Hallmark's Expanded 'Star Wars' Offerings, Convention Exclusives Prove a Hit with Collectors

on October 20 2011 9:27 AM
Hallmark's New York Comic-Con Exclusive R2 Units
Hallmark's convention-exclusive R2-Q5 and R2-A3 astromech droid two-pack of ornaments sold out in a flash at New York Comic-Con. Hallmark

Star Wars collectors have long consumed products from such licensees as Hasbro, Gentle Giant, Sideshow Collectibles and a host of others. But one licensee, Hallmark, has been quietly turning out quality products based on characters and starships from George Lucas' galaxy since 1994 -- and in the past two years, it has become the hottest go-to source for exclusive items at such conventions as San Diego Comic-Con, Star Wars: Celebration V and, most recently, New York Comic-Con.

Wait, what? Hallmark is the new hottest Star Wars convention exclusive?

Believe it. At New York Comic-Con, its ornament set of two R2 units (R2-Q5 and R2-A3, for those in the know) sold out each day in a flash. Sold for $30, the set now commands upward of $75 on auction sites.  

While it may seem incredible that Hallmark items are becoming the most sought-after Star Wars collectibles at many conventions, when IBTimes talked with Christine Taylor, license creative account manager for Hallmark's License Design Studio, it became clearer that the company's passion for the items it's offering these days -- which have expanded far beyond ornaments -- runs deep. Our Q&A with Taylor follows.

Ever since Star Wars: Celebration V in Orlando last year, Hallmark's Star Wars exclusives have become THE hot exclusive at several conventions, including most recently at New York Comic-Con. Does that surprise you, and to what can we attribute this?

Actually, the first time we saw the high demand for the exclusives was earlier than Celebration V, when we introduced the first one at the 2009 San Diego Comic-Con. We had started some in-store limited quantity releases the year prior that did very well, but nothing prepared us for the reaction of the convention exclusives.

It was very humbling to be newcomers in San Diego and to have one of the longest lines to get our exclusives. The next year we sold at SDCC and at Celebration V, and the demand increased. Celebration became legendary because unfortunately our supply was unable to meet our demand since it was the first time we sold there, but we will have this corrected by Celebration VI and I can proudly say it will be a Keepsake-branded ornament this time around.

It still amazes me how passionate our collectors are. We've built a strong collector base in our Hallmark Gold Crown stores over the years and many of them had already been coming to these conventions for years. Others are so passionate about collecting our ornaments that they have told us they attend these conventions just so they can get the exclusive.

I was definitely, initially surprised by this until I started hearing people's stories. Our ornament business was founded on the idea of helping people create traditions and make memories and this was exactly what we were hearing from the attendees. Stories of how parents and grandparents have been buying them their favorite Star Wars or other pop culture character ornament for Christmas since they were little and they have continued this tradition to share with their kids.

Apart from that, Star Wars, as well as other pop culture properties, has its own subset of fan collectors. For them it is a different type of tradition, their passion for collecting a brand that has so much meaning to them that they have to have everything that revolves around that brand and it never leaves the mint-condition box.

For all our fans and collectors, I also think they really find the value in the fact that we actually have sculptors working on every detail to ensure the ornaments accuracy and authenticity, though we have been known to make mistakes, from time to time (Our 1998 Boba Fett's Mandalorian logo was printed upside down and conversely has actually become a highly valued ornament). How does Hallmark decide on selecting what exclusives (not just Star Wars, any licensees) to offer at conventions? Can you take us through that decision process?

For Star Wars specifically, we really take a few things into consideration, for example, what's in the current line that year (what works well or ties in with the ornaments in our core line) and we also look for more niche things that we know fans and collectors will like, that might not ever make it into the core line. Initially, the exclusives started with repaints, but we are trying to do more original sculpts when possible.

Our first original sculpts were the two bounty hunters this year. We were doing Bossk as our in-store limited quantity and thought it would be a nice complement to do IG-88 & Dengar for SDCC. For the other exclusives, we look into Comic Book superheroes, Sci-Fi and general TV/Movie pop culture. We still balance against our core line, look for more niche or insider spin when creating these as well. A good example is this year's SDCC Simpsons exclusive ornament of Comic Book Guy with a T-shirt that says Worst Con Ever.

