By Greg Bates
What, exactly, is a Funko Pop!
By day, Dante Caridi works in information technology as a senior account executive. By night, he is a toy dealer.
As weird as it may sound, his two professions collide on a regular basis.
“It’s funny because when I walk around my customers’ work areas all the time, I’ll see Funko Pops! sitting on their desk and I’ll just laugh,” Caridi said. “It’s like, ‘Wow, it’s funny how far this thing has gone.’”
Imagine, New York City-area, high-end professionals with small pop culture figurines on their desks.
It’s been almost a decade now since the company Funko put out its first product, and it’s as popular as ever. For those who aren’t up to date with the latest toy craze, Pops are little vinyl figurines that stretch across a wide array of genres and franchises. Funko has produced thousands of different figurines, ranging from “Star Wars” to “Game of Thrones” to “The Brady Bunch” to “My Little Ponies” to “Major League Baseball” to “Queen,” the musical band.
“I’ve never seen in the history of toys as a whole something they’re able to license so heavily and get from the obscure license to the mainstream license,” said Joe Veteri, who owns Veteri Productions, LLC, a New Jersey-based company that organizes Pops-related conventions.
“What they’ve been able to do is remarkable. There’s always a fan of whether it’s ‘Golden Girls’ or ‘Married with Children’ or the big, new one coming out, ‘Pokémon.’
“There’s something for everybody. And I think because it’s licensed-based, if they stopped making Pops today, they’ve be incredibly collectible and they’d probably soar in value,” says Veteri.
The Funko Pop! phenomenon
Pops have taken the world by storm. The Everett, Washington-based Funko has found its niche in the market. In 2016, it reported a revenue of $426.717 million. The following year, that figure ballooned to $516.084 million. Keep in mind, these are toy figurines.
Dante Caridi – who runs DC Collectibles and dctoys.net –said he finally decided to “take the plunge,” getting into the Pops phenomenon three years ago. Because Pops were flying off his shelves, Caridi signed on for a direct account with Funko two years ago. He figures 65 percent of the toys he sells are Pops.
“People just go crazy for it right now,” Caridi said.
Jesse Cohen, owner of wizeguyscollectibles.com, saw the potential of Pops in 2013 and latched on early. It’s a good thing he did because he now owns some extremely rare and valuable Pops that Funko is no longer producing.
“Back then they were just starting to grow,” Cohen said. “And they definitely have not hit their peak, in my opinion.”
Cohen offers collectors what he considers the largest selection of Pops in New Jersey.
“I can’t even fit all the ones I have in the store, I have more in the warehouse,” Cohen said. “If I was taking a guess as far as quantity – not in different characters, but in quantity – I probably have 10,000 to 15,000.”
Veteri first noticed the Pops craze over the last three to five years. He has put on three Pop! Swap conventions in New Jersey where collectors are able to come trade and sell their Pops with fellow collectors. He also allows about 15 vendors to set up tables to sell items.
“I didn’t get it at first, I just saw them and I was like, ‘Oh God, this is going to be another in and out,’” Veteri said.
But that hasn’t been the case, the Pops have stood the test of time.
“I know a lot of the vendors that push back say, ‘Oh, it’s a Beanie Baby fad.’ No, it’s not. Beanie Babies didn’t last 10 years,” Caridi said. “There’s the key: Beanie Babies were mostly for very young kids and females. The difference for Funko Pops! is you’ve got all kinds of adults, all ages. That’s part of the licensing thing. They could just come out with any old-time movie right now and release a whole line and all of a sudden the guy who would never look at it just says, ‘Oh my God. I love ‘I Love Lucy.’ I’ve got to have all of them.’”
It’s like an addiction, Caridi noted. It’s hard to stop at buying just a couple, collectors feel the need to complete sets.
“Many people start out with one or two, and then just keep going and going,” said collector Tristan [last name withheld]. “This happened to me as well. I think they are so collectible because the retail price is relatively low, the subject matter appeals to many. And some are challenging to find, so that causes people to ‘hunt’ for them.”
