the last 10 years Product Enterprises has been involved with
producing quality toys for the retro market. If there was a
toy from a sci-fi show you always wanted as a kid the chances
are that Product Enterprises have improved upon the original
and it is now available for you to relive your childhood. Or
better still, it has introduced a brand new product range that
has never been available before - like it's radio control Dalek
range. Sci-fi-online talks to the company's managing director,
Rea: Product Enterprises merchandise is high quality, but
caters for a niche market. Why do you think there is such
a fascination for things past?
Walker: That's not a straight forward question. I'm coming
from a position where my interest in science fiction, and
the whole reason I am doing this, allows me to make the toys
that I want to buy. But why science fiction toys capture the
imagination of collectors is down to a number of things. You
could argue that a lot of your sci-fi fans are sad old geeks
with no girlfriends and no lives. So it could be that they
are harking back to their childhood and wanting to be snuggled
up in the womb. And surrounding themselves with Daleks makes
them feel safe and comfortable and hidden away from the World.
more seriously, you could argue that there are more interesting
products to be derived from science fiction programmes than
other show - an electronic spaceship is going to be much more
interesting than a talking Eastenders Dot Cotton doll
I would have though. Although, having said that, my mind is
now ticking over thinking 'now there's a range'.
think science fiction attracts a type of person that tends
to have more of a creative steak in them, possibly more of
a disposable income... it's just one of those things that
is hard to put your finger on.
When I was a young lad, I'm in my early 30s now, the three
toys that everyone wanted were the miniature Star Trek
Enterprise, The Batmobile and the Eagle from Space 1999.
I notice that the Gerry Anderson shows are something which
are coming back into fashion again and that you are currently
marketing a Gerry Anderson range. Are the dynamics of the
market shifting? Are adults buying more toys for themselves?
In recent years there has been a huge shift towards nostalgia
and there has been a huge push for Bagpuss and Clangers
merchandise. Children's programming at present, or more accurately
programmes created today for children, is appalling.
only have to watch Saturday morning children's programmes
to see that there is nothing there to inspire kids. I think
a lot of adults are buying videos and DVDs of programs they
grew up watching and the kids are seeing them and enjoying
Doctor Who range was aimed originally at the hard-core
Who fan base. But now about 40% of our customer base
for this range are children under 15 years of age who have
probably never seen an episode of Doctor Who but who
like the look of the Daleks and the Cybermen.
you have to bear in mind is that the only reason we can produce
these kind of products is because we are not a big company
and we don't have the overheads. Large toy companies couldn't
touch things like the Doctor Who licence, or do the
Gerry Anderson die-cast range. The market is big enough to
make it worth our while, but it certainly isn't big enough
to make it worth the while for larger companies.
said that, my background is 10 years in a design company for
Mattel and Disney in LA. Both companies were aware of the
growing cult market and we did develop and design quite a
lot of ranges, a lot of which never made it to production,
that were aimed more at the adult collector than children.
Enterprise is more involved with the cult market and the licenses
we currently pursue are the kind that are not really of interest
to the bigger companies. The products are also my own personal
favourites. I make toys that I would buy as a collector. Another
reason that the larger companies can't really tackle this
market is because the kind of people who work on these ranges
are unlikely to be devoted fans -
the love and passion for the subject matter doesn't translate
into the product. We
are trying to make products that if we saw on a toy shelf
we would rush out and buy.
I notice you are launching a new range of Carry On
figures. How do you go about deciding what products the market
will buy into?
A lot of it isn't research, more gut instinct. I know I'm
a huge Carry On fan as are my immediate circle of friends
and surely we can't be the only fans out there. Then we weigh
that up against what the production costs would be and what
the minimum run we'd have to do and just take a guess as to
whether we could sell enough if we generated enough awareness
of the product.
we start to run out of licences that we are that familiar
with we would have to do much more market research. But at
the moment we go by our own personal interest and hope that
we are not the only sad person in the World whose going to
bother buying them [laughs].
Is packaging something that you give a lot of thought to?
When designing the packaging we try and keep everything in
style with the programmes. For example, with The Avengers
dolls we used a very simple, classic black and white box which
is designed to transport the buyer back in time to the era
the series was first broadcast.
Action figures today seem to be a lot more detailed to those
20 years ago. What part has new technology played in creating
more accurate character likeness'?
There has been a huge increase in leaps forward in technologies
that are available but I think a lot of this ability has always
been there. It's just that manufacturers in the past have
never felt they have to go that extra mile - because they
are just toys.
remember when I was a kid growing up with the Louis Marx Bump
and Go Daleks [pictured left]. As much as I loved them I could
never understand why they never quite looked like Daleks.
As I became involved with toy manufacturing and started to
understand the manufacturing process I started to realise
that it is all to do with cost. The fact that the Louis Marx
Daleks didn't look like the TV versions was not because he
couldn't make them look that, it was just more economical
to modify the shape so that it was easier to tool in less
pieces to make it cheaper to produce.
are limitations with manufacturing even now. And we are constantly
battling to make a compromise between accuracy and what is
economically viable. We do get people who don't understand
manufacturing who will ring up and ask: "Why is the such-and-such
on the Dalek one micron out?" We have noticed that and
while we want to make them as accurate as we can, even we
are tied to certain constraints. We get it right about 95%
of the time and we could get them 100% accurate but they would
be way too expense to produce.
Most of the toys you produce are based around UK shows. How
does this affect overseas sales?
With shows, like The Avengers, we have been surprised
at how huge the show is in Spain, France and Germany. Japan
is the biggest collectors when it comes to Gerry Anderson
shows - they go nuts for all things Gerry Anderson. The US
are huge Doctor Who fans and Australians love Red
Dwarf. So, while the stuff we deal with is UK based it
does translate well in other countries.
Because the market you deal with is a retro market do you
think there will be a market for you in 10 years time?
Personally, I think that our generation, I'm 30-something,
will grow old with us and so that market will always be there
for my generation. I don't care beyond that point because
I'll be dead [laughs]. I think the market will start to dwindle
and in the next few years the market will be so saturate with
products for every retro programme you can think of that there
will be nothing left to reissue.
Corgi have just dug out all the old tools and have started
reissuing all of their classic toys apart from the Batmobile.
I'm surprised they haven't found that tool yet.
market will always be there, but there will be nothing left
to do after say the next five years.
How far can you go with niche markets? Would you ever consider
releasing things like a Sylvester McCoy doll?
We get asked all the time by fans for things like a talking
Jo Grant doll or a fully articulated Elizabeth Sladen. And
while I'd love to be able to do these I know that we would
never sell enough to make it worth our while. So we have to
go for the most popular Doctor - Tom Baker. We'd never sell
enough McCoy dolls. We'd love to do other villains from Doctor
Who, but we know we wouldn't sell enough.
Thank you for your time.