[email protected]: Hero Collector Talks Pop Culture & E-Commerce

We speak with Chris Thompson, brand manager, Hero Collector – the pop-culture and licensing arm of Eaglemoss - to discuss all things collectible and ecommerce ahead of [email protected] 2020.
Ben Roberts

July 23, 2020

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License Global

speaks with Chris Thompson, brand manager, Hero Collector – the pop-culture and licensing arm of Eaglemoss - about all things collectible and e-commerce ahead of [email protected] 2020. 

Ben Roberts: What are the major trends you've seen during the pandemic and what was Eaglemoss' strategy to keep front-of-mind with consumers? How is fandom a vital part of licensing and retail? 

Chris Thompson: 

It’s been a really interesting time to be alive and doing what we do. The world has gone through a shared experience – arguably a shared trauma – and we’ve all had to find our own ways of adjusting to this new normal. For a lot of us, the initial adjustment was the transition to working from home and finding out what shape that would take, but from there it became a quest to reach out and stay in touch with people despite the obvious barriers. 

For those of us at Hero Collectors it was very much a case of providing distraction or alternative to the doom and gloom that surrounded us. I’m a big believer in being an early adopter, so I felt the best way to respond was to get things moving quickly. That’s why, in late March, we launched our 

Hero Collector Happy Hour

 initiative to maintain

our communication with fans and provide new insights into their favorite properties. Through a series of coordinated Twitter takeovers, we spoke with people from behind the scenes of “Doctor Who”, “Ghostbusters”, “Harry Potter”, “Star Trek”, and beyond, while maintaining a consistent schedule throughout the first two months or so of lockdown. Alongside all of that, our social media manager, Melisa Kumas, hosted her own weekly tweet-along that covered the entire “Harry Potter” / “Fantastic Beasts” saga via the Hero Collector Twitter account. 

Meanwhile, I looked at what other people were doing, to see how and where we could join in and help support their efforts. A lot of people had the same idea as us in terms of providing engaging and distracting content, so there was a flurry of activity going into lockdown, especially (it seemed) amongst the “Doctor Who” community. There were the more official lockdown screenings organized by Emily Cook from

Doctor Who Magazine

, but there was also a lot being organized by the various fan groups and individuals. I was fortunate to be a guest on Fantom Films’ first Time Space Visualiser virtual event, and we continued to sponsor them with prizes throughout the run. We did the same with Pip Madeley’s annual “Doctor Who” tweet-along, which this year took the form of Patrick Troughton’s The War Games, under the hashtag of #Troughtweet. 

Since then other licenses and their communities got involved, so we’ve had the chance to engage with people from various fandoms and parts of the world. One of my favorite collaborations was the recent 

Day of Honor

 event, where we joined forces with the folks from "Star Trek Online" and Modiphius Games, along with a whole host of experts and actors from “Star Trek: Discovery”, to host a series of online panels streamed over Twitch. I managed to get a number of the panelists some of our ships before the livestream, so there was a real show-and-tell element to it all. That’s where events like [email protected] provide an excellent opportunity to come together for a specific time and with a specific set of goals. Taking part in things like this has, I think, put us in a much better position for whatever the future holds. 

As a premium collectibles' developer and retailer, how have you seen consumers engage with properties they love through your store? 

What started as a traditional partworks company has, as you’ve noted, expanded into a premium collectibles developer and retailer, which is a far cry from what we were, but still a natural extension of it. I think it started with having our own online store to supply back issues and/or replacements for parts of our collections, and that slowly morphed into something more as unique products, bonus issues and special editions were added. Now we’ve expanded on that further to broaden our horizons in the retail/wholesale markets and make Eaglemoss/Hero Collector a visible presence in the global collectibles arena. 

On a more intimate scale, we are fortunate to have a dedicated and passionate fanbase for both our licenses and our products in general. They’re always poking around the site, reading our email newsletters and following our social media channels for the next big announcement or reveal. We don’t take that for granted, and we’re always looking for new ways to communicate and connect with them. Making a wider push with our PR has been a lot of fun as well, since that expands our overall reach and brings new people into the fold – plus, it’s just plain cool to see your latest announcement on the front page of 

The Hollywood Reporter 

or 

Nerdist

. Outside of that, there’s a few of us who are directly part of, and connected to, the various fan communities we cover, so it’s not unusual to find me or someone else in the Facebook fan group or tweeting along about something from our own personal accounts. I think it’s summed up best by one of our Hero Collector catchphrases … “We’re fans, just like you!” 