Why Funko Pop! figures are popular
So, why are these little figurines so popular?
���They just nailed the look of it,” Cohen said. “The fact that you can collect say a wrestling Funko Pop! with a horror Funko Pop! and they look symmetrical and even. A lot of the collectors have OCD and if the boxes are messed up, they won’t buy it. But it’s the collectability. Let’s say when you collect a horror figure and a sports figure, it’s not going to look good because the boxes are going to be completely different in size and shape. Whereas with the Funko Pops!, they’re identical boxes as far as the shapes. The design is identical, the only difference is the name, the character and the genre.”
Cohen said roughly 80 percent of the collectors he sells to keep their Pops in the original box.
“It’s like a sin to take them out,” he said.
Another reason Pops are so collectible is there is something for everyone. Caridi has a number of entire families that collect Pops.
“I don’t have that across any other toy line,” Caridi said. “I’m no longer just selling to the son, I’m no longer just selling to the daughter, I’m selling to the whole family. Then they bring their other family members into it or their friends.”
Said Cohen: “The father and son, it brings them close. It’s cool.”
More than a hobby
Collecting Pops has become more than just a hobby for Tristan, who prefers to keep his last name anonymous. The 17-year-old from Ontario, Canada, runs the highly-popular YouTube channel Top Pops. He has over 106,000 subscribers worldwide as of mid-December.
Tristan has released a new YouTube video daily for over two years straight, discussing the lovable figurines with his passionate followers. He started his personal collection in July 2014 and has over 1,000 Pops.
“I think that Funko Pops! are popular because they truly appeal to everyone,” Tristan said. “There is something for every person who enjoys pop culture: from fans of the ‘Queen’ to Wayne Gretzky – there is a Funko Pop! for every fan. They make a great gift and they are fun to look at. The characters themselves are very detailed and often have an element of humor or whimsy. For instance, the Jan Brady and George Glass Pop features Jan Brady and an empty spot for George Glass – as he was imaginary in the TV series.”
Funko Pop! craze inspires bad behavior
The Pops craze has become so hyped for some of the limited edition figurines that people are going to extreme lengths to get their hands on the product. In September 2018, a 64-year-old Florida woman was allegedly assaulted outside a Target after purchasing a “Twinkie the Kid” Pop. There have been other documented cases around the country about similar alleged attacks.
“It’s not even about the toy, it’s about what the toy’s valued at,” Cohen said. “I think it’s ridiculous, obviously, with people hurting one another for a toy. If you look at anything, sneakers, anything with a high collectability rate, you’re going to have people that are just willing to do anything to get their hands on something. I think it’s absurd.”
Tristan brought up another case during a recent convention in New York City that paints a picture of how popular the Pops have become.
“People had to win a lottery in order to be granted a ticket just to enter the Funko booth in order to purchase one of each collectible,” Tristan said. “That is crazy and pretty exciting for those who won a spot in line. I passed by the booth all weekend and it was packed with people who could not wait to spend their money on Funko products. That feeling of exclusivity helps to keep the craziness going I would say.”
Funko + Comic-Con = a natural connection
Since releasing its first Pop in 2010 – which was unveiled at the popular San Diego Comic-Con – Funko is constantly adding new figurines to the market. There isn’t a month that goes by that new figures aren’t being introduced. Funko has done a sound job of releasing a Pop! to the world and making sure it doesn’t flood the market. Only a limited number are produced and collectors aren’t given too much of a forewarning when a Pop! is going to be retired.
There are a number of “Batman” Pops on the market but, for example, Caridi said if there is one with “Batman” giving a thumbs up that was being produced for three or four years and then Funko announces it is going to “vault” it, that will limit its run.
“What that means is they take that mold and they literally crush the mold, so there’s never going to be an identical mold to that mold again,” Caridi said. “That ‘Batman’ with his thumbs up is gone. That’s the way they stay limited because the second they announce it will soon to be vaulted and all those direct dealers with Funko will get an order sheet.”
