Bring Hollywood Home From Entertainment Earth
by Kyle Rupprecht
When brothers Aaron and Jason Labowitz founded Entertainment Earth 12 years ago, they probably had little idea of what their then fledgling website would soon become. One of the most successful retailers of mint-condition toys, action figures, games and other memorabilia from the world of movies, television, comic books and music, Entertainment Earth’s continued growth is an indication that the stereotypical image of a “collector’s geek” will have to be re-defined. Women and high-income adults are just as likely to gravitate towards the company’s assortment of 6,500-plus cool collectibles as kids and young adults. The website’s “Bring Hollywood Home” theme is one that resonates among consumers of virtually all ages, backgrounds, interests and incomes. From Gumby to The Big Lebowski, the popularity of these collectible action figures and toys are a testament to the endurance and relevance of these classic pop-culture characters.
Part of the company’s success comes from the fact that the Labowitz brothers are voracious collectors themselves, in addition to their savvy entrepreneurial skills. MM spoke with co-founder Jason Labowitz about the unique merchandise Entertainment Earth sells, and how the company has managed to continually rise in the competitive collectibles business.
To feast your eyes on all that Entertainment Earth has to offer, visit their website at entertainmentearth.com
Kyle Rupprecht (MM): Why/how did you get into this field? Were you collectors as kids?
Jason Labowitz (JL): When I was 8, I started collecting Star Wars action figures and never stopped. My mom thought I was a bit strange because I kept all of the packaging (even though I played with the toys).
Kenner stopped making Star Wars action figures in 1985, so that left a hole in my heart. Instead of moving my interests to sports and girls, I continued collecting – WWF, Star Trek, Lego.
Back in 1988, I went to college with a small amount of toys, but UCSB had me interested in slightly more adult topics – like the Internet! (I was one of the founders of the first Star Wars collecting newsgroups on the web). I graduated with BA degrees in Philosophy and Pre-Law.
After college, I became a Macintosh computer consultant, but kept my interest strong in Star Wars, even though there was little merchandise.
My brother Aaron was completing his MBA at USC at the time.
Then in 1995, everything changed. I heard that Kenner (now part of Hasbro) was going to release all-new Star Wars action figures. Being that I was an adult and really didn’t want to spend my weekends visiting Target and Toys R us stores, I looked around the newly web enhanced Internet to see if any company could just send me what I wanted. The answer was no, so with $9,000, a few partners, no retail experience, and no toy industry experience, we did some market research and launched our website (with nothing to sell) in November 1995. I was still a full-time computer consultant.
We waited months and months for product to arrive, but it never did. And thus began our learning experience in this industry. We finally received some product and launched our online store in April 1, 1996.
The goal from the beginning was two-fold. I personally wanted everything shipped to my door with no hassle. Second, if I was going to spend my time on this project, we wanted to quickly move beyond a local mom-and-pop style toyshop. We wanted to see if we could grow this into an industry leading company.
MM: What is the most exciting aspect about the business? What are some of the biggest challenges?
JL: What excites me today is different than when we started 12 years ago. Today, I love building new features on our website, coming to my office to work with an incredible staff (26+), and focusing on broadening our product selection and improving service to our clients. I’m proud that we can supply over 6500 fantastic toys, gifts and collectibles to anyone around the world.
The big challenges today are similar to those when we first started – product availability. The toy industry is made up of a few major players who get the bulk of the hottest product. The challenge has always been getting our fair share. We offset these challenges by working with manufacturers to produce exclusive merchandise, and working with our sister company to manufacturer our own product.
MM: How do you pick which toys/collectibles to feature?
JL: We started with Star Wars toys and action figures, then our customers led us to the direction we are in today – we basically carry every single type of action figure that exists. We’ve expanded deep into each license, stocking everything from lunch boxes to shot glasses, and then we broadened our selection into just about every type of pop-culture property available. We tend to feature products that our customers want – bestsellers, and can act quickly if a trend develops.
MM: Have there been any toys/collectibles whose popularity took you by surprise? Which ones?
JL: Absolutely. Janis Joplin action figures, Where The Wild Things Are action figures, Living Dead Dolls, Swear Bears, Soft Orb lights, and Cher. Anything Cher! The list goes on and on. People have very interesting tastes!
MM: Are collectibles of big-budget movies necessarily better sellers than those of smaller, more independent, cult-type movies?
JL: Thankfully, our customer base provides us with a balanced interest between big-budget movie products (Iron Man, Batman, etc.) and cult-type movie products (The Big Lebowski).
MM: What’s on the horizon for the company? Any new trends you see taking place?
JL: Licensed merchandise is king in our industry, so that segment of product will continue to grow, even though there may be fluctuations in what types of products are sold (ie action figures vs high-end statues, etc.). One exciting trend just starting is Eco-Friendly packaging (less wasted materials) and non-petroleum based products. “Green” is happily coming to our industry as well!