You're headed to Comic Con Virtual, what are you expecting from consumers in the online space? Do you think behaviors will change? 

I attended my first San Diego Comic-Con in 2007 when I was still living in Australia, and I’ve continued to go in the many years since after my move to the UK, so for me it’s always been a very global event. People are either looking to San Diego, or actually travelling there, when it comes to this time of year, so the idea of [email protected] is the most wonderful way to embrace that global nature and make it more accessible to the masses. Obviously I’d prefer to be experiencing the real thing myself, but I think embracing it as more of an event beyond the convention floor is the future, and it’s my hope this will create a precedent that continues, even when the in-person activities begin again. 

From the Hero Collector side, we’re setting up a virtual booth within the [email protected] portal to showcase a small selection of our wares, as well as a larger virtual booth that will be hosted on our e-commerce sites globally. Although some products will be region/territory-specific, we’ve tried to make sure that the bulk of our offerings are available to everybody. We’re debuting our Marvel Heavyweights line in the US, our latest wave of "Rick and Morty" figurines in the U.K. and Europe, and our new line of ships based on "The Orville" globally, alongside all of the products you’d traditionally come to expect from us. 

It’s the first time we’ve really embraced this idea of virtual booths outside of the US, and I think its long past time. We’re using this opportunity to figure things out now, and to put systems in place that will propel us forward for years to come. Obviously it’s hard to predict how consumers will react and what their buying habits may be like in uncertain times, but I’m optimistic that with majority of the accessibility factors out of the way, this is something people can tap into and enjoy from around the world. Every year, new people find us on the convention floor, and I feel that discoverability is only amplified by the con floor being virtual this time around. 

What are you working on for the future and how are you hoping to pivot on the back of the ecommerce boom? 

As mentioned above, we made the pivot to e-commerce a while ago as a result of providing back issues and replacements for our ongoing collections, so the last year or so has been very much about expanding that product base and creating some exclusive offerings that you wouldn’t find anywhere else. We have an excellent new product development team headed up by Stella Bradley and Paul Montague, and their focus has been on exploring new spaces within our existing licenses while researching potential ways to capitalize on other ones. What starts as a good idea for one license, might end up being an even better idea for another – or for both. 

It’s all about finding that balance between catering to your current audience while looking for ways to expand and diversify it. I think we’ve done a good job of that so far, and the focus of our time in lockdown has only allowed that to continue … I know some people around the world have been on furlough or needed to drop tools, and I definitely feel for them, but for most of us it’s been full steam ahead and we’re more exhausted than ever. Coming out of it all, we’re finding new ways to accommodate and grow our existing channels - e-commerce, subscriptions, and retail/wholesale - while still expanding our PR efforts and other methods of making people aware of them. The two need to grow together hand in hand, and I feel like that’s happening. 

What properties have you seen selling best via the store and how does that connect with the trends around us at the moment (i.e. streaming or books etc.)? 

"Star Trek" has been an evergreen license for us, and with the continued expansion of that universe thanks to ViacomCBS -- particularly via their own streaming service), we continue to see more growth and opportunities reveal themselves. While we do our best to create lightning in a bottle and make magic happen, a licensee is still only as strong as the properties they’re attached to, so it’s nice to be working with dynamic licensors who are looking to create some genuine noise and excitement around their brand. 

We’ve seen this a lot with "Doctor Who" as well, which has experienced over 200% increase in e-com sales thanks to greater visibility and a wider selection of product lines. When you combine that with new BBC initiatives like the multi-platform crossover event, Time Lord Victorious, which is being told across various media and licensees (including our own figurine line) then you have a recipe for mutual success. It’s then just about making the most of those opportunities to build momentum and keep things going into your next project, but that’s half the fun of what we do. 

Of course, it’s not just "Star Trek" or "Doctor Who" – we have dynamic partnerships with a number of licensors, so there are exciting things coming up for Marvel, "Rick and Morty", "Ghostbusters", Wizarding World, "Battlestar Galactica", DC Comics, "The Orville", "Back To The Future", "Sonic The Hedgehog", Bethesda Softworks, Gerry Anderson, and a whole host of others that I’m excited to tell you about, but simply can’t at this stage. All the while, we’re offering new product lines for these licenses as well, so in the coming months you’ll see Harry Potter Knitting Kits, "Doctor Who" Baking Sets, over-sized Marvel ‘MEGA’ figurines, and new behind the scenes books for Star Trek, Ghostbusters and Back To The Future. Despite the challenges of the world and these times right now, I feel we’re well placed for continued success and a much greater recognition for the Hero Collector brand as a whole. 

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