At that point, dealers can order as many of those Pops as they’d like. However, Funko will only produce one more run from that mold if enough orders are placed. Caridi said Pops are ordered in inter-cases of six figurines and 36 come in a master case.
The secondary market: Funko Pop! 'vaulting'
When a Pop has been vaulted, it can become scarce and very valuable. As Veteri phrases it, the cream of the crop rises to the top.
“I think that the prices have skyrocketed because many of the older ones are now retired and people want them to complete their sets,” Tristan said. “In order to do this, they need to go to the resellers in order to purchase them, and that means a higher price tag. Also, some Pops are limited releases. This also means that people may need to go to resellers in order to obtain ones that they were not able to purchase from Funko or other retailers.”
For the most part, collecting Pops can be an affordable hobby. However, it can get pricey depending on how in-depth a collector wants to get. Prices can range from about $5 to $10 for a Pop! to as high as thousands of dollars.
“I have paid more than $100 for some, but I can’t really justify paying tens of thousands for one – even if it is a super rare one like Alex DeLarge from ‘A Clockwork Orange,’ which is currently valued at approximately $15,000,” Tristan said.
Tristan and fellow collectors use the app “Stashpedia” to track the value of Pops. The app averages the latest selling prices on eBay to determine the approximate value. Poppriceguide.com is also a well-trafficked website for collectors.
The Pop! market gets 'evil'
When Marvel Comics legend Stan Lee passed away in mid-November 2018, the Pops that were on the market shot up in price. Even in mid-December, a 1/10 Gold Silver Metallic Chrome Edition autographed Stan Lee Pops was listed on eBay for as high as $60,000.
Caridi said he had six or seven regular Lee Pops for sale online and within four hours of the announcement of his death, the Pops had all sold.
“Unfortunately, that’s the way it goes,” Caridi said. “The second somebody passes away and you can’t get it anymore then the market gets evil.”
Three different Pops of Prince were recently released and have been flying off the shelf. The music icon has a special Purple Rain edition that is the most popular, noted Caridi.
“I’ve sold a ton of them,” Caridi said. “I order a few master cases of each.”
Funko has been coming out with a ton of Pops focused on old TV shows such has “The Brady Bunch,” “The Golden Girls” and “The Jeffersons.” They have been goldmines for collectors. The 1990s hit sitcom “Friends” has a new release that’s been ultra-popular.
“Mainstream pop culture is the most popular,” Veteri said. “But there’s a lot of obscure things people look for as well. It’s very subjective. It’s very personal. It just fills that void for people and gives them something to collect.”
In Cohen’s personal collection, he has some rare “Beavis & Butthead” – worth about $400 – and “Ace Venture” Pops. Cohen is also big into Marvel figurines.
Tristan’s Pops collecting philosophy has changed in the last couple of years.
“I actually collect any Pops that I find appealing,” he said. “At first, I only collected a few different lines but as my YouTube channel grew, I realized that I needed to showcase other Pops for the viewers that might be interested. I am willing to purchase ones that people are interested in in order to appeal to a wider range of my subscribers.”
Staying power of Funko Pop!
Dealers and collectors all agree that Funko Pops! aren’t going to be vanishing anytime soon because of the company’s ability to nab licensing for nearly every major pop culture franchise.
“There is always something new coming out,” Tristan said. “Whatever the next popular movie, book or athlete is, Funko can feature it in a Pop! character. This keeps them current and therefore helps them to continue to be something that people want.”
“I think it has legs,” Veteri said. “It has such a strong collector base, so many licenses, they keep expanding. Even if it stopped tomorrow, I’d still feel like whatever’s out there is going to become more prized over time. I think history is going to be good to it. You’re going to look back 20-30 years and say, ‘What was the biggest thing during the 2010 decade?’ It’s clearly Pops.”
Greg Bates is a national freelance journalist. He writes mostly about sports, but dabbles in antiques and is fascinated by the Civil War. His work frequently appears in Sports Collectors Digest, and he’s also written for USA TODAY Sports Weekly, The Associated Press, TeamUSA.org and USAHockey.com. He can be reached at email@example.com.
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