do are on there interacting and sharing with their followers. It’s incredible the access we have all to the talent responsible for the things that entertain us.
Kastor’s Korner: We’ve seen some very cool conversations arise on the NECA Twitter page, from Carl Weathers talking about Predator’s Dillon, to Bryan Fuller (Hannibal, Pushing Daisies) giving you props for the Aliens toys. What’s been the coolest NECA Twitter conversation you can recall?
Randy Falk: The two you mention are certainly two great ones that have happened recently. It’s flattering to find out someone you admire creatively collects what you do or make, it’s pretty crazy to see how many people collect toys, you never really know who might have a collection in their home or office.
I’ve made some good friends on twitter that are fellow collectors or NECA fans in all different parts of the world. I’ve also been fortunate enough to interact with some of my personal heroes in the world of heavy metal. Members of Black Label Society and Anthrax for example are NECA fans. It blows my mind still that Zakk Wylde has our Jimmy Page figure in his home studio along with our Exorcist figures.
Kastor’s Korner: NECA covers a wide range of properties, from modern movies to video games to cult classics. Do you keep a ratio in mind between these categories, or is each one considered completely on its own terms, regardless of what type of property it is?
Randy Falk: We don¹t keep a specific ratio in mind but we always try to represent a great mix of classic film along with modern releases and video games. It’s a balance so there is something for everyone at any given time. 80’s classics, Big 2013 movies like Pacific Rim and Lone Ranger and AAA games like Bioshock Infinite, Team Fortress, Portal, Borderlands, and so on
Kastor’s Korner: NECA has been in the game for well over 15 years now, and you guys have a notably good barometer for trends in the figure and collectible market. Where do you think trends in the action figure market will go moving forward?
Randy Falk: It’s survival of the fittest honestly, we’re standing strong and we have seen so many come and go over the past 10 years. It seems the rising prices and the desire to have a $5 or $6 sku in the BIG stores like Target and Wal-Mart have caused the big boys to really simplify their products the past 2 years. The Marvel and DC figures have become 4-5 points of articulation with little to no deco on them. I am hoping that opens up more opportunities for us to serve the collector with our types of figures. Being able to do 1/4 scale Marvel and DC is a step in the right direction. If we could do 7″ in the coming years around $20 retail that would be amazing!
Besides that the gap between what a Mattel, Hasbro, or Jakks does compared to what we do have just grown wider. The difference in what $20 buys you is night and day.
Kastor’s Korner: Some properties seem like safer choices than others. Harry Potter or Twilight have a huge built in fanbase, while others, like cult classic figures or brand new movies, may be more unproven. How do you decide which risks to take regarding unproven properties? Is it more influenced by what you think will become a hit, or does you and the NECA team¹s personal interest in a property factor in to going after it?
Randy Falk: Instinct plays a huge part in this, we’ve been doing it long enough you have a sense for what will work and connect with our audience. It’s always good if the designs or toy selection can sell regardless of the license being successful or not, I mean If something just looks cool and makes good sense as a toy it will sell on it’s own merits. If the license is successful all the better!
Kastor’s Korner: You’re not only the Brand Manager at NECA, but a toy collector yourself. What are some of your favorite toy lines right now?
Randy Falk: Right now is a bad time to ask as it’s been a toy drought for me since last Fall. I loved what Hasbro did with the Vintage collection for Star Wars paying homage to the old Kenner card art and doing almost 100 figures in that classic style. That is tops for me. I loved the 25th Anniversary line for GI Joe:ARH. Nostalgia is huge for me so the classic card art paired with modern sculpting and articulation thrills me to no end. I’m looking forward to the Black Series from Hasbro’s Star Wars this Fall but beyond that I find very little of interest in the toy aisles lately. The super hero stuff is a real disappointment and could be handled so much better. I don’t collect them but the Despicable Me toys and the Wreck It Ralph line were handled well and have some great looking toys, I had to grab a couple of those
Kastor’s Korner: What character or property is your “white whale,” the one that you’ve always wanted to work on, but haven’t yet?
Randy Falk: I get asked this a lot and I think the one program I have wanted to do and bring to life is classic NES – again nostalgia wins for me. I would love to run from ’86-’90 with a whole line of super-poseable highly detailed figures from Zelda, Punch-Out, Kid Icarus, Metroid, Donkey Kong, and even the sleeper hits like NES Pro Wrestling. Such fun characters and designs from the booming days of 8-Bit. I spent 1000s of hours with all those games in JR High and High School. I’d love to pay tribute to them and those memories. I think those would be commercially successful too. If it was just for me I’d also love to immortalize my favorite GODS of metal and hard rock like King Diamond, Zakk Wylde, Rob Halford, Eddie Van Halen, Randy Rhoads, and so on.
As they continue their meteoric rise, creating better looking and more innovative toys, this conversation is a reminder that NECA is still very much a labor of love, and that’s the main reason I think they’ll only get bigger and better in the future.
Thanks to Randy for taking the time to speak with us, and check back tomorrow for more from NECA!