If we end up doing a repaint, we try and locate a variant of a ship or character that was specific to an episode/scene that only a true fan would know or remember like the glow-in-the-dark Defiant we sold at NYCC. Also we might consider a continuation of something we had done at previous cons, like the NYCC Astromech Droids (we had done a two pack of Threepios last year at SDCC). They are just cool variants to have whether you are a hardcore fan or general collector.

Star Wars has been a licensed property for Hallmark for some time now, but it's branched out significantly from primarily ornament offerings to other items like mugs, desktop accessories, shot glasses and other items. What was the inspiration behind branching out to offer an expanded slate of products?

Yes, we started the license in 1994 with a small line of Shoebox humor cards, then followed up with ornaments in 1996, but have really seen a growth in our product offering over the last several years. I think mainly because it has really become this ubiquitous, evergreen property that people adore and can relate to in many ways. We have started to have a lot of fun with creating humor cards recently and we've also added Lego Star Wars to our line of products.

In regard to the gift line, we had a line of Disney sentiment based gifts that had quotes from the movies and Walt Disney himself that was doing really well. We also have an extensive Peanuts gift program that is very popular. Star Wars has always been a strong performer in cards and the saga is rich with quotes that are funny, inspirational, complimentary and popular enough that both fans as well as a more general audience could remember and relate to.

There also aren't that many products out there that really put central focus on the quotes, which allowed us to create something different than what's in the current marketplace. Their performance has led to more Star Wars gift items popping up in stores spring 2012, which we did preview at both SDCC and NYCC.

What does Hallmark have in store for SW collectors in 2012? I did see the TIE Interceptor, which looked amazing.

Lots of stuff! In addition to the TIE Interceptor, we have a Han on Tauntaun, an amazing sculpt of General Grievous, and in honor of the release of Phantom Menace in 3D, we'll have Darth Maul all releasing in July of 2012. To follow-up our Darth Vader Lego, we will have a Stormtrooper Lego ornament for October 2012.

In addition, we have a few extras we did not sneak peek at SDCC or NYCC: We will definitely have another limited quantity ornament release for July 2012 that will be revealed closer to that time frame. Additionally we have a new ornament product called a Peekbuster that will feature an ornament-sized version of Darth Vader with sound. It's motion activated and features Vader busting any sneaky kids that might be trying to sneak a peek at their presents before Christmas.

For the gift line, some of the 2011 line will continue in stores and several new items will be added, which will include two new concept coffee mugs -- a double sided mug which you can choose which end to drink out of - Dark Side or Light Side -- as well as there will be a Father/son stackable drinking mug set. There will be some new framed desktop sentiments that have an actual artist rendered background scene with a silkscreened character and quote on framed glassed in the foreground.

There will be a note cube with pen set that activates lightsaber sounds when the pen is removed. We have also added a Yoda sound button and a Han Solo travel mug with sound. And an item we did not show at the conventions is an interactive fortune teller called Darth Vader's Destiny Decider. You can ask Vader about future events, press the button and he will reveal whether it's in your destiny, or not. I know you're a fan of Star Wars, are there any Hallmark pieces that you'd like to see made in the future, and do you have a personal favorite?

That's a hard question because there are very few things I don't love and gravitate towards in the Star Wars Saga, well at least in the Original Trilogy. We are really trying to focus on territory we have not gone down or things that we know there is a demand for from our consumers.

I will say that I was a huge advocate for something focused around Hoth, which is something that had not been explored before, and we created a Snowspeeder last year and next year there is the fore mentioned Han on Tauntaun, which I can't wait for. Something we haven't done that I would like to see in the future is maybe a Jabba and/or Admiral Ackbar in some way shape or form because they just make me laugh.

As far as cards go, we have really had a lot of fun lately creating humor greeting cards and e-cards that I just love. Personal Favorites? Too many to list. I am just excited to be able to work on something that I have had a passion for ever since I was a little kid and to share that passion with other fans. There is nothing more gratifying than watching people pick up products you've worked on and they begin to laugh and smile, because that's what it is about.

On that note, I gotta sign off now before I go too Hallmark moment on you.